My parents were theatre people. They were founding members of a still popular amateur theatre company in Edmonton.
And where there is theatre you will always find Brits. The UK has a strong tradition of community and regional theatre so in any prairie town, on a cold February evening, they creep out of their caves, drawn by the incandescent heat of stage lights and the smell of grease paint.
This means I grew up steeped in the rich diversity of UK accents and dialects.
More importantly, I understood what they were saying. The expressions, idioms and pronunciations of the UK were a second language I picked up easily. I still don’t understand why people have such difficulty with it.
Except for “Shetland” – even I have to put on subtitles to watch that show…
Part of being exposed to Brit culture from a young age included seeing and loving the wide world of British comedy. This album was in my parent’s collection and after hearing it once, it became my go-to whenever I was laid up with one of the several mystery illnesses that plagued my yout.
Before Not the 9 o’clock news, before Frost Report, before Monty Python and Beyond the Fringe, these 3 comic performers were performing what would now be considered Slam Comedy.
Peter Sellers is well known outside of the UK but the other two, not so much. Yet Spike Milligan was the brilliant (and silly and not quite sane) soul of the trio.
I can remember putting album on our state of the art stereophonic in a luxurious wood panelled cabinet record player and laughing my 7 year old head off. I didn’t get most of the jokes until my sister reluctantly explained a few of them. There was a whole world of people built entirely out of the prodigious vocal talent of the 3 goons.
There was the blustering Major Bloodnok, a broad stereotype of British officer with a stiff upper lip, holding a crumbling world together with bluster and tarnished medals. Neddie Seagoon always being duped by smooth talking Grytpype-Thynne. My hero, however, was BlueBottle: a poor, maligned child-like character who always willingly agreed to whatever the others suggested and ended up at the bottom of a ravine or in a dungeon or knocked senseless wondering what the heck happened.
Him I understood.
There are books, hundreds of books written on the lightening in a bottle these guys produced but nothing kills a joke like explaining it. The dullest books are on comedy. And this is turning into an incredibly dull post.
Even now these guys defy definition. You have to hear them and thankfully there are many recordings still available. Last week I listened to a download of “Tales of Old Dartmoor”. This time I got most of the jokes without any one having to explain them. And they’re still brilliant.
Peter Sellers went on to international fame as a movie performer in, among others, the original Pink Panther movies, Dr. Strangelove, Casino Royale and Being There. He also managed to get into a number of movies that have thankfully sunk out of sight. Stick to the beauties, forget the Bobo‘s and Dr. Fu Manchu‘s.
He died in 1980 of a heart attack. Read about his personal life and you’ll see there is no small irony in that.
At his funeral “In The Mood” was played. The two surviving goons were forced to sit and listen to the one song they’d all detested when working together.
Secombe died in 2001. Spike Milligan said he was glad Harry died first because he didn’t want Harry to sing at his funeral.
Spike Milligan died the following year. A record of Harry Secombe was played at the funeral.