My Father Had a Profound Influence On Me—He Was a Lunatic!

Spike Milligan? Michael Parkinson? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular comedian once asserted that his father had a major influence on him. Normally, this type of claim is followed by effusive praise of the father. But the comedian employed a gleeful paraprosdokian by saying that his father was a lunatic. Would you please help me to find out who crafted this jest?

Quote Investigator: The Irish-English comedian Spike Milligan appeared several times on the U.K talk show of Michael Parkinson. In 1982 the host published “The Best of Parkinson” containing extracts from the most memorable interviews of the show including Milligan’s remarks about his father. Boldface added to excepts by QI: 1

My father had a profound influence on me—he was a lunatic! He went bald when he was very young, about seventeen, and so he used to wear a wig which in those days looked like shredded GPO directories.

Below are two additional selected citations in chronological order.

Spike Milligan died in February 2002 and shortly afterward “The Sun” newspaper of London printed several sayings attributed to him including the following four items: 2

“How long was I in the Army? Five foot eleven.”

“My father had a profound influence on me, he was a lunatic.”

“I thought I’d begin by reading a poem by Shakespeare, but then I thought, why should I? He never reads any of mine.”

“Are you going to come quietly, or do I have to use earplugs?”

In 2006 the book “Spike & Co: Inside the House of Fun with Milligan, Sykes, Galton & Simpson” by Graham McCann including the following passage about Spike’s father: 3

It was, none the less, the character of Leo Milligan that cut the deepest. ‘My father had a profound influence on me,’ Spike would confirm; ‘he was a lunatic!’ Although often away out on patrol during the years when the children were growing up, Leo could still be an exuberant presence in the home, trying to make up for the lost time by telling jokes, singing songs, doing silly little dances and dressing up in cowboy outfits in order to play games of ‘let’s pretend’ with his two young boys.

In conclusion, Spike Milligan deserves credit for this remark which he employed during an interview with Michael Parkinson in 1980 or 1981. It appeared in “The Best of Parkinson” in 1982.

Notes:

  1. 1982, The Best of Parkinson by Michael Parkinson, Chapter: Spike Milligan, Quote Page 109, Pavilion Books Limited, London in Association with Michael Joseph Limited. (Verified with scans)
  2. 2002 February 28, The Sun, Money can’t buy you friends but you get a better class of enemy by Grant Rollings, Quote Page 15, London, England. (ProQuest)
  3. 2006 Copyright, Spike & Co: Inside the House of Fun with Milligan, Sykes, Galton & Simpson by Graham McCann, Part 3: The Offices, Room 1: Spike Milligan, Quote Page 52, Hodder & Stoughton: A Division of Hodder Headline, London. (Verified with scans)