Milligan's Accordion: The Distortion of Time and Space in 'The Goon Show'

Title: Milligan's Accordion: The Distortion of Time and Space in 'The Goon Show'
Authors: Cousins, Richard J.
Date: 2012
Abstract: Spike Milligan has had an undisputable influence on English-language comedy in the past half-century. Monty Python’s Terry Jones cites the “free-wheeling fantasy world” Milligan created for the surreal radio series The Goon Show as the chief inspiration for his own group’s more internationally-famous work. However, Milligan’s writing for The Goon Show, which first aired between 1951 and 1960 displays a depth beyond “the confidence to be silly” noted by Python’s Michael Palin. Milligan’s scripts reveal a deliberate, if not wholly conscious, rejection of the laws of causality and probability, through frequent and systematic distortions of time and space. The fictional world revealed in The Goon Show’s corpus of half-hour stories is one in which concepts relating to time and space lack the fixed meanings that we attach to them in everyday life. Temporal and spatial relationships are fluid and indeterminate: boundaries between different times and different spaces can dissolve, allowing mutually inconsistent chronologies and scales of size and distance to coexist. The world-view underlying this is governed by an inversion of the generally-agreed-upon relationship between observable phenomena and individual perception. Rather than using the outside world as a source of data from which to construct models of ‘objective’ reality, Milligan allows his characters’ own words to modify the given conditions of any situation. This quasi-magical principle of storytelling mirrors cognitive strategies used by children in their primary-school years to grasp and describe the complexities of time and space. Childlike and lighthearted as it often is, The Goon Show’s twisting of time and space has a parallel to some highly complex ‘grown-up’ thinking. Its implicit rejection of the self-evidence of the fundamental laws of Newtonian physics recalls more than just the challenge to these laws provided by relativity and quantum mechanics. It also anticipates, by a full generation, the skeptical stance towards the self-evidence of immutable laws which forms the cornerstone of postmodern critiques of all fields of endeavour. The Goon Show reveals Spike Milligan to be an unsung visionary: always striding into unknown conceptual territory, he let his scripts, rather than a body of theoretical work, articulate his vision. Milligan’s comedic touch and his inimitable strangeness have led him to be appreciated, rather than studied. The ways in which The Goon Show turns time and space inward on themselves demonstrate, however, that the First Mover Unmoved in the mad universe of Goonery was an artistic and intellectual force to be reckoned with. Further study of Spike Milligan can only to lead to a greater appreciation of how far ahead of his time he truly was.
CollectionThèses, 2011 - // Theses, 2011 -