As a boy in the fifties I was brought up on The Goon Show. It was a weekly radio comedy show, deliberately nonsensical and surrealist. (For those of tenderer years, here’s one example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuVFFNvyUT8. There are many others – probably the entire run – on Youtube.) We used to listen to it avidly on Thursday evenings, I think, and then re-enact it word-perfectly over school dinners. I wish we could have learned our Latin declensions as easily! I was Bluebottle; my friend Michael Harrington was always Eccles. I can’t remember who was Major Bloodnok. Our parents hated it, because it made ridiculous fun of the holiest things in their lives: church, Empire, the Royals, the BBC, the War, teachers, the military, politicians – oh, the entire ‘Establishment’. It must have been one reason for the scepticism, the lack of respect and then the radicalisation of many of my generation. Later on Monty Python revived the genre. The connecting link between them was the Irish comic genius Spike Milligan. (‘I told you I was ill!’, were the words he wanted inscribed on his tombstone. I still think that’s the funniest joke of all time.) The Goon Show was an essential part of my formative years. But of course, it was only comedy.
Or so I used to think; until the latest bunch of Brexiteers sprouted up. They are so like the original Goons as to make me wonder whether Spike Milligan didn’t have some miraculous powers of divination. There they are: Eccles (Nigel Farage), Bloodnok (Boris Johnson), and Bluebottle (little Michael Gove). Jacob Rees-Mogg outgoons them all. They seem to be no less ridiculous than their original versions; yet they have the fortunes of this country, and possibly the whole of Europe, in their hands. How is it that we’ve allowed ourselves to be governed by cartoon characters? I’m sure that wasn’t Spike’s, Peter Sellers’s and Harry Secombe’s original intention. They must be chortling in their graves. (‘I told you I was ill!’) Not me.