Creator: Michael Bentine

Comedian, actor and author Michael Bentine (1922 - 1996) led a truly extraordinary life. Born in Watford to an English mother and Peruvian father, and brought up in Folkestone, Kent, he attended Eton alongside contemporaries such as Patrick Macnee. He attempted to enlist in the Royal Air Force in 1939 but was refused because of his "alien" parentage. note . But nobody told the recruiting authority this, and Bentine went on tour with a theatre company, thinking his services were not required, only to discover he had been listed as a deserter by another part of the military bureaucracy. In his own words, during a Shakespeare performance he became the first deserter for four hundred years to be arrested by military police whilst wearing tights, codpiece and doublet.

This hiccup sorted out, a defective inoculation left him near dead and destroyed his eyesight, rendering him ineligible for pilot or aircrew service. The subsequent NDE awakened an interest in paranormal investigation which would be part of his life until death.

Serving in the RAF as an intelligence officer, he cheated death several more times, leading to a conviction that he was being kept alive to achieve something. After the war, he drifted into showbusiness, following the well-worn path to the Windmill Theatre, London, where he met Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, and Harry Secombe, among many others. Four men who all had their tales to tell about the inanities of the military bureaucracy hit it off, and The Goon Show was born. Bentine did not remain with the Goons for very long, and accounts vary as to the manner of his leaving. He went on to forge an independent career in TV, with visual comedy series such as It's A Square World and Michael Bentine's Potty Time, shows claimed to have influenced the visual aspects of Monty Python's Flying Circus and The Goodies.

He starred in several films and had a career as novelist, writer and stand-up comedian and raconteur. His lifelong interest in the paranormal generated two best-selling biographical books Doors of the Mind and The Door Marked Summer. On a slightly darker side, he was also connected to British Intelligence notables, and had strongly right-wing libertarian views. He feuded with the BBC which he considered dangerously left-wing, and claimed they destroyed his TV series out of pique and to punish him by cutting off overseas sales and residuals.

Oop-La! Tropes manipulated in the Marvellous Flea Circus, often thousands of times heavier than the fleas themselves, include:

  • Early Installment Weirdness: The early series of The Goon Show had four people (the regular three plus Michael Bentine), and were written as multiple short sketches rather than the extended if incoherent stories featuring a Commedia Dell Arte Troupe of madmen that became the show's typical structure later in its life.
  • Fortean Times; Bentine contibuted on a range of topics, including spiritualism, survival after death, and the concept of spirit guides.
  • Peru Bentine was a Peruvian citizen through his father and never forgot this side of his ancestry, which was important to him.
  • The Pete Best: Bentine was this to The Goon Show, his role only lasting from 1950-1952, and his contribution is often overlooked.
  • Racist Grandma: Bentine was touring the USA in the 1950's. In a local TV station in Alabama, he was on the bill along with the oldest woman in the state, who while frail and over 100, came across as a classic "southern belle" of refined manners and gentle speech. As Bentine noted, appearances deceive. Invited to take over the piano and sing some of the old Southern hymns, she began with that Alabama classic Kill all the niggers for Jesus.
  • Screwed by the Network: his allegation that the BBC made him into an Un-Person for not playing ball and allowing his TV shows to be used for satirical political content, which ran contrary to his right-wing libertarian beliefs.