Spike Milligan fishing in 1962 at Woy Woy, where he loved to spend time with his family, and had hoped to retire.
Spike Milligan fishing in 1962 at Woy Woy, where he loved to spend time with his family, and had hoped to retire. COURTESY DESMOND MILLIGAN

The real Spike Milligan is back home in Woy Woy

THE Spike Milligan Exhibition, launched recently at Woy Woy Library, is as much about the man, Terence Milligan and his family, as the comedian, actor and writer who gained fame in The Goon Show.

Council local history librarian, Geoff Potter, said the exhibition was a unique tribute to "the real Spike".

Marking a century since his birth, it comprises a specially commissioned 16-minute documentary, The Milligans of Woy Woy, as well as photos, letters, diaries and heirlooms, such as Spike's cornet, donated by his late brother Desmond, who died last year.

Among the collection currently on show is a copy of the Goon Show scripts, published in the 1970s and dedicated from Spike to his brother saying, "To my brother Desmond, who, somewhere along the way, helped my sense of humour take the turn it did".

Spike, centre, with his parents Leo and Florence Milligan at Woy Woy in 1962. Spike was very close to his family and reportedly said, “My father had a profound influence on me: he was a lunatic”.
Spike, centre, with his parents Leo and Florence Milligan at Woy Woy in 1962. Spike was very close to his family and reportedly said, “My father had a profound influence on me: he was a lunatic”. DESMOND MILLIGAN COLLECTION CCLS

"What you get is a really intimate portrait of the Milligan family," Geoff said.

"To the family, he was always Terence, or Terry, and he was actually a very quiet man."

He said Spike loved being able to relax and be himself when he visited the family in Woy Woy, where they retired around 1954, after moving to Sydney from Britain in 1950.

He visited regularly from 1959, bushwalking, wandering the waterfront, fishing, and writing in the family study, where some of his most famous work was created.

However, the exhibit also gives people a glimpse into where that madcap comedy with Peter Sellers and Harry Secombe was born.

Spike's dad, Leo, who was described as having been bitten by the theatre bug at an early age, and performed several times as a child with a then-unknown Charlie Chaplin, was forced into the army by his own father at 14.

But he brought with him to his station posts in India a passion for both the Wild West and the stage, creating cowboy shows which he performed to troops.

Spike's mother, Florence, who Geoff described as always "larger than life" was also on stage as a singer when they met.

"So it's a fascinating family history - quite unconventional," Geoff said.

THE MANY FACES: The new Spike Milligan Exhibition at Woy Woy Library shows the man behind the comedy. Spike (1918-2002) felt Woy Woy was his second home.
THE MANY FACES: The new Spike Milligan Exhibition at Woy Woy Library shows the man behind the comedy. Spike (1918-2002) felt Woy Woy was his second home.

While Spike did contentiously refer to the city as "the world's only above-ground cemetery", Geoff said his act often included quips about death, such as, "I'm not afraid of dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens".

"There is so much evidence in his actions and words that he truly loved the place," Geoff said.

That included supporting local groups such as the Woy Woy Little Theatre, Rotary Club and the Gosford City Orchestra.

He also used his influence to help save Riley's Island, near Davistown, from real estate development in the 1970s, to preserve the former St Luke's Church of England at Blackwall, and to promote awareness of poet Henry Kendall and raise funds to conserve his historic cottage.

And now, the State Library grant associated with the exhibit has also allowed an upgrade of the Woy Woy Library, including a new six-seat theatrette, lounge area with space to use laptops, and mobile book shelves to allow greater flexibility, such as author events.

"I think we owe Spike an apology," Geoff said.

The Spike Milligan Exhibition is free and open during regular library opening hours.

ODDSPOT

The British Independent cited a number of Spike Milligan's famous quotes in honour of his 100th birthday, one of which they noted was particularly apt for today's world, although Spike died in 2002.

"You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all the people some of the time, which is just long enough to be president of the United States."


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