Spike Milligan's Accordion

The Distortion of Time and Space in The Goon Show


“It’s all rather confusing, really” was one of the catchphrases used by Spike Milligan in his ground-breaking radio comedy program The Goon Show. In a series of mock-epics broadcast over the course of a decade, Milligan treated listeners to a cosmology governed by confusion, contradictions, fluidity and uncertainty. In The Goon Show’s universe, time and space expand and contract seemingly at will and without notice. The worldview featured in The Goon Show looked both backward and forward: backward, in the sense that it paralleled strategies used by schoolchildren to understand time and space; forward, in the ways it anticipated and prefigured a number of key features of postmodern thought. Winner of the Ann Saddlemyer Award 2017 of the Canadian Association for Theatre Research.
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Biographical Note

During a career as a comedy writer, actor, academic, radio producer, cartoonist and sound designer, Rick Cousins, M.A. (2012), University of Ottawa, has taken on a myriad of projects which combine a scholarly approach with an offbeat sense of humour.

Table of contents

PRELUDE: A FEW WORDS OF EXPLANATION INTRODUCTION “Good Morning, sir, welcome to Chapter Two”: A Few Words on the Structure of this Book CHAPTER 1—THE ACCORDION UNDER CONSTRUCTION: THE ORIGINS OF SPIKE MILLIGAN’S COMEDIC STYLE, AND OF THE GOON SHOW 1. Portrait of The Milligan as a Young Goon: Laying the Groundwork for a Personal Vision of Comedy 2. “Well, that’s the end of that corny routine”: The Goon Show’s Sketchy Beginnings 3. New Producer, New Approach: Peter Eton and the Transformation of The Goon Show 4. The Goon Show’s “Classic” Format: Dramatic Structures Mature in the Service of Comedic Immaturity 5. Little Cardboard-and-String Heroes: The Goon Show’s Regular Cast of Characters 6. “This is the BBC”: The Goon Show Vis-à-Vis Mainstream Practices in Contemporary Radio Drama 6.1. “What is this Go On Show?” The BBC’s official narratives and The Goon Show’s place in them 6.2. “Meantime, back in the BBC torture room”: The Goon Show’s Deviations from BBC Radio’s Dominant Aesthetic for Dramaturgy and Performance 7. “Who are you, Ben Lyon?”: The Goon Show’s Thematic Links to Popular Culture between the Two World Wars CHAPTER 2—THE ACCORDION BEATING TIME: TEMPORAL DISTORTIONS IN THE GOON SHOW 1. Looking Backward to Look Forward Again: The Goon Show’s Narrative Framework 2. One Narrative, Many Narrators: The Goon Show’s Democracy of Diegesis 3. The Fragmentation of Time-Frames in The Goon Show and Its Effects On Narrative 4. That Sabrina Sure Gets Around: The Free Flow of Anachronisms in The Goon Show 5. Musical Interludes in The Goon Show: Interruptions in Narrative Flow and Opportunities for Temporal Distortion 6. The Ageless Aging Process of The Goon Show’s Characters 7. “I’m for the dreaded deading this week alright”:The Impermanence of Death in The Goon Show 8. The Passage of Time and the Completion of Tasks: Two Sides of the Same Coin 9. Sounds and Their Effects on Temporality INTERRUPTION 1: MILLIGAN’S LAWS OF TIME CHAPTER 3—THE ACCORDION STRETCHING IN ALL DIRECTIONS: SPATIAL DISTORTIONS IN THE GOON SHOW 1. Setting the Scene: A Few Words on the “Landscape” of Radio Theatre 2. Mise en Scène as Mise sans Scène: The Goon Show as “Black Box” Theatre for Radio 3. Contents Not Necessarily To Scale: The Variability of Container Capacity in The Goon Show 4. “My Lord, a piece of junk being found on the King’s Highway, it is declared treasure trove”: The Appearance of Objects Exactly When, and Exactly Where, They Are Needed 5. The Conundrum of Self-Duplication and Rapid Spatial Displacement, or, Being in Two Places at Once Is Easier When You Don’t Know It Can’t Be Done 6. Perceptual Fields Forever: Milligan’s Use of Simultaneous Multiple Perspectives within the Same Scene 6.1. The Perception of Doors 6.2. Getting That Long-Distance Feeling—Telephones as Disruptors of Spatial Integrity 6.3. The Use of Pre-Recorded Voices and Effects to Establish Additional Spatial Frames 7. All the World’s a Soundstage: The Recording Studio as Determinant of Spatial Frameworks 8. When Mental Maps Suffer Breakdowns: Around the World (and back again) with The Goon Show INTERRUPTION 2: MILLIGAN’S LAWS OF SPACE CHAPTER 4—CHILDREN TEACH LESSONS ON THE ACCORDION: PREOPERATIONAL COGNITIVE STRATEGIES IN THE GOON SHOW 1. “Hello, folks, this is Neddy Seagoon speaking, folks”: The Spoken Word as Stage Manager of Radio Theatre 2. Suffer Little Children to Come unto Metonymy: The Preoperational Substitution of Words for Things 3. A Child’s Garden of Goon-sense: Milligan as Children’s Author and Perpetual Child 4. Putting Together Pieces from Different Puzzles: Children, Goons and Cognitive Constructivism 5. Preoperational Perceptions of Time and The Goon Show 6. “And this is where the story really starts”: The Preoperational Mind at Work in Milligan’s Construction of Narrative 7. Time, Task Completion, Preoperational Cognition and The Goon Show 8. The Goon Show and Preoperational Modes of Spatial Cognition 8.1. Childlike Spatial Readings of Objects and Locales 8.2. “It must be a drowning cartoonist”: Other Childlike Animation-based Spatial Reconfigurations in The Goon Show 8.3. “I have got a Boy Scout street map of Shanghai”: Childlike Geography in The Goon Show CHAPTER 5—THE ACCORDION PLAYS A NEW TUNE BEFORE ANYONE CAN WRITE IT DOWN: ANTICIPATIONS OF POSTMODERNISM IN THE GOON SHOW 1. Pipping Them at the Postmodern: Milligan the Advance Scout 2. Milligan’s Deconstructions of History and Historical Fictions 3. The Goon Show as Reductio ad Absurdum of the Metanarratives of Scientific Thought 4. Breaking Causal Chains Causes Causal Chain Reactions: Indeterminacy in The Goon Show 5. Postmodern Geographies, Thirdspace, and The Goon Show 6. Superspace—The Final Frontier: The Goon Show’s Universe of Multiple Universes 7. The Goon Show Hits a Heisenberg, but Doesn’t Sink: Milligan and the Uncertainty Principle 8. Disorder as a Creative Force in The Goon Show 9. Chaos in The Goon Show: Not So Much a Theory as a Way of Life CONCLUSION: THE ACCORDION IS PACKED AWAY SOURCES


All interested in the analysis of humour, radio history, twentieth-century popular culture and postmodernism, as well as those interested in Spike Milligan, The Goon Show, and alternative British comedy.