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Children’s Literature in Education, Vol. 33, No.

4, December 2002 (䉷 2002)

Dr. Victoria de Rijke Dr. de Risk

(aka Dr. de Risk) is on
the UK Editorial Board
for CLE, and is Principal
Lecturer in Performing
Arts and Education at
Middlesex University,
London. She has co- ‘I told you I was ill’
edited projects includ-
ing NOSEBOOK: Repre- (Spike’s preferred epitaph)
sentations of the Nose
in Literature and the
Arts (2000) Middlesex
University Press and is
In honour and in memory of
working on an Internet
and CD-Rom playing
( Terence Alan) Spike Milligan,
with animal sounds,
onomatopoeia, and 1918–2002
world harmony called

A personal tribute in memory of the work of eccentric writer and

performer Spike Milligan. His scripts for perhaps the most famous
British comedy radio series The Goon Show (1951–1960) inspired
the vein of surreal satire in British comedy exemplified in shows
such as Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Spike’s absurdist poetry and
sketches for children are celebrated and examined in the context of
both British nonsense traditions, such as the work of Lewis Carroll,
Edward Lear, and the poetry of American writers Ogden Nash and
Dr. Seuss.

KEY WORDS: antiestablishment; madness; nonsense; onomatopoeia; satire.

In a BBC Radio interview some years ago, when told he was look-
ing very well, Spike replied: “Rubbish, I’ve been dead for years, and
nobody’s brave enough to tell me.”

In 2001, I approached the agent of maverick writer and performer

Spike Milligan to ask if Spike might write something or be inter-
viewed for Children’s Literature in Education, but he must have al-
ready been too ill. And anyway, he had a book to finish.

As someone who suffered terribly from manic depression, mental ill-

ness, and ten nervous breakdowns over his life, yet still produced the
daftest nonsense plays, stories, poems, and drawings for children
available in the United Kingdom, Spike Milligan is my hero. This is not
to be sentimental. I know full well Spike had his own ideas about


0045-6713/02/1200-0227/0 䊚 2002 Human Sciences Press, Inc.

228 Children’s Literature in Education

heroism. In his writing alluding to the Italian campaign during World

War II, when ‘Gunner’ Spike was hospitalised for shell shock:
The Milligan had suffered from his legs terribly. During the war in Italy,
while his mind was full of great heroisms under shell fire, his legs were
carrying the idea, at speed, in the opposite direction. The Battery Major
had not understood. ‘Gunner Milligan? You’ve been acting like a cow-

‘No Sir, not true. I’m a hero wid’ coward’s legs, I’m a hero from the
waist up.’1

As Spike said in another context, “Legs are hereditary, and run in most
families” (Figure 1).

For over 40 years Spike Milligan has championed silly words and
sketches, a body of work that should be valued far more than it is in
schools, so I have written this piece to celebrate Spike’s eccentric and
influential contribution to children’s literature in education. I have
returned to his material for my own pleasure since childhood, listen-
ing to reruns of The Goon Show, enjoying his odd appearance on TV
or film and in particular reading his prose and poetry: Book of Milli-
ganimals, Silly Verse for Kids, Unspun Socks from a Chicken’s Laun-
dry, and Startling Verse for all the Family. I have used his writing
with children in schools for over 20 years, and they find it funny too.
It manages to blend the highly didactic with the anarchic in tone
(therefore an excellent educational model), uses very regular rhyth-
mic and rhyming schemes, and is consequently very easy to learn by
heart. Yet the best word to describe Spike’s work is: ‘antiestablish-

Born in India in 1918 of an Irish captain in the Royal Artillery, edu-

cated at the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Poonam, and when war
broke out, serving in his father’s old regiment in North Africa, Spike
saw enough of the British Empire to kick against it and the establish-
ment in general. In fact, it is possible that developing a sense of the
absurd was the best coping strategy in the face of the extreme ratio-
nality of English Imperialism. Spike’s style is often labelled nonsense,
but it can be radically no-nonsense. His descriptions of military con-
scription beats even Roald Dahl’s merciless account in his biography
Going Solo for shockingly direct, childlike revelations about the prob-
abilities and possibilities for cowardice and stupidity in the armed
forces. Spike wrote in Adolf Hitler: My Part in His Downfall (1971):
It was a proud day for the Milligan family as I was taken from the house.
“I’m too young to go,” I screamed as Military Policemen dragged me
from my pram. . . . At Victoria Station the RTO gave me a travel war-
rant, a white feather and a picture of Hitler marked “This is your en-
emy.” I checked every compartment, but he wasn’t on the train. (p. 24)
‘I told you I was ill’ 229

Figure 1.

‘How long was I in the Army? Five Foot Eleven,’ Spike would say. But
his pacifist work rings as true now as ever.

Should not we be sending a copy of these to our presidents and

prime ministers? (See Figure 2.)

Said the general

Said the general of the army
I think that war is barmy
so he threw away his gun
now he’s having much more fun. (Silly Verse for Kids, 1959, p. 21)
Soldier, soldier
There was a little soldier
Who went off to the war
230 Children’s Literature in Education

Figure 2.

To serve the King,

Which is the thing
That soldiers are made for.
But then that little soldier
Was blown to bits, was he
All for his King
He did this thing:
How silly can you be? (Startling Verse, 1987, p. 22)

What Spike did in his nonsense verse, such as poking fun at the Brit-
ish military he had been part of, Dr. Seuss (aka Theodor Seuss Geisel)
did not do in his New York political cartoons during World War II. He
was happy to draw Hitler as a worm or an endless cow (with trade-
mark moustache) made up of all the invaded European countries,
with the caption reading: ‘The head eats: the rest gets milked,’ but
Seuss’s position was ‘America First,’ avoiding total anarchy. Spike took
strongly politicised and antiauthoritarian positions in his work, some-
thing that sparks critical thinking in schoolchildren, just as it did
‘I told you I was ill’ 231

Figure 3.

for me as a child. And like Dr. Seuss in his writing for children, with
his maxim: ‘A person’s a person, no matter how small,’ Spike often
directly championed and questioned children’s disenfranchisement,
as English writers such as Stevie Smith and Roald Dahl have done
(Figure 3):

she said:
She said as she tumbled the baby in:
There, little baby, go sink or swim,
I brought you into the world what more should I do?
Do you expect me always to be responsible for you? (Stevie Smith,
from Mother, What is Man? 1942, p. 182)
‘Sit up Straight,’
said Mum to Mabel.
Keep your elbows
232 Children’s Literature in Education

Off the table.

Do not eat peas
Off a fork.
Your mouth is full-
Don’t try and talk.
Keep your mouth shut
When you eat.
Keep still or you’ll
Fall off your seat.
If you want more
You will say ‘please’.
Don’t fiddle with
That piece of cheese!’
If then we kids
Cause such a fuss
Why do you go on
Having us? (Milligan, Startling Verse for all the Family, 1987, p. 14)

But most often, in the satirical tradition of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels

(1726) or Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945), Spike uses the animal world
as analogy for the human; as an accessible, humorously didactic way
to critique the human race (Figure 4). In his parody Black Beauty
According to Spike Milligan (1996), the horse bites, kicks, swears,
and drinks whisky rather than moralising sorrowfully about its ill
treatment. In The Sad Happy Ending Story of The Bald Twit Lion: A
Story for Very All Ages (1968), Spike sets the scene in a jungle, where
he depicts ‘man’ as a soulless hunter obsessed with ‘organisation,’
control, material trophies, or other ‘things,’ and guilty of shocking
hypocrisies in the name of science and war:

It was a really good Jungle: great scarlet lilies, yellow irises, thousands
of grasses all grew very happily, and this Jungle was always on time.
Some people are always late, like the late King George V. But not this

. . . There was no organisation there but everything worked out per-

fectly. Some scientists tried to make an organised jungle out of plastic
but it didn’t improve conditions and the scientists left saying, “Let’s go
to the moon instead,” and as there is nothing on the moon it seemed
the best place for them. Men kept coming to the Jungle looking for
gold, diamonds, gas and oil. Whereas simple animals could live without
these things, brilliant man couldn’t, in fact, he’d forgotten how to. One
thing he never forgot was how to have wars and say, “Oh dear, how
sad,” when children were killed by bombs. The animals left these
things called men alone. In return for this kindness man killed them,
cut off their skins and put them on the floor; cut their heads off and
stuck them on the walls. But if ever an animal killed a man, it was in all
the newspapers. (Milligan, A Book of Milliganimals, 1968, pp. 61–62)

In the Book of Milliganimals, and accompanying most of his poems,

Spike’s drawings tell other stories, such as the ‘Hippochondriac’ with
all its potions on its back illustrating the interesting phenomenon of
‘I told you I was ill’ 233

Figure 4.

the plimsoll line, where the little plimsolls (one UK word for
sneakers) float along the surface of the water. As in the work of Stevie
Smith and Dr. Seuss, Spike’s drawing is crucial to the text, and appre-
ciating the humorous counterpoint affirms something very important
for children. The comic line illustration that they are also skilled in
(but which is neither valued nor developed in school), is a vital form
of communication in creative work. Children devour the detail in
Spike’s sketches and relate directly to his literal humour; it makes
them ask urgent questions and look up words such as ‘hypochon-
driac’ and “plimsoll” just to get the joke. Incidentally, the Bald Twit
Lion does not get cured of his baldness, and the story threatens to end
sadly, with his heart broken.

“Sad growls” he said and then he did what no lion had ever done be-
fore, not even in the Ark, he laid himself down on the World and cried.
“Boo-hoo, boo-hairless-hoo.” The animals, having no television, gath-
ered around him to look and feel sad. (Milligan, A Book of Milliganani-
mals, 1968, p. 71)

Spike’s ironic awareness of the fake emotions and crocodile tears of

television (the lion in the drawing cries with a cartoon or ‘Loony-
Toons’ type caption ‘boo-hoo folks’) creates an ironic kind of aliena-
tion required for critical distance in the reader (Figures 5 and 6). This
self-conscious, self-referential and ironic use of language, exposing it
as an essentially unreliable form, reaches back to the English nine-
teenth century nonsense tradition of Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll
and across the Atlantic to the inventive word play of American poets
Ogden Nash and Dr. Seuss. Direct sense is sacrificed for attention to
the device of poetry.

Blended in Spike are the capers of early twentieth century English

poets including Walter de la Mare (‘Ann, Ann! Come quick as you
234 Children’s Literature in Education

can!/There’s a Fish that Talks in the Frying-Pan!’), and the later twen-
tieth century return to phonic literacy promotion through high-fre-
quency regular rhyming schemes such as Dr. Seuss’s playful use of
tongue-twisters, puns, hyperbole, chiasma (‘I meant what I said and I
said what I meant’), or polyptotons (the repetition of word-cores)
such as: ‘No former performers performed this performance.’ This is
what I love about using Lear, Spike, or Dr. Seuss for phonics teaching:
they do not lend themselves to phoneme drill, but to word play. Chil-
dren laugh while learning, and laughter is a reaction against rigidity.
‘Things could be worse,’ said Crow. ‘You could be a Hamlet pencil, 2B
or not 2B.’

Yet when it comes to topics such as love and loss and environmental
concern, all three are deeply serious poets, too, and must have influ-
enced the best British contemporary poet/illustrator collaborations
such as Michael Rosen with Quentin Blake and John Agard with Satoshi
Kitamura. Where John Agard says, ‘Green issues/are not to be treated
lightly. And quite rightly’ (Agard, Points of View with Professor Peek-
aboo, 2000), Spike comments harshly on the hypocrisies of sentiment
about “baby” animals and the use and abuse of them by humans:

A baby rabbit
With eyes full of pus
Is the work of scientific us. (Milligan, Small Dreams of a Scorpion,
1972, p. 26)

Figure 5.
‘I told you I was ill’ 235

Figure 6.

But like Edward Lear and Ogden Nash, Spike most often used the
animal kingdom as a rich resource for humorous commentary on di-
versity. Much of Lear’s best inventions are somewhere between the
human and the animal world—imaginative creatures such as the
Quangle-Wangle, the Pobble Who Has No Toes, the Yonghy-Bonghy-
Bo, and the Dong with the Luminous Nose. Freud called nonsense
words ‘verbal malformations,’ which resemble those found in para-
noia, hysteria, and obsessive behaviours, treating words like objects
(as children do), inventing artificial forms and deliberate ‘slips,’ what
Jean-Jacques Lecercle calls ‘regular irregularities’ such as ‘Twangum,’
‘Jumbly,’ and ‘Dong’; ‘morphologically incoherent but nevertheless
somehow regular’ (Lecercle, Philosophy of Nonsense: The Intuitions
of Victorian Nonsense Literature, 1994, p. 35).

The Quangle-Wangle’s Hat

On the top of the Crumpetty Tree
The Quangle Wangle sat . . .
And the Golden Grouse came there,
And the Pobble who has no toes,—
And the small Olympian bear,—
And the Dong with a luminous nose. (Lear, The Complete Nonsense of
Edward Lear, Mcmxlvii, pp. 252–253)

The Dong with the Luminous Nose tells the sad story of a romantic
idyll shattered by the loss of the Jumbly girl who sailed away in the
family sieve, ‘And the Dong was left on the cruel shore/Gazing-gazing
for evermore,—’ a desertion which drives the Dong mad: ‘What little
sense I once possessed / Has gone quite out of my head!’ Spike read
his poems for BBC audio tapes, and laughs after some of them, inter-
jecting: ‘I must have been off my head when I wrote that!’ Ogden
236 Children’s Literature in Education

Nash invented the terrifying Wendigo, and the vocabulary to picture


The Wendigo! The Wendigo!

Its eyes are ice and indigo
Its blood is rank and yellowish
Its voice is hoarse and bellowish. (Nash, Custard and Company,
1981, pp. 36–37)
I’m not frightened of Pussy Cats
I’m not frightened of Pussy cats
They only eat up mice and rats
But a Hippopotamus
Could eat the Lotofus! (Milligan, Silly Verse for Kids, 1959, p. 35;
Figure 7)

There are no such words as ‘bellowish’ or ‘Lotofus’ in any dictionary,

but who cares?2 Write another dictionary, these poets are implying.
Let your words serve your porpoise.

Spike’s world included blending existing animals such as the Hippo-

rhinostricow, or making up new ones like the Bongaloo, the Wiggle-
Woggle, the Gofongo, and the Land of the Bumbley Boo.

In the Land of the Bumbley Boo

You never see a Gnu
But thousands of cats
Wearing trousers and hats
Made of Pumpkins and Pelican Glue! (Milligan, Silly Verse for Kids,
1959, p. 41)

Readers of Dr. Seuss may make associations to his imaginary lands

creatured and peopled by large numbers of eccentrics: the Lorax, the
Grinch or Gootch, the Sneetches, the Drum-Tummied Snumm, the
Harp-Twanging Snarp, Dr. Derring’s Singing Herrings, or the even
more clearly Yiddish inspired Biffer-Baum Birds, the Klopfer and the
(non-Kosher) Ham-ikka-Schnim-ikka-Schnam-ikka-Schnop.

Where ‘poetry’ comes from the Greek word ‘poiein’ (to make), ‘ono-
matopoeia’ means ‘the creation of names,’ or ‘name-making.’ Highly
specific names of creatures and sounds are crucial to all these word-
makers’ work. With a name like Theodor Seuss Geisel, Dr. Seuss was
bound to play on name-making. And, like Edward Lear, Ogden Nash,
and Dr. Seuss, Spike plays with the idea of onomatopoeia as the possi-
ble origin or core of all language, self-expression, and communication.
Where you have Ogden Nash’s Skink, or Bugaboo, or ‘There goes the
Wapiti, Hippety-Hoppity!’, Spike gives us Itchy Koo Land, the Straw-
berry Moose, the Wiggle-Woggle, the Leetle with ‘Hands and Feetle/
Covered in ginger hairs,’ and the horse who can ‘clippety cloppity
‘I told you I was ill’ 237

Figure 7.

clappity clo’/ Gilliping golliping galloping go!’ Or the Multikertwigo

who says

Sniddle Iddle Ickle Thwack

Biddle-diddle Dicky-Dack
None of this made sense to me,
Maybe it does to you. (Milligan, Unspun Socks, 1980, p. 30)

Leanne Hinton, a linguistics professor at the University of California,

who has studied how sound words in comics follow patterns, has
established what she calls a ‘grammar of onomatopoeia.’ Collecting
sound-effect words from 20 different Marvel comics, sorting and or-
dering them, she has matched parts of the sound with the word used
to stand for it. In onomatopoeia you put phonemes together that do
not have to make sense but sound like a known noise, such as ‘buzz,’
‘cock-a-doodle-doo,’ ‘ding-dong,’ ‘meow,’ ‘quack’; or denote action,
like ‘POW!’ ‘SHOOM!’ ‘BANG!’ as may be read in comic books. The
sound words that comic books use such as ‘BTOK!’ (Spiderman kick-
ing a baddie on the chin) are good examples of invented onomato-
poeia. Comics and poetry make the best use of onomatopoeia, but are
infrequently used and celebrated in education settings.
238 Children’s Literature in Education

Bong-Ting-SPLASH! (Milligan, Unspun Socks, 1980, p. 71)

I have had many a searching phonological discussion about where

Spike’s country called the Ning Nang Nong might be and what things
or creatures make sounds like ‘Bong,’ ‘Ping,’ and ‘Jibber Jabber Joo,’ or
indeed, what these sounds really mean. Do they exist outside lan-
guage? Whose language are they in (Figure 8)?

On the Ning Nang Nong

On the Ning Nang Nong
Where the Cows go Bong!
And the monkeys all say Boo!
There’s a Nong Nang Ning
Where the cows go Ping!
And the teapots Jibber Jabber Joo.
On the Nong Nang Nong
All the mice go Clang!
And you just can’t catch em when they do!
So it’s Ning Nang Nong
Cows go Bong!
Nong Nang Ning
Trees go Ping!
Nong Ning Nang
Mice go Clang!
What a noisy place to belong,
Is the Ning Nang Ning Nang Nong!! (Milligan, Silly Verse for Kids,
1959, p. 39)

‘A little nonsense, now and then, is relished by the wisest men.’ In

1998, ‘The Ning Nang Nong’ was voted by the Guardian newspaper
as the UK’s favourite comic poem. The public and educational delight
in this kind of work is that it both employs and breaks the rules or
conventions of language in artful, feasible ways. Interestingly, this is
by no means fixed to one language, and using Spike’s work with bilin-
gual or multilingual children encourages them to exercise what they
know about different language systems and play with the spaces in
between. As pointed out in ‘DADA’ (a child’s first sound and French
for hobby-horse), the art or anti-art movement predating surrealism
(1915–1920), sound or phonetic poems are what the artists called the
language of ‘children and mad poets.’ ‘This is what things have come
to in this world,/The cows sit on the telegraph poles and play chess,’
said Richard Huelsenbeck in 1916. Dadaist Hugo Ball wrote poems
mixing languages up: Latin, German, fragments of other languages,
‘I told you I was ill’ 239

Figure 8.

inventing half-sense and nonsense, with onomatopoeia everywhere,

or, as he called it, ‘the language of animals and fish.’

from Karawane
wulubu ssubudu uluw ssubudu
tumba ba-umf
ba-umf. (Ball, Phonetic Poem, 1917, p. 8)
Nonsense II
Myrtle molled the Miller pole
While Tommy twigged the twoo
And Dolly dilled the dripper dole
As Willy wet the woo
Then Andy ate the Acker cake
And Wensy wonged the groo
As Herbert hacked the hatter rake.
240 Children’s Literature in Education

And Bertha bonged the boo!

Then all together hacked the hack
And widdle donkey doo
They prongled on the wally wall
And the time was half past two. (Milligan, Startling Verse, 1987, p. 54;
Figure 9)

Spike’s Dr. Seuss-like (if perhaps a little ruder) alliterative powers

combine ‘They prongled on the wally wall’ (well, a wall is wally, chil-
dren will tell you) with the prosaic final line ‘And the time was half
past two,’ blurring the borders between sense and nonsense. ‘It’s
about how hard it is to do gardening,’ one child told me (but that may
have been the pictures). Whilst this poem reduces children to ‘wet
their woo’ or worse, ‘widdle donkey doo’ with laughter, it is more
than nonsense for silliness’ sake. Like the DADA project, this is a ges-
ture toward undermining ideas around rationality and nationality and
language as a fixed instrument perpetuating it. It frees language from
the constraints of meaning things to particular people; it opens up
grammar and vocabulary, humorously and anarchically. Demonstrating
language as an unlimited device reminds us of what limited forms we
use most of the rest of the time. In I met a Greek (1987), Spike forces
rhyme (and national attributes) into absurdity.

I met a Moroccan
With only one sock on. . . .
I met a Croat
Who had a sore throat.

Figure 9.
‘I told you I was ill’ 241

I met a Sioux
Who was six foot tioux. . . .
I met a Majorcan
Who wouldn’t stop torcan
I met a Fijian
Who’d just done his knee in.
I met an Iraqi
Who had a bad baqui. . . . (Milligan, Startling Verse, 1987, pp. 76–77)

Nonconformist as he was, Spike was still given an honorary CBE in

1992 (Figure 10).

I went to Buckingham Palace

To try to see the Queen
They said “Oh dear, she isn’t here”
I saw where she had been. (Milligan, Startling Verse, 1987, p. 27)

In 1994, Spike called HRH Prince Charles a ‘little grovelling bastard’

on TV, then faxed him saying: ‘I suppose a knighthood is out of the
question now?’ Interviewed in 1995 (always a terrifying event for
hosts because of his brilliant unpredictability—he turned up once in
his dressing-gown straight from a psychiatric clinic), he described the
cast of The Goon Show (Spike, Peter Sellars, Harry Secombe, and for a

Figure 10.
242 Children’s Literature in Education

short time, Michael Bentine) as ‘comic Bolsheviks’. As he put it, ‘we

wanted to destroy all that had come before and create something to-
tally new.’ The title ‘Goons,’ which came from a strange being in Pop-
eye cartoons, was actually misread as The Go On Show by some of
the stuffier BBC executives who later banned scenes such as those
depicting Members of Parliament sleeping in the House of Commons.
In December 1953, a Goon Show spoof broadcast announced a UFO
flying over London and suggested the public ring in if they saw it.
Thousands of “spotters” rang the hotline.

Spike wrote most of the irreverent and surreal material for over two
hundred shows containing ridiculous character spoofs and improb-
able sound-effects (such as a man hit over the head with sock full of
custard). Spike’s mental health suffered throughout, and he was occa-
sionally absent due to nervous collapse. As he put it, ‘The Goon
Shows did it. That’s why they were so good.’ I think it was Freud who
said a great comedian takes our pain unto himself. Making connec-
tions between creative drive and madness is what much of Spike’s
work actually does. Like the anti-psychiatrist R. D. Laing and neurolo-
gist and writer Oliver Sachs, he questioned what madness is when it
is categorised by those who categorically believe themselves sane. Are
children closer to this madness? Can children, as part of their condi-
tion—their ‘not yet’ fully sane or adult status—more readily appreci-
ate comic Bolshevism? I think perhaps they can.

In 2001, Prince Charles, a Goon Show devotee since childhood, be-

stowed an honorary knighthood on Spike, and when he died in 2002,
mourned his loss with the nation as marking ‘the end of a great era of
British comedy.’ I do not know if Prince Charles is right: I hope not.
As Spike used to say at the end of a sketch in his TV show Q:

What are we going to do now? What are we going to do now? . . .

What—are—we—going . . . ?

In writing this I have come to the conclusion that a medical condition
perhaps encourages a writer not to waste time (nor words), and that
work published for children may not have been produced for them
alone. (But we knew that already.) ‘Make things as simple as you can,’
said Einstein. ‘But no simpler than that’ (Figure 11).

from Not Waving But Drowning

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead.
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.
‘I told you I was ill’ 243

Figure 11.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always

(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning. (Stevie Smith, “Not Waving But
Drowning,” p. 303)
Have a nice day!
‘Help, help,’ said a man, ‘I’m drowning.’
‘Hang on,’ said the man from the shore.
‘Help, help,’ said the man, ‘I’m not clowning.’
‘Yes I know and I heard you before.
Be patient, dear man who is drowning,
You see, I’ve got a disease.
I’m waiting for Dr. J. Browning
So do be patient, please.’
‘How long,’ said the man who was drowning,
‘Will it take for the Doc to arrive?’
‘Not very long,’ said the man with the disease.
‘Till then try staying alive.’
‘Very well,’ said the man who was drowning,
‘I’ll try and stay afloat
By reciting the poems of Browning
And other things he wrote.’
‘Help, help,’ said the man with the disease
‘I suddenly feel quite ill.’
‘Keep calm,’ said the man who was drowning,
‘Breathe deeply and keep quite still.’
‘Oh dear,’ said the man with the awful disease,
‘I think I am going to die.’
‘Farewell,’ said the man who was drowning.
Said the man with the disease, ‘Goodbye.’
So the man who was drowning drownded
And the man with the disease passed away,
244 Children’s Literature in Education

But apart from that, and a fire in my hat

It’s been a very nice day. (Milligan, Startling Verse, 1987, p. 8)

What I know from Spike is that facing our worst fears can be done in
silly verse and then laughed at. I recommend listening to him read his
own stuff, which is exactly that combination of hilarious and tragic as
Edward Lear’s performances at the piano, singing his nonsense has
been described; hovering on a thin edge between tears and laughter.
And I also recommend learning Spike Milligan off by heart (Figure

1. All quotes without sources come from my head. (I’ve tried to look them
up, but it’s all dark in there.)
‘I told you I was ill’ 245

2. Almost all the words written by Spike and other poets came up in my
spell-checker as ‘unacceptable’ spellings, which is a great compliment to
their words (and an insult to mine).
Every effort has been made to contract copyright holders

Agard, John, and Kitamura, Satoshi, Points of View with Professor Peekaboo.
London: The Bodley Head, 2000.
Freud, Sigmund, The Interpretation of Dreams. Harmondsworth: Penguin,
Hark, Ina Rae, “Eccentricity and Victorian Angst,” Victorian Poetry, 1978, 16.
Jackson, Holbrook, ed., The Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear. London:
Faber & Faber, mcmxlvii.
Lecercle, Jean-Jacques, Philosophy of Nonsense: The Intuitions of Victorian
Nonsense Literature. London: Routledge, 1994.
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