Storytellers – The Milligans

Despite being a dark and wintery night and that many regulars were absent due to commitments in Malta, a large audience did attend and were treated to a wonderful presentation on “The Milligans” by none other than Desmond Patrick Bryan Milligan, younger brother of Spike. Alan Gill, knowing that the Storytellers is always on the lookout for interesting presenters, made contact with Patrick his friend and ex-colleague at the Sydney Morning Herald, and persuaded him to share the story of his family upbringing in Burma and a few tales about his famous “Goon” brother, and what a story!

To set the scene we started with a Spike film clip “The Irish Astronauts” found amongst the extensive material of Spike in the YouTube vaults, worth a look if you’re browsing the web.

Now for our guest Desmond Patrick Bryan Milligan, AKA – DPBM, Patrick or even The Milligan.

Patrick MilliganPatrick was born in Rangoon, Burma, to RSM Leo and Mrs Florence Milligan, Port Defence Artillery and later brought up in London. After his schooling he attended the Redhill School of Art as a full time student 1942 to 1944 when he was conscripted and served in the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry during the final phases of the campaign in Europe. He also served in the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI) in Palestine and Cyprus during the Jewish-Arab troubles. He was demobilised at the rank of Sergeant. Patrick returned to his studies and obtained an arts diploma at Goldsmiths College, University of London, and then became a freelance in famous Fleet Street as an illustrator plus portraiture and other commissions. He migrated to Australia at the invitation of his parents in 1952 (round of applause).

Patrick was soon in charge of the Grave decorative glass section of Crown Crystal Glass, for which he produced the glass display for AGM in their William Street building for the Queen’s visit in 1954. Before long he was recruited by the Fairfax Newspaper in1956 into their art department working with a wide range of material. He was elected Artist representative for the Australian Journalist’s Association and was on the Federal Executive board for 5 years.

He became artist in charge of the Sun Newspaper art department for approximately seven years. When the Sun newspaper closed he retired. In 1991 he completed a 12’x 5’ mural for the Retired Naval Association for the Garden Island Naval Chapel in 1991 plus several commissioned portraits and abstracts during that time and to date. In retirement he taught for several years at the evening colleges of Seaforth, Meadowbank, and Eastwood Art Schools and did a fast TV drawing spot on children’s TV in the 1980’s. Patrick wrote his own account of the war, “View from a Forgotten Hedgerow”, which he published privately.

Patrick then provided an account of the Milligan’s time in a world of British imperialism, British India and Burma, accompanied by some magnificent photographs of the bygone era.

Leo Milligan performing

Leo Milligan performing

His father Leo Alphonsus Milligan, an Irish-born Sergeant-Major in the British Army, Burma detachment, was the third generation of his familiy to have served in the British Army. His mother, Florence (nee Kettleband), was daughter of a British soldier, Henry Kettleband, who had been posted to India. She met Leo during World War 1 when Leo was performing in a theatre show for the troops. They married and Spike was born in Ahmednagar, India, in April, 1918.

Florence Milligan with local taxi service

Florence Milligan with local taxi service

The family moved when Leo was posted to Burma where Patrick was born in the shadow of the Great Pagoda in Rangoon. Patrick, eight years Spike’s junior, readily took Spike’s lead when he and other children played war games in the jungle, from time to time using an old German machinegun that had been taken to Burma as a war trophy. His parents were a most attractive couple and it was obvious they were born entertainers which obviously rubbed off on Spike & Patrick. There were many photos of them participating in variety shows & all manner of stage acts. There were photos of his father on horseback, riding back to front, firing guns under the horse and lassoing in full cowboy garb.

It struck everyone present how much foresight his parents had in capturing their privileged time overseas in so many photographs.

In 1951, Leo and Florence Milligan migrated to Australia because of the climate, “so much like India”, agreed with them. Spike came to Australia many times and visited his parents who had retired to Woy Woy, described by him as “The World’s only above-ground cemetery”.

It was apparent to all that Patrick had the utmost respect for his elder brother and finished his talk treating us to a reading of one of Spike’s humourous ditties entitled
“The Singing Foot”.

Patrick then took a moment to answer some questions. Many members spoke fondly of the ‘good old radio days’ and listening to the Goons. Mark Simkins told of when in 1978 he did a commercial for a property company with Spike in South Africa. Spike was in town with Eric Sykes and Mark called him up to see if they were interested in doing the ad and if available how much they would charge. Spike said “how much have you got?” We gave them the script. They read it and handed it back. We asked if they wanted to discuss it, but no, they understood what was required. They arrived the next day and it was the funniest day of Mark’s life. The script was basically the original but they just ad-libbed every take and got funnier and funnier. To prove his point Mark had a copy of the ad with him for us to watch (Mark giving a copy to Patrick to add to his Spike collection), and we can confirm it was a gem performed by two of the world’s most treasured comedians.

Patrick throttling HartleyAlan G thanked Patrick for his most entertaining presentation and insight into a vanished world. Alan recalled his first meeting with Patrick about 40 years ago. It was late at night in the dark lifts of the Fairfax building. Alan got in the lift and could just about make out that someone was already in the lift. He looked up and said “It can’t be?” Reading my thoughts he said “I’m not him, he’s my brother”! They found that they had lots in common including that they had both married women who’d been expelled from Egypt during the Suez War in 1956. Another vanished kingdom.

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