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Portrait of a Goon (1959)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

The comedian Spike Milligan tells a surreal story about an altercation with a park keeper in Holland Park who accosted Milligan and his producer when they were filming. He then sings a comic song in front of a montage of war, riots, bombing and high-level international political debate, culminating in a nuclear explosion.

In Hyde Park, Milligan reflects on the nature of comedy. He's just been thrown out of a lot of parks for filming without permission, and it doesn't seem funny to him now, but he suspects that he'll shape it into comedy later. He believes that comedy is essentially based on tragedy, but it can't turn into comedy until sufficient time has elapsed. Lord Nelson would not have been considered a figure of fun at the time of the Battle of Trafalgar, but now he's fair game. Milligan reads a poem about the whiteness of Nelson's statue's hat being caused by pigeons.

Milligan walks into the Royal College of Organists and plays a harmonica. His jacket and instrument are thrown out, followed by Milligan himself. He runs back in and is thrown out again. He reflects on how that was an unusually bad day, which started when he was found sleeping under a bed of autumn leaves by a park-keeper. He plays hopscotch on the Albert Memorial before going to shave in the open air. While shaving, he places a cylinder on an old phonograph and plays a recording of the Goon Show. He shaves the cylinder as it plays, then removes the phonograph's horn and uses it as an ear trumpet. He is then accosted by a man with a beard.

Milligan says that he finds a lot of inspiration in Holland Park, and wanders in and out of a tree-lined avenue. He finds a copy of his Silly Book of Verse for Kids abandoned by a tree and reads three poems from it in a variety of silly voices.

Back in Hyde Park, he talks about writing for children, his favourite audience. He doesn't believe they grow up into adults - he thinks they vanish from the face of the earth. People who don't think in an adult way are very easy to entertain, but as soon as their parents start to influence them they lose their ability to appreciate humour.

Milligan says that he'd like to live a simple life, but it's impossible to do it in the city. He wants to teach his children what a horse feels and smells like. An aeroplane flies over, and Milligan condemns it for illustrating exactly what he's complaining about, not least because it drowns out his voice. He rows away on the Serpentine at high speed.