When Goons and Composers Collide
When it comes to inspirations and hobbies I have always considered myself to be a man of diverse interests – sure those interests can be a little bit niche and geeky at times, but I thought diverse nonetheless. However, I am discovering more and more that in terms of my hobbies these worlds often collide. Take for example my great interest in, and passion for The Goon Show and Film Music. There is no obvious link on the face of it; one is a genre of music, the other an iconic comedy series. I take great inspiration and enjoyment from both these passions, and they certainly inflame the collector-mania within me. However, focus closely and you begin to see a network of connections.
An obvious overlap involves two composers and conductors, namely Stanley Black and Angela Morley. Both Black and Morley worked on ‘The Goon Show’ as band leaders and arrangers, and they were both film composers as well. Stanley Black is credited with over two hundred films as score composer, while Angela Morley is best known for her score to ‘Watership Down’. Away from the obvious overlaps you can see masses of links between some of the cast of ‘The Goon Show’ and the movies they later starred in. Some examples include Peter Sellers in ‘The Pink Panther’ franchise composed by Henry Mancini, alongside other Sellers vehicles like ‘The Wrong Box’ (John Barry), ‘The Optimists of Nine Elms’ (George Martin). Spike Milligan had a starring role in the gentle comedy ‘Postman’s Knock’ in 1962, featuring Ron Goodwin as composer, likewise Michael Bentine took the lead in ‘The Sandwich Man’ (1966) with music composed by Mike Vickers.
One interesting dimension I might throw into the mix stems from the incredible influence the creative minds of Milligan and Bentine had on the area of sound design and music. Both these men were the creative powerhouse behind ‘The Goon Show’ and came up with increasingly bizarre and complex plots, sketches and storylines for the ground breaking comedy series. Each new soundscape they dreamed up used more and more complex sound effects, be it Bentine devised plane propellers morphing into trains leaving a station, or a Milligan inspired wall driven at high speed. As the series evolved dear old Spike was working the sound effects team harder and harder, soon involving the newly created BBC Radiophonic Workshop to work their synthesised wizardry on more radical sound designs. The music department of ‘The Goon Show’ were not immune either with Milligan calling upon the in-house maestro Angela Morley to compose and arrange grand musical links, underscores and in one case a truly memorable national anthem for a fictional country. The influence that one radio show must have had on the creative energies of the crew involved, and more importantly on the minds of the audience, must surely have left an indelible stamp on the Zeitgeist? When you examine what followed, certainly in terms of the musical landscape you cannot help but acknowledge that somewhere in the evolution of electronic music and movie soundtracks, some of that Bentine and Milligan magic must have rubbed off.
In more real world terms, I found the worlds of film music and ‘Goon Show’ colliding in one day. On the self-same Saturday (5th October no less) I found myself attending a 50th Anniversary commemoration of ‘The Telegoons’ TV series during the daytime, and a John Barry tribute concert in the evening. How did worlds collide? Well, for one thing during the ‘Goon Show Preservation Society’ celebration at the Strutton Arms I was introduced to one Andy Newman of Thunderclap Newman fame, the band who famously provided the song for the close of the 1969 Peter Sellers film ‘The Magic Christian’. Better still was the guest appearance of singer Lance Ellington during the John Barry concert! The reason? Well, Lance Ellington is the son of the legendary singer and ‘Goon Show’ team member Ray Ellington. How many degrees of separation is that folks?
When Goons and Composers Collide by Richard A. Usher
When Goons and Composers Collide © 2013 Richard A. Usher, all rights reserved
Eccles puppet created and owned by Ann Perrin, one of the original puppeteers on the Telegoons, photograph published with kind permission