The little grovelling bastards

Stars pay tribute to Spike's genius

Friends, colleagues and fans of Spike Millgan have paid tribute to his comedy genius.

Eddie Izzard, Harry Enfield, Paul Merton and Kathy Burke were among those performing in the memorial show in London's Guildhall.

Also on stage were Michael Palin and Terry Jones, who admitted they 'stole a great deal' from Spike in creating Monty Python.

Milligan had always claimed the Flying Circus team had copied his groundbreaking Q series, saying: "The only difference was they had six wonderful performers and I had only me."

Jones admitted: "Spike was quite right. We stole a lot from him. We stole the concept of not ending sketches and doing away with punchlines - but we didn't steal any material."

But he confessed that one Python sketch - in which John Cleese arrives at a posh dinner party with a delivery of horse manure - was unwittingly almost identical to one Spike had written almost two years earlier for Q5.

He said: "Spike has gone to the grave thinking we stole that sketch from him - but we didn't.

"But he was our inspiration, our mentor in comedy."

Enfield agreed: "Spike was a huge influence on a whole generation of comedians - the technical term is they nicked it."

Such direct tributes were rare, though, as the cast honoured Spike by performing his sketches, songs and children's poems - including scenes from The Goon Show and even reading out some correspondence with the much-hated BBC.

Merton - sporting a bushy, greying beard - recited a poem Spike wrote about his own burial several years before his death in February this year at the age of 83.

And Ballykissangel star Stephen Tompkinson read a poignant extract from Milligan's acclaimed war memoirs, telling how he was literally shell-shocked after being hit in the leg - and how his Army commanders virtually ignored his condition.

Close friend Eric Sykes, who was given a standing ovation by the sell-out audiences, also shared some anecdotes of their time sharing an office together. "We were very close," he said, "it was a very small office."
The evening, recorded by the BBC for later broadcast, was hosted by political journalist John Sergeant, who also played the Straight Man in a number of sketches.

Proceeds from the tribute, put together by Beatles producer Sir George Martin and subtitled I Told You I Was Ill, go to the Lord Mayor's Appeal.

Lord Mayor Michael Oliver said: "It is well-known that Spike suffered from depression, and it is therefore particularly appropriate that funds generated from this evening will go to mental health projects."

Closing the show, Sykes said: "Spike, wherever you are, sleep well. You've earned it."

Published: 15 Sep 2002

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