Auction reveals the secret life of Spike Milligan

Personal effects to be sold at auction give an intimate insight into the comedian's life. Jerome Taylor reports

It sounds like one of the jokey stories he would tell in a poem or novel. When a wrecking ball sliced a nearby Victorian block of flats in two, Spike Milligan spotted a grand piano left in a disused apartment. Approaching the foreman of the building site, he bribed him with a fiver to hand over the instrument.

"The money did the trick. The piano was lowered to the floor in a net, another £10 to have it transported to me home – and voila! I had a grand piano." But a mere work of humorous fiction this was not – it actually happened. And that very 1883 Broadwood Grand, having been established in the Milligans' home, was played every morning by none other than Paul McCartney, a neighbour in Rye in East Sussex, who would let himself in to wake up his friends by playing the piano.

The musical instrument is one of an array of personal effects which are being sold by Milligan's third wife, Shelagh, who is moving into a smaller home which does not have the space to hold the myriad of items that her late husband collected.

So Milligan, who wrote the lines "With hand signals/ Or polite cough/ He bid twenty-five million/ For a Vincent Van Gogh/ For that sort of money/ I'd chop my ear off" in the five-line poem "Auction Stations", is himself going under the hammer.

In the first major auction of his personal effects since his death from liver failure in February 2002, a previously unseen collection of personal books and notes (including a handwritten copy of the above poem) will go on sale, alongside furniture, paintings, manuscripts, photographs and recordings that belonged to the comedian, at Bonhams on 25 November.

"I just don't have the space in my new house to put everything," said Shelagh. "The alternative is that I carry on paying these huge storage bills and everything just sits there rotting away. But I can't pretend I'm going to find it easy. When we were cataloguing various items for the sale, I went to the store and it felt as if our whole life was laid out in front of me."

Items expected to fetch the highest prices at the wider celebrity-themed auction include the yellow Reliant van from the BBC's popular television series Only Fools and Horses and a tasselled waistcoat once worn by Elvis Presley. But it is Milligan's personal artefacts that are causing the greatest excitement among collectors because of the astonishingly personal portrait they paint of the comedian's life.

As well as the piano, other lots reveal just how close the comedian was to all the members of the Beatles, who were fans of The Goon Show, Milligan's radio show that revolutionised British comedy in the post-war era. Beatles-related memorabilia include a banner with the words "Peace" and "Love" given as a Christmas present by George Harrison and a book on trauma therapy signed by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Other lots allude to the more anarchic side of Milligan that characterised much of his comedy in a career spanning more than five decades. A prolific note-writer, Milligan loved to leave chaotic and amusing missives – a note on his grave in East Sussex, for instance, reads "Duirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite", Gaelic for "I told you I was ill".

A collection of scribblings aimed at guests who visited his home are expected to fetch up to £150. One note left for taxi-drivers reads: "Driver please don't knock – I'll be out at the appointed time"; another for smokers reads: "No smoking. We are trying to give up lung cancer" and a typically self-deprecating note that was often left on his front door as a warning to guests simply reads "Sorry for being me – I don't know how to be anyone else".

Stephanie Connell, a specialist in entertainment memorabilia at Bonhams, said she expected the auction would be popular despite the current economic circumstances because many of the lots are relatively inexpensive. "With entertainment memorabilia you will always have a fan base who are willing to buy items and they'll come up with the money regardless of the financial conditions," she said. "Most of the lots are also not going for an especially large amount of money. This sale offers a unique opportunity for fans of Spike Milligan to obtain a personal memento from a sadly missed legend of British comedy."

But although he was regarded as one of the greatest British comedians of the 20th century, Milligan was also prone to bouts of severe depression. In an interview with Bonhams Magazine, Shelagh recalled how one of the world's funniest men would often "retreat into his room and stick this postcard on the door saying 'Fuck off'".

She recalled: "There were times when I was wounded by things he would say to me, things he did. But on the whole I gave as good as I got."

Lyrical lots: Milligan memorabilia under the hammer


"In Manchester Square/ Where there's nowhere to park/ If you do then along comes A Warden or Nark/ And they tow your car/ To Rochdale pound/ Three times a day/ If you leave it around.

"No more Manchester/ Then for me/ If they want me again/ I'd have to be/ Dead as a door nail/ Strapped to a bike/ Then they can tow me/ Wherever they like!"

(Inspired after being towed away three times in a day in Manchester)


"I'm going to eat a mountain/ It shouldn't take long they say/ I'll slowly eat that mountain/ Bit by bit every day"

The poet of Dumbwoman's Lane

(written by Paul McCartney to Spike Milligan)

"The voice of the poet of Dumbwoman's Lane/ Can be heard across the vallies of sugar-burned cane/ And nostrils that sleep through the wildest of nights/ Will be twitching to gain aromatic insights.

"The wife of the farmer of Poppinghole Lane/ Can be seen from the cab of the Robertsbridge train/ And passengers' comments will frequently turn/ To the wages the wife of a farmer can earn.

"The poet of Dumbwoman's Lane sallies forth/ He is hoping for no one to see."

Extract of a speech to Chelsea Arts Club, May 1982

"My lords, ladies and gentlemen, and that swine the chef. I am here a) because of an invitation and b) hunger. The invitation came from a Miss Coil, whose grandfather invented it... I asked her why I was to be honoured as after-dinner speaker – she said 'well we'd run out'. I said 'of speakers?' She said 'no – money'. I said 'I understand as I've heard that people are being paid £3 to come here and £5 to eat the dinner'."

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas