TV review: Spike Milligan – the Unseen Archive

The late comedian Terence “Spike” Milligan (1918-2002) was a polymath who acted, wrote (sketches, poems, plays), and made a generation laugh through his work with the Goons and beyond.

This new documentary for Sky Arts reveals his vast and fascinating archive, including audio recordings, scrapbooks, paintings and even clothes and props.

In just 70 minutes, it is hard to do justice to what contributor Ian Hislop calls “a treasure trove” but it certainly whets the appetite and completes a few missing links in his career and life.

Seb Barfield’s film adds a surreal touch while mixing music, video clips, animation and the obligatory talking heads – but it is Spike’s own words and spirit that keeps the interest.

Plagued by mental instability and a genius not always understood in his lifetime, this archive doesn’t just showcase the expected jokes, but also highlights scripts for children, letters, and more to help us further understand this complex man.

Perfectionist, husband, father, elder statesman of comedy, Catholic, Irishman. For Spike Milligan family was important, and for his daughter Síle, watching old video clips of their early life gives a different perspective on who he was.

Finding humour in everything, even a nervous breakdown, this perceptive man recorded everything in his head and heart. Depression, neurosis, and heartache contributed to family rupture and regret.

Grandson Hastie Harrower and daughter Jane applaud Spike’s meticulous organisation of his effects, whatever chaos was going on in his mind. We can all be thankful that he kept so many memories from childhood in India onwards.

There may have been many programmes on Milligan before, but this does add a little more, a further puzzle piece to a difficult, fascinating and impenetrable jigsaw.

Spike Milligan – the Unseen Archives will be screened on Sky Arts on 7 Dec and 13 Dec. It is produced by Yeti TV. I reviewed this show from an advance press screener, received with thanks.