The Bedsitting Room (play)

The Bedsitting Room is a satirical play by Spike Milligan and John Antrobus. It began as a one-act play which was first produced on 12 February 1962 at the Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury, England, where it received good local notices. However, it made little impact on London's theatrical scene for over a year, when it was adapted to a longer play and Bernard Miles put it on at the Mermaid Theatre, where it was first performed on 31 January 1963 before transferring several weeks later to the Duke of York's Theatre in London's West End.

The Bedsitting Room
Cover of paperback publication of play script
AuthorSpike Milligan and John Antrobus
Publication date

The production had one of the best coups de théâtre ever, when the character "Mate" (originally played in London by Spike Milligan) entered wearing a mixture of ragged military uniforms from across the centuries. Attached to his boots were long strips of canvas to which were attached pairs of boots. As he marched across the stage, the empty boots marched in perfect time behind him. It was both hilarious and heartbreaking.[1][2] It was a critical and commercial hit, and was revived in 1967, with a successful provincial tour, before opening at London's Saville Theatre on 3 May 1967.[3] The script was later published in paperback book.[4]

The play was memorably presented in repertory by the Theatre Royal, York in 1972, and was also shown by Bench Theatre in Havant for seven nights in July 1981.[5]

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".[2][6] 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.

A film based on the play was released in 1969, although this was less successful. The film was directed by Richard Lester and the cast included Ralph Richardson, Arthur Lowe, Rita Tushingham, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Michael Hordern, Marty Feldman, Harry Secombe and Milligan himself.

Authors' intentions

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 fiancée, 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".[7]

In a 1988 interview with Bernard Braden on ITV's All Our Yesterdays, Milligan portrayed his view of The Bedsitting Room thus:

Nobody ever got the point about what it was about. What we were trying to say through all this laughter and fun, was that if they dropped the bomb on a major civilisation, the moment the cloud had dispersed and sufficient people had died, the survivors would set up all over again and have Barclays Bank, Barclay cards, garages, hates, cinemas and all…just go right back to square one. I think man has no option but to continue his own stupidity.[8]

Original cast list for play

The following is the original cast list as it appears on page 5 of the 1973 paperback[4] of the script, with music played by The Temperance Seven

Literary and dramatic counterparts

The Bedsitting Room can be compared with The Goon Show, in which Milligan and Secombe were involved, but with a savage, cynical and even more surreal edge, and an existential despair; one criticdescribed it as being "like Samuel Beckett, but with better jokes".

Radio adaptation

A radio adaptation was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 26 December 2015 featuring Paul Merton, Derek Jacobi, Bernard Cribbins and Catherine Tate.[10]

See also


  1. Scudamore, Pauline (1985). Spike Milligan: A Biography. London: Granada. ISBN 0-246-12275-7. pp.200, 203-204
  2. McCann, Graham (2006). Spike & Co. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-89809-7. pp.157-158
  3. Scudamore (1985) pp.242-244
  4. Milligan, Spike, & Antrobus, John (1973) The Bedsitting Room. Tandem: London. First published in Great Britain by Margaret & Jack Hobbs, 1970. Published by Universal-Tandem, 1972. © 1970 Spike Milligan and John Antrobus
  5. Bench Theatre: The Bedsitting Room Linked 2017-02-12
  6. "The Bed Sitting Room (1969)". Phespirit. Retrieved 2008-07-05.
  7. Antrobus, John (2002). Surviving Spike Milligan: A Voyage Through the Mind & Mirth of the Master Goon. London: Robson Books. ISBN 0-246-12275-7. pp.69-70
  8. 1988 Milligan interview by Braden
  9. Ventham, Maxine (2002). "Barry Humphries". In … (ed.). Spike Milligan: His Part in Our Lives. London: Robson. pp. 92–97. ISBN 1-86105-530-7.
  10. "The Bed-sitting Room". BBC. 26 December 2015. Retrieved 28 December 2015.
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