4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Flawed in many respects,
This review is from: Spike Milligan (Paperback)
Humphrey Carpenter wants to be Albert Goldman but instead comes across as a lazy iconoclast who seems to have little time for his subject matter. The trouble is that he is a big fan of The Goons and as a result the ten years that Milligan spent with The Goons takes up a sizeable chunk of the book while the rest of his life is rushed as if it if were some kind of inconvenience.
There's very little on Milligan's life growing up in India as the author freely admits that such parts of a biography bore him and even less on his war years - which is kind of understandable considering the number of war books published by Milligan himself - except that later in the book the author goes into greater detail about the early lives of Harry Seacombe and Peter Sellers, freely contradicting himself.
The post-Goon years are dealt with at haste and the closing chapters are poorly written and mostly made up with quotes from other sources. Confusingly, there's a six page interview with Spike's illegitimate son and his mother which reveals very little, having already been covered in the previous pages. By contrast, the deaths and their affects on Milligan of his second wife Pat from cancer and his fellow goons barely get a mention. His wife's death is dealt with in a single paragraph while Peter Seller's passing gets a brief mention. Seacombe meanwhile is worthy only of a single line while Michael Bentine's death is considered a mere after thought.
And then there's the "sensationalist" parts, probably designed to sell the book. But unfortunately the author only ever hints at these, relying on Chinese Whispers to spread gossip. If Milligan really was a blackshirt or helped kill his second wife as suggested you would expect more than a mere couple of lines while trying to imply that the comic's first mental breakdown did not actually happen is mere folly.
There are two underlying themes throughout the book - Milligan's depressions and his racist tendencies (such as they were). The former is described in rudimentary fashion so that you seemingly get a simple list of the highs and the lows while the latter gets an airing every twenty pages or so - including a quote about his time in India in the opening chapter which the author seems to think is enough to have the comic banged to rights. But the quote is from a BBC Radio Four documentary on The Raj in which Milligan speaks fondly about the people and the place and the quote is taken so far out of context that it leaves a sour taste in the mouth.
A flawed biography in many respects, but the chapters on The Goons are excellent, leaving one to conclude that the author would have been better off sticking to them alone.