‘The forgotten Goon’ honoured at Symphony Hall.
The Goon Show will be making a triumphant return to the stage on Sunday 8th October at Birmingham’s Symphony Hall – as part of this year’s Birmingham Comedy Festival.
The one-off performance sees the festival marking the centenary of the birth of Goon Show writer Larry Stephens – who was born in nearby West Bromwich in 1923, and raised in Quinton, on the outskirts of the city.
Two 1958 scripts written by Stephens and Maurice Wiltshire will be recreated – The Seagoon Memoirs and The Moriarty Murder Mystery. The night will also include a Q&A section featuring Stephens’ biographer, Julie Warren, who will delve into the life of the scriptwriter who was one of the architects of the radio series, contributing to over 140 scripts.
Birmingham Comedy Festival were the first company to produce an officially sanctioned stage production of The Goon Show, performing a sell-out run of The Canal and The Phantom Head Shaver (of Brighton) in 2014. They returned in 2017 with The House Of Teeth and The Jet Propelled Guided NAAFI. The 2017 shows were described as “absolutely, utterly, 100% unmissable!” by The Goon Show Preservation Society’s then Chair, John Repsch.
The cast for the 2023 performance include Richard Usher (Sellers), Mark Earby (Milligan) and Jimm Rennie (Seagoon) – who were all involved in previous productions – plus musician Jim Wynn. The show is produced/directed by Dave Freak.
The Goon Show re-wrote the rules of British comedy during the 1950s, attracting radio audiences of around seven million and paving the way for Monty Python, Eddie Izzard, Steve Coogan and The Mighty Boosh. Still influential, repeats can be heard every week on BBC Radio 4 Extra, some seventy years later.
A former commando and jazz musician, Larry Stephens moved to London after World War II, and began writing for his flatmate, Tony Hancock. He also collaborated with fellow Goon scribes Milligan, Eric Sykes and Jimmy Grafton on a variety of high profile projects, including Pertwee’s Progress and Forces All-Star Bill for radio. As TV came into its own, he contributed to TV series The Tony Hancock Show and The Army Game before dying suddenly in 1959.
In 2017-2018, Birmingham Comedy Festival produced a live show based on a previously lost Stephens’ radio sitcom script for Tony Hancock as The Lost Hancocks: Vacant Lot.