I once met Spike Milligan.
I think there’s never been a point in my life when I didn’t know who Spike Milligan was. I did much of my growing in the 80s, when Spike was on TV pretty frequently. My dad was an enormous fan. So I learned Spike Milligan’s name pretty much as soon as my brain was able to process names and faces.
I met him, very briefly, at one of his book signings. I was a English Language sixth former on a school trip to Manchester. The idea was that we’d spend a day attending lectures by various authors and linguists. After the first couple of lectures, a few of us decided to wander off to the pub instead.
At some point between the lecture hall and the pub we passed a bookshop with a big sign in the window announcing that Spike Milligan would be present that afternoon, signing books. To our credit, this was even more enticing than the pub.
I bought a copy of ‘The Bible According to Spike Milligan‘. Waiting in the considerable queue to see the man himself, I got chatting to another guy who’d been to a signing in that same shop the previous week – Leonard Nimoy, signing ‘I Am Spock‘. He told me, ‘If you could see the speed and efficiency with which he signed those books… he really was Spock.’
I was eager to make some kind of impression on this man who’d so often been present in my household (Spike, not the man in the queue), and so on the inside cover of the book I bought, I wrote ‘I, the undersigned, agree to pay Paul Gresty, the bearer of this book, the sum of one thousand pounds.’ It was a pretty poor joke. I’m embarrassed recounting it here. But, you know, I was sixteen, and I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare something better.
Spike didn’t laugh when he saw that. He signed his name underneath, then looked me in the eye and said, ‘You’ll need a gun to get that much out of my bank account.’
Another of my sixth former friends didn’t buy any of his books. She said she couldn’t afford to, though I wonder if it was because she wasn’t such a big fan of his. So she asked if he’d sign her lecture notes instead. Spike said, ‘Well, I’ll give you one of my books.’ That was a really sweet thing to do. But then Spike’s minder – a woman who was his agent, I think; I’ve seen her since talking about him on various documentaries – jumped in and said, ‘No, Spike. We’ve talked about this.’ So he didn’t give my friend a book, in the end.
I still have my signed Spike Milligan book at home. I’d have liked to get one for my dad, too – a signed Spike Milligan book would have been a fantastic birthday or Christmas present. Sadly, he’d been inconsiderate enough to die the year before. Sigh.
That’s how I met Spike Milligan. And that day’s one of many reasons I think he’s brilliant.