It was the winter of 1964. My school, Queen Mary’s in Basingstoke, had arranged for a few of us to have a cultural visit: A coach took us to the Comedy Theatre in the West End of London. The theatre was staging ‘Son of Oblomov’ and Spike Milligan was in the lead role. I had no idea what to expect. I knew that Spike Milligan was eccentric and apparently very funny – but that was all.
My schoolmates and I sat in the stalls and we watched the play. I couldn’t really make sense of what was taking place. However, whenever Spike Milligan got going we all waited for something weird and amusing to happen. And it did: For example, apart from speaking in a bizarre voice and pulling crackpot faces, Spike Milligan managed to get hold of a white glove from somewhere – which he suddenly began milking – as if it was a cow’s udder. Neither the glove nor its transformation into a cow’s udder had anything to do with the play but the audience was delighted with that moment of creative madness.
When the play was over, two of us (an older boy and I) happened to come across Spike Milligan himself. He was sitting on some steps at the side entrance to the Comedy Theatre. My friend, who was older and braver than me, asked him for his autograph. After a moment’s hesitation, he took my friend’s theatre programme and signed his name. It was a good bold signature that did everything a decent signature should do.
Encouraged by my friend’s success I turned to Spike Milligan and asked him: “May I have one too?”
“Yes, you may,” replied Spike.
This time his face took on a slightly demonic expression. I held out my Son of Oblomov programme:
He took it – and on it he wrote: ‘2’