'Everything he touched he made Milliganesque'

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The Independent Online

Spike Milligan's importance to British post-war comedy and national life was matched only by the grandeur of the tributes that accompanied his death.

He was a comic genius. He was the "great granddaddy" and founder of modern comedy and, according to the comedian Stephen Fry, he allowed the British to be silly. "Everything he touched he made Milliganesque," he said yesterday.

Eric Sykes, who co-wrote The Goon Show with Milligan, described him as being like his brother. He said: "We shared an office for nearly 50 years and today one of the last jewels fell from the crown of British comedy."

The comedians greatly influenced by the last of the Goons were prominent yesterday in recognising his role in their own development.

John Cleese said that The Goon Show had provided "the first flicker of rebelliousness that turned into the satire movement".

"He nudged us forward to be even crazier than we were intending to be," he said.

Cleese's fellow Python, Michael Palin, said that Milligan's Q sketch show was a great inspiration.

He said: "He had a very strong sense of the absurdity of the world. And sometimes it produced wonderful comedy and marvellous invention and great insight, and other times just reduced him to misery and depression."

The Hollywood star, Robin Williams, described the Goons as "pure madness".

Prince Charles, whom Milligan once described as "a grovelling little bastard" was a great fan. He said: "It is hard to see Spike's parting as anything other than the end of a great era of British comedy, exemplified by Spike's extraordinary genius for the play on words and for the art of the nonsensical unexpected.

"His particular form of hilarity and wit, apart from helping to sustain the British spirit through the unmentionable horrors of war, has provided countless millions with the kind of helpless mirth which adds unique value to life."

The broadcaster Michael Parkinson, who interviewed him more than 10 times, witnessed both his cussedness and his great comic skills.

"He was the presiding genius behind the Goons. But he was an awkward man in many ways, and was not easy to get on with. If he took against you, watch out! I got on with him very well. People assumed he was God's gift to talk shows, but he wasn't. He could veer from being absolutely obnoxious to being wonderful, depending on the mood you found him in.

"Once when I was live on a radio show, I received a call from someone who said: 'Spike is here to see you.'

"He just came into the studio, in his dressing gown, was brilliant for an hour, and then went back to his clinic. An extraordinary man."

Alan Yentob, the BBC director of drama and entertainment, said Milligan was a man with no boundaries to his imagination. He said: "He was the soul of the Goons and the inspiration for generations of writers and performers, from Monty Python to The League of Gentlemen.

"To the very end he maintained his capacity to charm and fascinate and infuriate. Spike was unique."

Brian Highley, director of the British Comedy Society, said: "The term 'genius' is seriously overused in tributes but Spike was a true genius, a true original."

He also drew affectionate tributes from outside the world of showbusiness.

Jacqueline Alstin, the former landlady of his local pub, said: "He told so many jokes but one of his favourites was when he used to say he had lost his dog and how he would put an advert in the paper saying simply 'Here boy'."

Alan Wise, Milligan's chauffeur for 13 years, said: "He was a very serious man but a very pleasant one as well. On many occasions he would write while travelling with me."