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Spike: An Intimate Memoir Hardcover – 20 Oct 2003
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'Compelling... you cannot stop reading, so revealing is it of the tortured individual that lurked behind the public facade.' -- Sean O'Hagan, Observer
'Written with infectious verve... a cheery book.' -- Humphrey Carpenter, Sunday Times
About the Author
Norma Farnes has been Spike Milligan’s agent, manager and friend for over 35 years. She lives in Yorkshire and London.
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 She got a job as a secretary with Milligan more or less by pure chance, and as she got settled in expanded into being his agent. There's an amusing account of her negotiating an advertsing deal for him basically by asking twice what they offered, with no idea at all what typical rates were. Milligan offloaded most of his decisions onto her (she says, probably correcty).
 Milligan downed pills like smarties (for US readers, something like M&Ms) - Norma gives the trade names of these drugs, which I regard as a worrying sign. I wouldn't be at all surprised if his depressions were caused by pill-popping.
 Milligan despite moments of Catholic sense-of-sin, and being married, had lots of sex - Norma says typically from 6 to 12 women at any one portion of his life. One had his child and tried to exploit him, she says. Norma seems not too interested in this aspect of his life - though it does make it seem odd that the Goons and Q5 and so on have female characters, if at all, of a Benny Hill type. I would guess they were often groupie types.
 This book is curiously confined. The 'Goons' [Milligan, Sellers, Michael Bentine, Harry Secombe] are discussed of course, especially Peter Sellers and his wives and death, but not their early story. A few impresario types - Sydney Bernstein for example - are in. But the whole sense of the 1960s is empty - Beatles, Rolling Stones, other film actors, clothes designers, are missing. The Monty Python team are unmentioned - despite Milligan often complaining they plagiarised him.
 There's not much looking at the way creative types are in thrall to money. From one viewpoint Milligan was enormously lucky; the BBC had a monopoly in broadcasting until ITV was invented in the 1950s so anybody on it - typically wartime entertainers, from ENSA - had a career boost worth a fortune in publicity, and this must have helped him as he went into TV shows, books, wartime autobiographies, theatre, TV commercials, pantomime and so on. I saw him myself in about 1966, in 'The Bed Sitting Room', though the theatre was half-empty. Of course this publicity factor continued - Eric Sykes, Hancock, Sid James, Hattie Jacques... the Pythons, and many others up to say Jonathan Ross, were beneficiaries. When the extension of black and white telly to ITV ['Independent'] was being debated, it was with a sort of intense anxiety and dread - would British culture be ruined and commercialised? Most of this feeling - the entire societal framework around Milligan and others - is missing from this book.
 Milligan disliked the BBC though I'm not sure Norma really worked out why. This is (I hope) a far more common outlook now, as many people have become aware of BBC lies - largely due to Internet, which of course post-dates most of Milligan. A story I read was that 'The Goon Show' was broadcast on a strange radio slot - because the wife of a controller didn't like the show. He was furious about this but I doubt he made much impression on the BBC - all his life he felt undereducated, and that he was patronised by smart types.
So - OK, and for any serious fans essential. But I found it rather disappointing. By the way - it occurs to me that the title might have been designed to pull in readers wondering about Milligan's sexual skill. Norma says that they never had any such activity. I suppose that's slightly disappointing too.
Norma later became Spike's manager and the onus of making things happen for him was added to the secretarial burden. Later she got a secretary of her own (this biography doesn't cover Spike's early years with The Goons). There are some wonderful anecdotes in this book - and some shocking stories too. Spike was a womaniser, keeping what he called `The Bayswater Harem'. But Norma, an attractive blonde, is insistent that their relationship at least was one of mutual affection but not carnal. Norma grew to understand him as few others ever had, as she nursed him through another `Black Dog' to mental stability again, or coped with one of his wife Paddy's serial breakdowns (who had it a lot harder than Norma, including the existence of two illegitimate children by members of the Harem).
This is a good read if you are at all interested in the real lives of famous people warts-and-all. In particular the life of Spike Milligan is a compulsive read. Like his friend and rival Peter Sellers, he was a genius at being funny, but not a lot of fun to live with. 3.5 stars.
On one level the book is an extraordinary inisight into the machine of 50s-80s British comedy.
On another level the book is an extraordinary insight into the work and life of a genius.
On yet another level this is an extraordinary life story from a quite wonderful woman - the kind of woman that every good and creative man needs in his life. I am fortunate to have that woman in mine
But on the most extraordinary level, this book paints the graphic, wild picture of uncontrollable depression that seems to be born to the best and most productive minds.
For all those who suffer from depression PLEASE READ THIS. There is no other book written on the subject - the disease or gift? - that comes close to explaining to others how one feels when life tumbles from the peaks and hits the troughs.
And unfortunately, still today we with depression must master the art of explanation first before trying to conquer the demon. As Norma quotes Spike "if a man had a leg removed would you ask him to walk?"
Profound, deep, enlightening and extraordinary. Thank you Norma.
Actually regarding the content it skims over events and keeps returning to Spike the pain. Also the inevitable factual errors. Michael Bentine did not leave the Goons in a fit of pique. He had contractual responsibilities elsewhere which he took seriously. Spike doesn't seem to have been so reliable.
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