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Authors: Spike Milligan

Goodbye Soldier

Spike Milligan

Memoires

Peace Work

#6

1986

In ‘Goodbye Soldier’ the central pool of artists, now rechristened the combined services entertainment, complete with Gunner Miligan, now rechristened Lance-Bambardier, makes its way across Europe, via romantic Rome and verneral Venice, to Vienna where Spike continues to demoralize the troops from the stage despite frenzied protests from Eisenhower, Churchill and Stalin. Hastily discharged from the army in Austria, he returnes to naughty Naples for an interval of connubial bliss on Capri with Balerina. Maria Antoinette Fontana: ‘All except for Eva Maria who I was keeping in reserve’. Finally, farewell to Rome, goodbye soldier and the prospect of return to dreary deptford where ‘fortune, overdraft, income tax, mortgages, accounts, solicitors, house agents’ awaited.

 

FOREWORD
Find a Place – Stop the Clock

S
itting here at the typewriter, stop the clock. When I think of the kind of human being I was then, I can’t believe that it was me. I was twenty-eight, with the best years of my life spent in the Army. I had found the transformation from civilian life painless: it allowed freedoms I hadn’t had before. No longer did I have my mother’s dictatorship about going to mass – we had unending rows over it, in fact I left home for a time. No longer did I have that voice on the landing when I came home at night, “Is that you, Terry? What time do you call this?” type rows. I had always given my mother my entire wage packet, £5.00. In return, I got half-a-crown pocket money at the age of twenty-one. Now I kept
all
my pay, came in late and didn’t have to go to mass. It was freedom! I was living for the moment. If there was any future, it was the next band job. I loved being there, playing the trumpet, me the music maker, me being asked by officers, “I say, Milligan, can you play such and such a tune?”, me singing, flirting with the girls. Now here I was in Italy on £10.00 a week with officer status, playing with a trio that I thought would bring us fame and fortune, and all this and a pretty ballerina. This was Italy, the sun shone, free of all responsibilities except the show, free all day. Oh, life was good! One day that would all end.

Spike Milligan

Monkenhurst 1 May 1986

 

The view we left behind! From my bedroom window, showing the now dormant Mount Vesuvius.
ROME
Maria Antoinetta Fontana.
ROMANCE
June 1946

T
he charabanc, with its precious cargo of bisexual soldier artistes, see-saws through the narrow Neapolitan streets. It is a day of high summer. We pull up at our destination, the Albergo Rabacino. The sunlight plays on its golden baroque chiselled façade. Lieutenant Ronnie Priest hurries into its mahogany portals, only to return downcast of visage. “The bloody girls will be a while; they’ve just got back from mass.” He lights up a cigarette. “Bloody females,” he adds. We all debouch to stretch our legs and other parts. Immediately, we are set on by street vendors. I was taken up with a tray of chrome and gilt watches – I needed a watch badly, a good heavy one that would stop me being blown away. As we barter, the Italian Corps de Ballet usher forth with their luggage. Our balding driver, Luigi, is rupturing himself stowing the bulging cases into the rear locker – all this while I have just clinched a deal for a watch that looks like a burnished gold Aztec altar, a huge lump of a thing. On me, it made my wrist look like an Oxfam appeal for food. I had bargained the price down from ten million lire to seven thousand and the vendor was running away at full speed while counting the money. I was winding it when a female voice diverted me: “‘Ow much you payer for that?” I turned to see a petite, mousy-haired, blue-eyed, doll-like girl.

The first clash of eyes was enough. It was, no, not
love at
first sight – that came later – but it most certainly was
something
at first sight. (Darling, I feel in something at first sight.)

“I paid seven thousand lire.”

She ‘tsu-tsu-tsued’ and shook her head. “You know all watch stolen.” No, I didn’t know that. “Let me see,” she said, in a semi-commanding voice. She examined the watch. “Maybe, yes,” she said, returning it.


I said it was a very good watch, it told the time in Italian as well as English. What was her name?

“My namer is Maria Antoinetta Fontana, but everyone call me Toni.”

“I’m Spike,” sometimes known as stop thief or hey you!

“Yeser, I know.” She had found my name on the programme and had obviously set her sights on me. I would make good target practice. Maria Antoinetta Fontana was understudy for the premiere ballerina at the Royal Opera House in Rome. From now on, it was goodbye Bing Crosby, lead soldiers and Mars bars. She was so petite! Five feet four inches! We are ‘all aboarding’ the Charabong, I notice that Toni has lovely legs and the right amount, two. I tried to sit next to her, but in the mêlée I ended up in the seat behind her as Riccy Trowler, our crooner, had fancied her and beat me to it. If he looked at her, I would kill. Do you hear me? KILL! Didn’t he know with me around he hadn’t a chance! Me, the Brockley Adonis? Poor blind little fool. Me, the Harry James of St Cyprian’s Hall, SE 26! “Hold very tight and fares please,” says Lieutenant Priest in mock cockney bus conductor tones as we set off for the Holy City.

The journey passes with Toni turning to cast me eye-crippling glances. She dangles her hand in the lee of her seat for me to hold. Arghhhhhhhhh! It’s small, sensuous, soft and perfumed. It’s giddy-making. Oh, but how lovely!!! I’m falling, falling, falling! and no safety net!

Mulgrew’s keen Scottish eye has noticed my new watch. He assesses it and says, “That’s the sort of present a mean millionaire would buy for a blind son.” He asks how much. I tell him. He bursts out laughing. Laugh he may, in a year’s time that selfsame watch would save him and the Bill Hall Trio from ruin. Of that, more in my next book! Bill Hall is killing the boredom by playing his fiddle. I join in on the guitar. We play some jazz and a few Neapolitan melodies, ‘Cuore Napolitano’, ‘Non Me Scorde’, ‘Ah Zaz Zaz Za’.

Clowning at a wayside break. Toni (left) feeds Jimmy Molloy (centre) and Riccy Trowler (right)

Ceprano is a halfway halt. We are taken to a large NAAFI where we are given lunch. Ahhhhhhhgghhhh, Cold Collation!!! The most dreaded meal in the English Culinary calendar: the dead chicken, the dead lettuce, the watery mayonnaise, the lone tomato ring! It’s the sort of meal you leave in your will to your mother-in-law.

“You no lak,” says Toni who is sitting opposite.

“No, I no lak,” I said.

“Can I have you chicken?” she says, her head inclined to one side. I watch as the dead fowl disappears through her delectable lips. I sip the red tannic-acid-ridden tea that must have been put on to boil the day after we all landed at Salerno.

The Bill Trio in a now derelict prisoner-of-war cage, trying desperately to be funny en route to Rome, where the Pope lives.

Toni and I saunter out to the Charabong, the journey continues. The swine Trowler assumes his seat next to
my
Toni, the blind fool. Hasn’t he noticed her adoring glances?? My matchless profile from Brockley SE26?


Bill Hall is laughing, I’ve told him the price of the watch. So far Bornheim has passed the journey immersed in the
Union Jack
newspaper. He walks down the Charabong, swaying and bumping. He makes reference to my new amour.

“Is there something going on?” he said, nodding towards my Toni.

I told him most certainly there was a lot going on. I had met her, according to my new watch, at ten-thirty precisely. Yes, there was a lot going on but as conditions improved I’d hoped for a lot coming off. He grins like a fiend.

“The poor girl,” he said. “You’d better not show it to her all at once.”

He slunk away chuckling, the swine! This was not
that
kind of affair, this was
true
romance. No tawdry thoughts entered my head, but they were entering other areas. South of Rome we lumber through hot dusty villages, the grapes are heavy on the vine and on sale are large luscious red bunches for a few lire. But I don’t have eyes for the delights of the Campagna, only Toni’s glances and the squeeze of her little hand.


Late evening and the dusty chugging Charabong enters Rome through the Porta Maggiore. It’s a Sunday evening and the sunlight is turning to rose-petal pink. The streets are full of the populace taking their evening strolls – elegant Romans are
really
elegant, they wear clothes well. But! None of them are wearing sensible brown English shoes like me. More of them later. The Charabong comes to rest ouside the Albergo Universo.
I’ll
help Toni with her luggage to her bedroom. Her mother wants her to go home, but, because she wants to be near me, lies, and tells Momma the company rules insist she stays at the hotel. Ha! Ha! Love finds a way.

I take me to my chamber- a very nice no-nonsense double bedroom. Thank God, this time there’s no screaming, chattering, farting Secombe. No, he’s in his hammock and a thousand miles away. Instead, I have Wino of the Year, Trooper Mulgrew, J., who by just throwing his kit down can make the room look like the Wandsworth Municipal Rubbish Tip. I hang up my civvies.

“This is the life, Johnny,” I say.

“Oh, you’ve noticed,” he says.

To activate his Scottish mind, I say, “I wonder what your folks in Glasgow are doing?”

And he says, “A bank.” He’s looking at the ceiling, there’s nothing there to tax his tartan mind. “What’s the time?” he says.

And I say, “It’s time you bought a watch that I can laugh at.”

From our floor we take the lift.


Che piano?
” says the ageing lift attendant.


La terra piano
,” says Mulgrew which translated means ‘the earth floor’.

The dining-room is full. Another ENSA party has booked in, among them Tony Fayne who in post-war years would become well known for his partnership with David Evans. As Fayne and Evans, they did funny sporting commentaries and were used by the BBC till it had sucked them dry and discarded them. I noticed that this new intake all wore their shirts outside their trousers. This struck me as amusing because, dear reader, during my boyhood days in India we, the Raj, laughed at the ‘wogs’ for that selfsame reason. What I didn’t know is that this was the ‘latest fashion’ from America! Suddenly, tucking shirts in was old-fashioned. I remember whenever Tony Fayne passed me there was the faint aroma of marijuana, for which he was later ‘busted’! I remember one dinner-time, when the smell of pot emanated from their table as I passed it on my way to bed, a pale ENS A female of some forty summers grabbed the seat of my trousers and whooped ‘Wot ho, Monty’ and fell face-down into the soup.

Our lesbian javelin-thrower manageress remembers me.


Come sta, Terri?
” she says.

We chatted over coffee. Had I any spare tickets for the show? Of course. How many? She’d like to bring the family, thirty-two. She ‘buys’ us a bottle of wine and we discuss post-war Italy – the political scene was very woolly with the Christian Democrats holding the wolf of Communism at bay. She doesn’t want Communism, she loves democracy and have we anything for sale on the black market? We repair to her private suite where we continue drinking and she shows me a photo album. There she is in all her athletic glory, throwing the javelin at the All Italia Games. Gad! In her running shorts and vest, she’s a fine figure of a man. She shows me photos of Mussolini’s execution – ghastly – then, a turn-up for the book, a picture of Clara Petacci looking very sexy in a net dress (see picture).

A knock at the door. It’s the late Bill Hall and fiddle, can he come in? His eyes fall on the Petacci photo.

“Cor, ‘oo’s the bird? Clara Petacci? Wot, the one that Musso was givin’ it to? Cor, ‘ow could they shoot her, all that lovely stuff!”

He was right, she would have made a lovely stuff.

Bill has been out visiting ‘a friend’. This is usually some old boiler with a turkey trot neck, one foot in the grave and very grateful for any that’s going. He wants to know if it’s too late for dinner. The manageress says no, what’s he want? Spaghetti. We watch Bill eating it. He cuts it all up with a knife, then shovels it in on a spoon.

I retire to bed, first taking a luxurious bath. Mulgrew is already abed, smoking and sipping red wine from a glass by his bedside. “How did you get on with the Italian bird?”

Italian
bird?
If he meant Miss Toni Fontana, I was indeed much favoured by her and would see her on the morrow and be immediately hypnotized by her ‘petite beauty’. Mulgrew is given to silent evil laughter with heavy shoulders. “Wait till she gets a look at your petite beauty.” He was a dirty little devil and would never go to heaven.

Clara Petacci turning on the Fascist party.

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