Messrs Milligan, Sellers and Secombe have been the subject of a long-term reissue project from BBC Worldwide under the Radio Collection imprint, which has recently reached volume 25. Don’t assume, however, that this new boxed series of Goon shows is a mere collection of those long-standing reissues.
This, the first in a long-term, heavily researched and superbly produced series of releases, goes much further than the Radio Collection series. It takes each and every Goon show and remasters them all, from scratch, via original acetates and third-party master tapes, piecing together all the missing bits which were taken out by the censors during the 50s and 60s, or which were purposefully trimmed. They add a heap of outtakes and bonus tracks, such as the rare Peter Sellers archive program Me & My Shadows, in which Sellers impersonates a number of the Goon characters, plus specially-recorded Radio 7 introductions from Eric Sykes.
The BBC has stated that, generally speaking, two new Compendium box sets will be released per year, starting with series five of The Goons and ranging up to the truncated tenth and final series. Thereafter, the company will look to fill in the gaps by examining all the surviving Goons shows from the first four series.
The original master tapes of the unedited shows no longer exist, so recreating those unedited shows involved some serious detective work. The shows were edited in two long series by the Transcription Service. Firstly, in the 50s, they were cut to 29 minutes and 30 seconds per show and, again, in the 60s cut to around 27 minutes – the latter mainly to accommodate the commercial breaks when shows were sent to commercial stations abroad. In addition, anything that may have been censored in the 50s was not necessarily deemed risky in the 60s, and vice-versa. Anything vaguely sexual was cut in the 50s, while a lot of race-based material passed without comment. In the more permissive 60s, many of the smut gags stayed, while the racist overtones were cut. Hence, what we have now are complete, unedited shows for the first time.
Collectors themselves have also played their part, having been encouraged to fill in gaps and loan their recordings to the BBC under amnesty. Negotiations are still underway to retrieve more “lost” material from one or two collectors but, basically, these box sets will contain everything available on The Goons. It’s not always in the best of quality, but that this stuff exists is the main thing.
Listening to the shows is a joy. They sound clean and dynamic, and the wit is as fresh and as sparkling as ever. Spike Milligan managed to create in words what Salvador Dalí created in image – but Milligan was a hell of lot funnier.