SPEAKING recently to jazz impresario, Diana Allen, I learn that she has been suffering from “the dreaded lurgy” for the past three weeks, (hopefully now fully free of the effects).
We ruminated over the origin of this strange medical term.According to the website WORLD WIDE WORDS the dreaded lurgi (so written in the script) struck Britain almost sixty years ago on 9 November 1954, in the seventh programme of the fifth series of The Goon Show. This anarchic and surreal radio comedy series starred Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe; it was written by Spike Milligan, between bouts of depression, though on this occasion Eric Sykes (who shared an office with him at the time) did most of the work.
The plot, such as it was, dealt with an outbreak of a previously unknown disease. It was solemnly announced in the House of Commons that “Lurgi is the most dreadful malady known to mankind. In six weeks it could swamp the whole of the British Isles.” Of course, there was no epidemic — it was a fraud perpetrated by those arch-criminals, Count Jim “Thighs” Moriarty and the Honourable Hercules Grytpype-Thynne (trading as Messrs Goosey and Bawkes, a barely-disguised reference to the music publisher Boosey and Hawkes) who put it about that nobody who played a brass-band instrument had ever been known to catch lurgi: this resulted in their disposing profitably of vast amounts of their merchandise.