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Teeth -- Spike Milligan

(Poem #701) Teeth
 English Teeth, English Teeth!
 Shining in the sun
 A part of British heritage
 Aye, each and every one.

 English Teeth, Happy Teeth!
 Always having fun
 Champing down on bits of fish
 And sausages half done.

 English Teeth, HEROES' Teeth!
 Here them click! and clack!
 Let's sing a song of praise to them -
 Three Cheers for the Brown Grey and Black.
-- Spike Milligan
First published in "Silly Verse for Kids", 1959.
Also appears in "Poems on the Underground" (5th ed.), 1995.

A wonderfully irreverent gem from Spike Milligan; readers are strongly
advised to lay their hands on either of the above publications, so as to
savour the accompanying illustration (drawn by Milligan himself).


PS. Insightful commentary? What's that?


Terrance Allan "Spike" Milligan, born 16th April 1918.

Dubbed "the godfather of alternative comedy" by Eddie Izzard, Spike Milligan
pioneered the joke without a punchline, paving the way for Monty Python and
all the waves of anarchic anti-format humour that followed in the 60s, 70s,
80s and 90s.

He was the son of an Army Officer posted to the Empire, and was born in
(what was then British) India. Although he fought for the United Kingdom
during the War and has lived in England since 1933, he recently had so much
bureaucratic flak about the official status of his citizenship that he took
an Irish passport instead.

Spike served in the Royal Artillery during the Second World War, which
wasn't the best place in the world to develop an interest in gardening, but
probably helped him secure a sense of humour amidst the tragic but
ridiculous events occuring around him (it certainly helped his bank balance
when he published his war diaries many years later to popular acclaim).

In the early 1950s, he and some other conflict-battered chums by the names
of Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Michael Bentine decided to put together
a radio series for the British Broadcasting Corporation. They wanted to call
it "The Goon Show", but the BBC knew best, and decided it should be known as
"Crazy People". At first it was a sketch show, much like its spiritual
successor Monty Python, but a change of producer (and a change of title to,
finally, "The Goon Show") led to a story based format, which only served to
highlight the strangeness of the humour. At first both Milligan and Bentine
wrote scripts for the sketch-based series, but artistic differences made
Bentine go solo and left Spike as the creative core of the outfit until its
final broadcast. The flavour of The Goon Show is very difficult to get
across on paper, as it depended so heavily on sound effects (Milligan ended
the series partly because he had used every tape in the BBC library), Harry
Secombe's joyous timing and the mercurial vocal performance of Peter
Sellers. Indeed it was probably this dependence upon and familiarity with
its radio format that made it stand out from its competitors, both
contemporary and subsequent. An attempt to convert the series' scripts onto
television in the 1960s as The Telegoons did not prove satisfactory.

A lifelong sufferer from depression, Milligan once tried to kill Peter
Sellers (and it's a mark of their friendship that they remained close pals
until Sellers' natural death). The script writing process took a lot out of
Spike, and he often cites it with deep despair as the main cause for his
divorce. Secombe once commented that he and Sellers had all the fun of
performing for a grateful audience at the sunday recording sessions, while
Milligan painfully immersed himself in his craft throughout the week leading
up to it. Eventually, the strain proved too much, and he decided to end the
series in 1959. However, a wave of protest from devoted fans convinced him
to make one extra set of programmes which ended with The Last Smoking
Seagoon on the 28th January 1960. Even this was not to be quite the end, and
The Very Last Goon Show Of All was recorded on television before a Royal
audience (which, alas, did not include the series' most famous fan, Prince
Charles) in 1972. Spike screamed the last line after the applause had died
down: "Now, get out!"

After The Goon Show, Spike went on to write and star in the TV sketch series
Q, and has published lots of written material including his interpretation
of Lady Chatterley's Lover, as well as his famous war memoirs which began
with "Hitler, my part in his downfall". Several characters from The Goon
Show also appeared in a film he made with Peter Sellers called The Muckinese



Complete Goon scripts: [broken link]
Complete Monty Python scripts: [broken link]

There, that should keep you occupied for some time <grin>.

41 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Amethyst said...

Short note- there's a spelling error in the poem, it's "Hear them click and clack!" Not here.

Also, there's a Wallace Tripp book with this same poem in it, Tripp's own pictures. I'd love to see the original.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Spike, for this lovely poem, which brought much happiness to me and others, when I read it aloud at a very private candle-light session. I hope you also have fun watching us from the other side!
Pleased to meet you one day,

Mike Agnew said...


I run the Spike Milligan Tribute Site at

I wondered if you woul include a link to my site from yours

Many Thanks


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