Spike by Dominic Behan - review by Peter Cook

Peter Cook

Essential Facts Missing



Methuen 204pp £11.95 order from our bookshop

How anyone can produce such a short and dull book about such a tall and fascinating man is something to ponder when insomnia threatens. Would that the book itself were soporific enough to lure Lethe’s powerful arms, but unfortunately here and there the direct quotes from Spike (pictured on the cover in genial mood with just enough hint of a red paisley shirt sleeve to encourage the unwitting bookbuyer) snap the reader out of his or her torpor.

Behan, despite his claimed – and, for all I know, actual – intimacy with the comedian, fails to mention Spike’s abiding fear of cushions. Nor is there a single mention in the book of his loathing of string. An index would have put the matter beyond all doubt within seconds, but my painstaking research came to the same conclusion. Nor, astonishingly, is there any mention of Spike’s encounter with an albino bat in Johor.

However, the chapter dealing with the Rocca family, rich friends of Toni Pontani, at their millionaire villa on Lake Maggiore, rings true. Though to my mind, the swimming pool was fourteen metres long and the description of Flo Kettlebands does little justice to a woman whom the Pope himself described as the Earth Mother of the Universe.

Obviously, Lake Maggiore was a far cry from the broom-cupboard in Notting Hill Gate which, as a young hopeful in wartorn London, he shared with battle-scarred Harry Secombe and Norman Vaughan. However, Behan makes little of it and ends the chapter suddenly, with a full-stop. Readers searching for Fiona Wright-type scandal will be as disappointed as I was. To judge from Behan’s account, Spike’s life has been unmarred by the sort of scandal that has befallen many a lesser man. Behan does however, to his credit, allude to the late Peter Sellers’s ‘deadly’ love of female royalty. I was only reading the proof copy, so perhaps they meant ‘dearly’, but who am I to know as a reviewer what they meant. They should make these things clear before sending the stuff out. But there is scant exploration of Sellers’s Jewishness and fear of pins.

Adequate tribute is paid to Norma Farnes, but as this is a book about Spike Milligan, it does not compensate for the lack of any new insight into Spike himself. Perhaps we shall have to wait for Behan’s biography of Farnes before getting a fuller understanding of Milligan. My advice to anyone who wishes to know more about Milligan, is buy any of his numerous books. They are very funny, very informative, and available in most bookshops. As an avid reader of same, I am well aware of Spike’s susceptibility to violent swings of mood and acute depression. Perhaps I was in a similar state of mind when I read this book. If you are in a state of euphoria with £11.95 to spend, this may well be the book to while away the winter hours.

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