Spike Milligan and me

As a twenty-something, I came to England from the U.S., hoping to get a job with a work permit. One night an English friend took me to see Spike’s one-man show at the Mermaid. I hadn’t a clue who he was but went along. My friend laughed uproariously during the entire show but as I was a fairly new arrival to these shores, I’m ashamed to admit that most of the jokes went over my head.

My friend then dragged me backstage so he could say hello to one of the crew. There I spotted Spike, all alone, plucking out ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ on a guitar. Naturally, I started to sing it. ‘Oh, you like jazz,’ he said, suddenly noticing me. ‘Maybe we could go out some time.’

That’s how it started. I think he liked me for two reasons. One – I was from America – a place pretty oblivious of Spike’s existence – so I had novelty value. But the clincher was my surname: Zipes. ‘It’s got to have a built-in exclamation mark at the end,’ he insisted. So, Zipes! it was to be from that point onward. I don’t think he ever called me by my first name, Marilynn.

I became Spike’s periodic dinner companion, often going to the Kensington restaurant he particularly favoured, The Trattoo. The first time we dined there it was his co-writer for the ‘Q8’ series currently in progress. Spike was a vegetarian and duly ordered a pasta dish. His writing friend ordered steak tartare. As I watched them eat, the irony was not lost on me.

On another occasion, as we sat at the piano bar in The Trattoo, listening to Spike’s friend Alan Clare go through his repertoire, a couple of giggling teenage girls charged over to Spike, all excited, asking for his autograph. No one had any paper but someone had a pen, so Spike obliged by writing with a flourish up and down their forearms. Nowadays they’d no doubt have his signature converted into a tattoo – from the Trattoo.

Because of my friendship with Spike, I bought and read his novels, poetry and Goon Show scripts. Everyone I talked to would practically swoon whenever I mentioned The Goon Show but I didn’t find it funny and concluded it must have been the voices and sound effects that made the broadcasts so memorable to their dedicated listeners. (I was just relieved that being a Goon Show fan was not a requirement when I applied for British citizenship some years later.)

After ‘pounding the pavements’ for many months, I finally found a London publisher willing to apply for a work permit for me. The stumbling block was that my passport only gave me ‘visitor’ status. I needed to break the coding in order for the Home Office to consider my application. This meant leaving the country, which I did not want to do. So, with a cake tin full of home-made brownies as a ‘sweetener’, I visited Spike and told him of my plight. He wrote to the Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, on my behalf, and a few weeks later received a letter saying that the Home Office would consider my application, without my having to leave. The work permit eventually came through and I’ve been here ever since. My five minutes of fame came when Spike’s manager, Norma Farnes, featured my story in her book, ‘Spike’s Letters’.

My dinners with Spike dwindled as I got more and more involved with the new man in my life, who I ultimately married. When we had our first child, a girl, I sat down with my address book and sent out lots of birth announcements. On a whim, I sent one to Spike. The reply was typical Spike, and made me laugh out loud. ‘Congratulations,’ it read. ‘Is it one of ours?’

2 Comments on Spike Milligan and me

  1. Joy Lennick
    November 9, 2015 at 1:16 pm (3 years ago)

    Very you…A most enjoyable read, and as Spike fans, we are impressed. Our lads; a good friend and Eric used to converse in a nonsense language which can be blamed on the Goons! Telephone conversations sometimes started “Hello, Neddy…” He was quite a character.

  2. Jason
    November 9, 2015 at 2:40 pm (3 years ago)

    Colour me impressed! Spike and the goons were a significant early comedy presence in our house. I remember enjoying the Q series and thinking it was pretty radical and deliciously silly. Read one or two of his books (way back) and now I’m dabbling with humorous writing I feel inclined to seek out more.

    You’ve certainly had an interesting life judging by this and your previous post on HCB. When’s the autobiography due? I’m sure would make a very good read.


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