The Goodies celebrating 40 years of fun
THEY were the anarchic comedy trio who introduced us to a giant cat which toppled London’s Post Office Tower, the Lancashire martial art of Ecky Thump and a terrorising overgrown Dougal from the Magic Roundabout. These and countless other wacky capers came courtesy of The Goodies, alias Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie and the late Tim Brooke-Taylor, whose special style of madcap humour attracted audiences of 15 million at the sitcom’s peak.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the show remains a firm favourite among the viewing public, not just here but around the world, especially Australia and New Zealand.
“It’s flattering when people stop you in the street and say how they grew up watching The Goodies,” says Bill, 79.
“I often feel like replying, ‘No one grew up watching The Goodies!’ Childishness was a key thing in the whole series, but often misconstrued. We didn’t make the show for kids, although there were lots of youngsters who enjoyed it.”
The humour did, however, appeal to all ages.
One fan literally died laughing at a sketch in the episode, Kung Fu Kapers.
A 50-year-old bricklayer from Norfolk suffered heart failure in 1975 after laughing uncontrollably for 25 minutes.
Later, his widow thanked The Goodies for ensuring her husband’s final moments were happy ones.
Two years later, a 32-year-old woman from Leicester went into labour after watching the episode, Alternative Roots.
But she wouldn’t leave for the hospital until the show had finished.
It ran from 1970 and 1982 and 76 episodes were aired but Graeme, 77, fears such a programme wouldn’t be commissioned today due to health and safety.
Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden
“The risk assessment forms you have to complete now before filming would be too onerous for a show like ours,” he says. “They’d be longer than the scripts!
“I did a voiceover for an animated cartoon recently and was sent a risk assessment form for the studio, stating things like there might be wire on the floor, take care going up the stairs. So, it would be difficult making The Goodies today.”
Often, the team executed the stunts themselves, occasionally enduring pain in the process.
‘After the first series we “One scene involved us being suspended in the air on wires,” he adds. “We were astride the ‘trandem’ – the famous three-seater bike we used – when the wires broke. It fell five feet on to the studio floor – which was not terribly comfortable.”
Tim, who died in April aged 79 after contracting coronavirus, met Bill and Graeme at Cambridge University.
After graduating, they worked together on various shows, including the radio series, I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again and Broaden Your Mind for TV. When the BBC asked for a third series of Broaden Your Mind, the trio suggested a new show.
“We decided on a sitcom format incorporating all the silly jokes we’d have done in sketches but stretched into an implausible 30-minute storyline – that’s how The Goodies was born,” recalls Graeme.
The name was dreamt up by Bill Oddie.
Graeme says: “It’s probably a slightly childish name and we may have been better off calling ourselves something different. But it stuck and provided us with a good song for the opening and closing credits.”
The Goodies stands up well against today’s comedic offerings
One thing which mystified some fans was how the characters got together initially.
“We never delved into their back stories so perhaps they were old school pals,” says Graeme. “They were certainly a strange bunch and very different socially. Tim played the posh, high-falutin’ one, Bill the scruffy little oik and I was the mad scientist.”
Eight series were screened on the BBC before the show was snapped up by ITV.
Graeme explains: “We never had a long-term deal with the BBC, we were contracted series by series. When they couldn’t offer another series because of budget commitments elsewhere, London Weekend Television was soon knocking on our door.”
Bill adds: “We made a series and a special but the programmes were terribly expensive. The decision-makers took one look at the figures and said, ‘That’s enough of that, we’re not doing any more’.”
Unlike many of its contemporaries, The Goodies’ episodes gather dust in the BBC archives, rarely seeing the light of day.
“The BBC was always very supportive of the show – until we left for ITV,” smiles Graeme, who studied medicine before turning to entertainment.
Sadly, no anniversary celebrations are being organised by either BBC or ITV and the lack of repeats mystifies Graeme and Bill.
“Okay, there are some elements in the sitcom which, today, might be regarded as non-PC – but very few,” admits Graeme.
Bill continues: “After the first series was screened, we even got a telegram from Mary Whitehouse congratulating us on a wonderful show. We got a lot of stick about that from our friends on Monty Python.
“Mind you, we eventually offended Mrs Whitehouse with our send-up of the film Grease, which we called Saturday Night Grease!”
Although no anniversary show is planned for television, there have been discussions about spotlighting the programme on radio.
Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden
“Yes, we were discussing an event, organised jointly by Radio Times and the British Film Institute, but it was cancelled due to COVID-19,” says Graeme.
Regarding the BBC’s reluctance to revisit The Goodies, Graeme recalls the time a fan wrote to the Beeb regarding the show’s 40th anniversary. “He asked if there were plans to make a celebration show and was told ‘no’.
The BBC official who replied stressed that they like to be forward-looking before stating that it must be remembered that The Goodies left the BBC to make their last series on ITV. That’s the closest to a reason I’ve come across. It seems they’ve held that grudge ever since.”
It was 50 years ago the comedy trio began their TV career
Filming nine series may have been hard work but was also “tremendous fun”.
One of Graeme’s favourites was the bus stop sketch.
“We installed a fake bus stop and were going to use dummies in the scene.
“When we broke for lunch, the prop boys left the bus stop in place and stood the dummies up in a queue. On returning from lunch, we noticed two people at the end of the queue waiting patiently for a bus, not realising that they were standing alongside dummies.”
Then there was a moment Tim Brooke-Taylor was dressed up as an old woman pushing Bill Oddie around in a pram.
Filming nine series may have been hard work but was also ‘tremendous fun’
“During a break in filming, this old lady approached Tim and asked what was going on, thinking they were just out for a walk,” laughs Graeme.
Some scenes were challenging to make, even down to riding their trademark “trandem” bike.
“It was quite dangerous and often we bashed our legs on the pedals or fell off,” recalls Graeme.
“I’d give any excuse not to ride it. In the episode where we were first supposed to ride it, the script read: ‘They get on the bike and ride off.’
“We found we couldn’t so re-wrote it as ‘They get on the bike and fall off.’ And we did, many times!”
Both feel that The Goodies stands up well against today’s comedic offerings.
Of the current scene, Graeme says: “There was a period when comedy was rather mean-minded and unpleasant but, thankfully, a bit of warmth is creeping back into the genre.”
In many ways, Graeme is pleased he’s not trying to write TV comedy now.
“You have to be terribly careful because there is always someone who’ll be offended. The one subject not to cover now is transgender because people are getting very bitter and aggressive on both sides. So there are certain topics one would stay clear off – it can be a minefield for writers and comedians.”
Great sadness will tinge the rest of this anniversary year.
The loss of Tim Brooke-Taylor was an immense shock for family and friends.
“Everything this year has felt so unreal so I’ve not been able to entirely process the fact Tim is dead,” sighs Graeme. “It was a cruel time to happen because his wife, Christine, couldn’t be with him during the worst stages of his illness.
“Being on his own must have been dreadful. I’d been talking to him not long before he became ill. The last email I received from him said, ‘I don’t want to be dramatic, but I’m not feeling very well.’ It’s very poignant now. His death was a terrible shock. Tim was a lovely person, very witty and convivial.
“He was wonderful with everyone, including fans. He’d always have time at the stage door to chat to people.” And the fans respected Tim for that.
“Just like Tim, our fans were always pleasant and polite so we were never mobbed or anything like that,” says Bill.
Fan letters still arrive from time to time, especially from Down Under.
“We took a stage show to Australia one year, showing clips and sharing memories with fans,” says Graeme.
“Although The Goodies is never repeated on terrestrial TV here, in Australia it was repeated endlessly throughout the 1980s and ’90s, so the stage show was well received.”
There is still time during this anniversary year for a BBC executive to dust off a few episodes and treat the British public to a slice of The Goodies.
Sadly though, Graeme and Bill aren’t holding their breath.