by Sinclair Newton
I nearly met Spike Milligan. About twenty-five years ago he parked his Mini on double yellow lines near my office and it was towed away by the police. Not once, but twice in a day.
He was staying at the Midland Hotel in the centre of Manchester and so I strolled around there and asked for him at reception.
The girl phoned him in his room and then motioned me to a booth nearby and there he was on the telephone from his room.
"I wondered if you'd like to write a poem about what's been happening to your car today?" I asked. It's easy when you've had a drink or six and feel full of confidence.
"As it happens, I'm in the bath at the moment," he said. "Would you like me to walk on the water as well?"
But a line must have crept into his mind and he carried on: "How far away is your office?" he asked.
"About three hundred yards," I said.
"Well, walk back - slowly - and I'll ring you," he promised.
"But I want you to write it in my notebook," I said. He made a sort of Neddy Seagoon noise and hung up.
He was on the phone by the time I got to the office with a funny twelve-liner, which for the life of me I cannot now remember. But it appeared in the Daily Mail - on page three - the next morning. Those archives have gone now, along with my memory and even Spike himself. Ain't it funny how time and what my consultant describes as "a history of drinking" can take away. At least Ibiza is forever.
In those days I suppose I was young and innocent. Nowadays I would have been back there sober at breakfast-time with a copy of the newspaper and the notebook. I would have been looking at the torn-out page framed in my lounge even now.
Instead, I'm reminiscing about the man who redefined English humour, despite having been an Irishman born in India.
"When I look back, the finest memory I have is not really of the Goons. It is of a girl called Julia with enormous breasts," he once said.
Or how about these one-liners:
"All I ask is the chance to prove that money can't make me happy."
(To Harry Secombe): "I hope you go before me because I don't want you singing at my funeral."
"How long was I in the Army - about five foot eleven."
"Is anything worn under the kilt?" No, it's all in perfect working order."
"I'd like to go to Heaven. But if Jeffrey Archer's there, I'd rather go to Lewisham."
On being awarded the CBE: "It's silly this. I'd rather have been made a Commander of Milton Keynes - at least it exists."
The Daily Mirror front page had it right on Thursday with an illustration of a gravestone on which was carved: "I TOLD YOU I WAS ILL."
Poor Spike suffered with manic depression and said it was the strain of writing a script for the Goons every week that drove him to distraction.
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