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Spike Milligan,
Sep 19 1981

Dear Spike,

My God, what kind of shock is that to give a man at breakfast? I am busy torturing a sausage to death over a slow fire (brave to the end, he refused to admit whether it contained any meat or not) and then bang, through the letterbox, an endorsement of my Churchill novel. That’s the kind of letter that makes you pinch yourself and reread a dozen times, just in case. Then you tuck it in your socks, to stop it going to your head.

What’s so ironic is that without you I could never have written anything like that. The Goons of course, but by 1960 I reckoned I was free of your influence, and then came along Puckoon and The Bed Sitting Room and Oblomov, but especially Puckoon which was my favourite bedside reading for two years and replaced the Bible; in fact I almost started a scheme for filling hotel bedrooms with a Gideon Puckoon. Then, in the 70s, I was Mussolini’s Right-Hand Chambermaid etc, and a totally new way of looking at war. By 1980 I was again totally free of your influence and looking forward to a trouble-free decade, when along comes this letter. Bad cess to you, Sir.

Of course, to say I was influenced by you sounds academic. What I really mean is that I stole your jokes, repainted them, put new numbers on them and restyled them, till I was convinced they were mine, and so they were in a manner of speaking, but it’s still the old thing of a little man standing on a big man’s shoulders. This is probably the only chance I’ll ever get to say thanks for all the things you’ve unwittingly taught me, so I say it now.

I think you’ve misunderstood the Law Society and their policy to stop the jails being overcrowded. Yes, they’ve asked for shorter criminal sentences; but what they meant was sending only shorter criminals to jail. That way, they can get even more malefactors in the same space. Small claims courts, petty crimes: all the same idea.

I don’t have an office at The Times, so I didn’t get your letter till Saturday, today, but it sustained me through one of the grimmest ordeals of my life. I had decided to cycle along the canal at the other end of Ladbroke Grove as far as I could get, and pedalled the towpath through Ealing, Southall, West Drayton, Uxbridge and various strange back-of-civilisation places, alternatively green and gloom until I got to the outskirts of Watford. It wasn’t really grim at all, actually an eye-opening experience, but I had to battle with increasing rain and three punctures, so every now and then I said to myself Think of Spike’s letter. Thus does a man sitting in the quiet warmth of a Crime Court find himself written into canal history.

Stop babbling, Kington. Go away Milligan, and stop influencing me.

yours

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