The Bedsitting Room

Written by Spike Milligan & John Antrobus

Thurs 19th July - Sat 21st July & Thurs 26th July - Sat 28th July 1981

Directed by Alan Knight and Chris Shaw

This bleak post-apocalyptic black comedy takes place on the anniversary of the nuclear misunderstanding which lead to the Third World War - at 2min 28secs, the shortest war in history. The few people known to be left alive in England must now 'keep moving' aimlessly through a ravaged landscape and an assortment of highly surreal encounters. Amidst the madness, Lord Fortnum must try to reach Belgravia before mutating into a bed-sitting room, Penelope is pregnant with a child she's carried for seventeen months and Mrs Ethel Shroake has inherited the throne.

AuthorsSpike Milligan & John Antrobus

Spike Milligan (H)KBE (1918 - 2002)

Terence Alan Patrick Sean (Spike) Milligan was born in India to an English mother and an Irish father who was serving in the British Army. During his teens and early twenties Spike performed as a Jazz musician and wrote comedy sketches from around this time.

During the Second World War, Milligan served in the Royal Artillery which led to him being wounded in action. During this time he continued his love of jazz and comedy by entertaining the troops with concert parties. On his return to England during the late 1940s he continued making appearances in several musical comedy acts. From 1951 he broke into the world of radio, both writing scripts for and performing in the now famous 'Goon Show' with Peter Sellers, Michael Bentine and Harry Secombe which ran for 19 years. From radio, Milligan progressed onto TV appearing in 'A show called Fred', 'The World of Beachcomber' and 'The Q Series'.

Spike Milligan called himself a clown. He was the master of the surreal, whose humour was anarchic, spontaneous and frequently unexpected. His life was darkened by profound depression and he suffered for many years with bi-polar disorder. Much of the time acute depression made him melancholy and anti-social. He was known to have suffered from PTSD after his war-time experience, and in October 1990 he was admitted to a psychiatric hospital suffering from depression after the death of his mother. Milligan was married 3 times and had 5 children.

John Antrobus (b 1933)

John Antrobus is a playwright, script writer and author of children's books. His father was an RSM in the Royal Horse Artillery, and the family was stationed at the School of Artillery near Salisbury Plain. Antrobus attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst to finish his education, but rebelled and dropped out of the Army. After leaving the Army, he pursued a future writing comedy, and went to Associated London Scripts (ALS), the writers cooperative set up by Spike Milligan and others.

At ALS, Antrobus worked on 'The Frankie Howerd Show' and after contributing material to the first Carry On movie, 'Carry on Sergeant' in 1958, he wrote his first movie screenplay: for Idle on Parade (1959). During 1960 he worked with Milligan and Eric Sykes in the second series of Sykes and he was also a contributing writer to the television series The Army Game. During the 1960s and 1970s, he provided scripts for television series including That Was the Week That Was & Television Playhouse. His plays include The Bed-Sitting Room (co-written with Milligan), Captain Oates' Left Sock, An Apple A Day and City Delights.

PlayThe Bedsitting Room

'The Bedsitting Room' began as a one-act play which was first produced in 1962 before transferring to the West End in 1963. A critical and commercial hit it was also revived in 1967. A film based on the play was released in 1970, although this was less successful. The cast included Ralph Richardson, Arthur Lowe, Rita Tushingham, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Michael Hordern, Marty Feldman, Harry Secombe and Milligan himself.

The play is set in a post-apocalyptic London, nine months after World War III (the "Nuclear Misunderstanding"), which lasted for two minutes and twenty eight seconds - "including the signing of the peace treaty". Nuclear fallout is producing strange mutations in people; the title refers to the character Lord Fortnum, who finds himself transforming into a bed-sitting room (other characters turn into a parrot and a wardrobe). The plot concerns the fate of the first child to be born after the war. In his 2002 book of reflections, Antrobus describes his idea as about "a man who fears he will turn into a bedsitting room, which he does, and the dubious doctor he has been seeing moves in with his fiance, declaring that it will be easier to work a cure on the premises. Therein lies the dilemma. For the doctor to heal the condition would mean becoming homeless.

The Bench Production

The Bedsitting Room poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


Lord FortnumFred Jeffries
KakJon Philpot
MateJim Charlton
1st AnnouncerJanice Macfarlane
Gladys ScroakeJacquie Penrose
PenelopeJo German
Shelter ManChris Hall
Coffin ManBrian Smith
DiplomatRoger Thurling
Interval SketchesKaren Bishop
Delivery ManSylvia Brierly
SeamanTracy Cusworth
DustmanKaren Cartwright
Plastic Mac ManKeith Cobbold


Alan Knight
Chris Shaw
Stage Manager John Scadding
Assistant Stage Manager David Penrose
Front of House Janet Simpson
Sound Nicola Scadding
Costumes Robbie Cattermole

The News D.M.

Zany humour hits and misses

A warning to persons of sensitive disposition - they should stay away from Spike Milligan's 'The Bedsitting Room', If seeing Margaret Thatcher as a lifeless parrot, a diplomat being pushed round in a mobile lavatory, or Lady Diana doing interval sketches does not appeal, stay at home. But those reared on Goons, Monty Python and Milligan himself will have a lot of laughs in the Bench Theatre's production at Havant Arts Centre. The plot - such as it is - is that World War III has killed 54 million Britons and most of the rest have been horribly mutated into woolly parrots and chests of drawers. Lord Fortnum visits psychiatrist Kak, fearing he is turning into a bedsitting room.

The zany Milligan humour is trained like a machine-gun on the audience - it can miss completely, hit you in short bursts or explode you with an unexpected strike right on target. It takes some warming to and some members of the audience seemed to sit through the whole production with a pained expression. Under the direction of Alan Knight, the Bench keep the pace fast, letting punchy, updated Milligan lines drop neatly into place. Alan has heavily restyled the script, and added sound and stroboscope effects.

Two great loonies in the plot are Jim Charlton as Mate and Chris Hall as almost everyone else. Jon Philpot as Kak masterfully steers the whole insanity from beginning to end, while Fred Jeffries as Lord Fortnum and Keith Cobbold as Plastic Mac Man, lead the rest of the players who burst on and off stage. There is an element of black humour - and the serious message against The Bomb - throughout, though it varies in subtlety. I would say if you have even laughed at Milligan, you will like this - though the production seems to change nightly. The show, produced by Chris Shaw is being performed again on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, starting at 7.30 p.m., at Havant Arts Centre, East Street.

The News, 21st July 1981

Production Photographs