You can hear me here on Goon Pod – a podcast looking at the various works of the various members of The Goons, good and bad alike – chatting to Tyler Adams about Peter And Sophia, the comedy album that Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren made with George Martin in 1960 after starring together in The Millionairess.
Those of you who are familiar with the accompanying single Goodness Gracious Me will no doubt be expecting this to be a ‘difficult’ album to discuss now, and indeed it is in some respects, not least with regard to the deployment of a couple of ‘comedy’ accents in places. However, it’s also an album that features sketches actually poking fun at actual racists (as does the song that was released as a single as a follow-up to Goodness Gracious Me), a number of darkly tinged references to urban redevelopment and the threat of ‘the bomb’, a nightmarish monologue that’s pretty much a League Of Gentlemen sketch decades ahead of its time, and some trademark Beatles-anticipating speeded-up vocal silliness and mocked-up archive recordings, not to mention a guest appearance from The Temperance Seven. It’s also an album that allows Sophia ample room to be funny in her own right rather than just a ‘comedy sexy woman’. Yet it’s also the Peter Sellers album that never gets mentioned anywhere by anyone.
During the course of a wide-ranging conversation we discuss whether it’s fair to dismiss the entire album on the basis of one mildly objectionable song – not to mention the thorny issue of films like The Millionairess and The Party which are simultaneously both exceptionally good and utterly unsuitable for showing in polite society nowadays – as well as my own frequently underwhelmed background with The Goons (and learning to play the harmonica), whether Monty Python really ripped off Spike Milligan, the cultural impact of Spike Milligan reading Help! I Am A Prisoner In A Toothpaste Factory! on Jackanory, the role of the television ‘backroom boys’ in the sixties, whether it’s possible to properly evaluate a comedy record or stage show soundtrack when when we don’t have the visuals that went with them, whether either of us actually want to hear ‘Bawdy Songs Goes To College’, the hidden surrealist majesty of Harry Secombe’s Highway, and just why everyone in the sixties found gramophones so bloody amusing. This was a challenging subject to cover and I’d like to thank Tyler for engaging with certain of my opinions that I’m more than aware certain fans of vintage comedy might consider to be political correctness run riot, but let them come at me if they want and we’ll see how politically correct I am then…
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The Larks Ascending is a guide to comedy on BBC Radio 3, including little-known appearances by a couple of erstwhile Goons and associates; you can get it in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
Alternately, if you’re just feeling generous, you can buy me a coffee here. Try not to do any ‘accents’ while you’re ordering it though.
You can hear me on (Music For) The Head Ballet talking to Paul Abbott about George Martin’s work with Bernard Cribbins here.
Rule Of Third is an extract from The Larks Ascending looking at some of the comedy shows on Radio 3’s precursor the Third Programme, including Peter Sellers’ sketch show Third Division; you can find it here.
© Tim Worthington.
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