The Q Series

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Q History

In 1956 Associated-Rediffusion first brought Spike's bizarre humour to the small screen. The show was called The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d and starred Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, aided by Eric Sykes, Kenneth Connor, Graham Stark and June Whitfield. The premise of The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d, such as it was, saw Sellers cast as the editor of a tatty Victorian weekly magazine, its headlines and stories suggesting the skits and enabling the subject matter to change in quick fashion. Less than a month after folding the magazine the team were back with A Show Called Fred. The result was reasonably successful, creating a crazy visual style to match the bizarre audio antics that elevated the radio series above its contemporaries. Later still, also in 1956, the team returned to TV for a third time with a direct descendant of this series, Son Of Fred.

Son Of Fred differed from its predecessors in that Milligan declared himself bored with the conventional TV boundaries and began to experiment with surreal concepts using minimal scenery, simple props and the use of animation to link between sketches. The format would have become cult watching in the late 1960's, but was a little premature for the audience 1950's. Son of Fred was cancelled after 8 shows. All three series were produced and directed by Richard Lester, who teamed up with Sellers and Milligan again in 1959 to create The running, jumping and standing still film, which won an oscar nomination.

Spike returned to TV in 1964 with his first solo series called Milligan's Wake. It was broadcast on ITV and consisted of the unpredictable, free-form sketch comedy that would later result in the Q show. Much of the material was written by Steptoe & Son creators Galton and Simpson. 

The real forerunner of Q however was The World of Beachcomber (BBC 1968-69), an adaptation of J B Morton's famous Beachcomber columns, which had run in the Daily Express from 1924. Milligan claimed that the columns, with their unlikely larger-than-life characters and bizarre humour, were a major influence when he created The Goon Show for radio. The series featured monologues, odd dances, filmed sketches, spoof advertisements and strange readings, such as The Anthology Of A Huntingdonshire Cabman. The shows were fronted and linked by Milligan as the dressing-gowned, pipe-smoking Dr Strabismus. Included were regular practical demonstrations of well-known phrases (eg, the contention 'When one door closes, another opens' was tested in a field full of doors) and advertisements for useless products from the Threadgold company, such as 'Threadgold's Thoroughgrip Garterettes'. As the series progressed, the items became increasingly bizarre and in between the two seasons Milligan launched his Q series which pushed still further the limits of surrealism and craziness on television.