12 Nov 2023

Spike Milligan's Badjelly the Witch turns 50

From First Up, 4:04 pm on 12 November 2023


The story of Badjelly the Witch, who can turn children into sausages, policemen into apple trees and bananas into mice, has been much loved in New Zealand.

Badjelly was the brainchild of British comic genius Spike Milligan, who made up the story for his young children.

It was published in print and Spike Milligan recorded an audio version which become a major hit on children's radio in New Zealand - making Badjelly more famous here than in the UK.

Now, 50 years later, Badjelly the Witch is back on bookshop shelves in a special anniversary edition.

Spike's daughter, actor Jane Milligan, told RNZ First Up she found it strange Badjelly was more popular in New Zealand than anywhere else.

"She was played on the radio every weekend [in New Zealand] for a whole period of time, so a lot of people became very familiar with her - listening to the story as opposed to reading it.

"We never had that here. Of course I did, because he wrote it for his kids… But you guys over there are proper fans of Badjelly - it's great," Jane said.

Badjelly the Witch

Photo: Supplied

For her, Badjelly was one of many wild stories her father came up with at bedtime.

"You grow up with your dad, your dad does stuff for a living and [I was] probably about eight or nine when it sort of registered that it wasn't like a standard dad or normal," Jane said.

"He was always giving us those beautiful stories as children, which we were very privileged to hear at bedtime.

"Very lovely, magical times, as a small child, he would come back from his office and if I was still awake, he'd come upstairs and we had a blackboard on the end of the nursery wall, and he would illustrate as the story progressed.

"So he'd chalkboard, he'd do drawings of dragons or witches or whatever it was.

"A kind of better than TV situation really, you know, live."

Jane had a hand in the publication of Badjelly the Witch, with an illustration she made at the age of six appearing inside the cover.

Spike had a good vision of life, she said.

"He'd say, 'Milligans will kick the stable to pieces, but we'll always win the race'.

"He said, 'When you look at a sunset, you don't just see it just like a blob in the sky. You see all those beautiful colours'."

As well as writing numerous books, Spike was co-creator of British radio comedy The Goon Show,.

Jane described him as "ahead of his time".

"Compassionate, in love with his planet, in love with the people on the planet, maybe not all of them, but, you know, a defender of the planet.

"He passed on that compassion to his kids, so I'm very grateful to him... He was a very special dad."

Many elements of the Badjelly story are personal, including Fluffybum the cat, which was the real name of the Milligan family pet, Jane said.

With the 50th anniversary edition of Badjelly the Witch out now, Jane hopes readers continue to find pleasure in the silly story.

"It's medicine for the brain."

And her message for all the young new Kiwi readers of Badjelly: "Stinky-poo to all of you!"