There’s no real category that The Goodies television show can be neatly slotted into. Part sitcom, part sketch show, part surrealist tomfoolery, the premise of the three men-for-hire riding around the UK on a bicycle made for three gave the stars a uniquely blank canvas on which they could scrawl their madcap visions.
The Goodies were (and still are actually, as they appear at events together from time to time) Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden. The three of them met at Cambridge University where they rubbed shoulders with the likes of Monty Python’s John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Eric Idle. They were also members of esteemed theatrical club Footlights, with both Brooke-Taylor and Garden taking up the role of President in 1963 and 1964 respectively, before Idle took the reins in 1965.
Footlights produces a revue show every year, which is notable for starting the comedy careers of many of our well-loved stars, such as Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Sandi Toksvig, Emma Thompson etc. In 1963 the show was called ‘Cambridge Circus’ (this was altered from its original title, ‘A Clump of Plinths’). It was written and performed by Brooke-Taylor, Oddie (who also wrote the music for this) and Garden, along with Cleese, David Hatch (who went on to be a big cheese at BBC Radio), and Jo Kendall (an actor) along with fellow students Chis Stuart-Clark and Tony Buffery. The show was taken to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and the West End before touring New Zealand the following year. It then appeared on Broadway and off-Broadway from September 1964.
Somewhere in the middle of its success (30 December 1963 to be precise) the show was recorded and broadcast on BBC radio; it was originally meant to be a one-off but it actually became the start of the popular series ‘I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again’, which brought the cast some very devoted fans throughout its nine year run. During that time Brooke-Taylor, Oddie and Garden also appeared on television (both individually and together), in shows such as ‘At Last the 1948 Show’ and ‘Marty’ (both featuring comedian Marty Feldman) and 1968’s ‘Broaden Your Mind’, a programme that also featured the acting and writing talents of the Monty Python team.
On 8 November 1979 the first episode of The Goodies television show was broadcast on BBC2. The three men appeared with the tagline ‘We Do Anything, Anytime, Anywhere’ – giving them an excuse to appear in many ridiculous situations. There was a tendency towards parodying events in the news; one episode was called ‘Give Police a Chance’, where the Goodies were hired to improve the ‘brutal’ public image of the police by dressing up as members of the force and doing lovely things for the people of the community. Other episodes were just plain nonsensical and silly, such as ‘Snooze’, which involved the creation of a bedtime drink that sent the whole of Britain to sleep for days on end and an antidote which then caused the whole country to do everything preposterously fast.
Garden, Oddie and Brooke-Taylor always played the same character (who also shared their real names) and displayed certain aspects of their own personalities, although these were hugely played around with and stereotyped: Garden was portrayed as a very intelligent and often quite mad scientist (he is a qualified doctor), Oddie as the northern, unkempt, rebellious leftie and Brooke-Taylor as a privileged, posh Tory.
The show was really interesting, visually. They messed around with film speed, chroma key (‘green screen’), modelling and animation. One of the most famous skits that played with different formats was ‘The Movies’; the three Goodies tried, firstly, to create their own epic movie after buying a movie studio. Once arguing broke out over how to make it, the three then split up to make a movie of their own. The resulting sketch showed the boys travelling through each film, crashing from one frame to the next and mixing each genre. Episode ‘Kitten Kong’ is probably the most famous, however: the Goodies start a pet clinic to treat ‘loony animals’ and Garden devises a growth medicine which he feeds to a tiny kitten called Twinkle, causing her to grow to an enormous size and trample down London landmarks, as well as flattening Michael Aspel.
Wordplay was a great characteristic of the show. One of my particular favourite sketches involves Graeme teaching Tim to drive. Graeme begins by saying ‘First, the clutch is depressed.’ Tim responds with ‘Oh, cheer up little clutch!’ Graeme continues with ‘The gears are engaged’ to which Tim excitedly replies ‘Congratulations gears!’
The show is also notable for its use of music throughout, often written by Oddie in collaboration with musician Michael Gibbs; this included the theme tune (‘…The Goodies, goody goody yum yum…’). On top of this the group also released albums and singles. The most famous of the latter has to be ‘Funky Gibbon’; a silly song about their trip to the zoo, released in 1975 and accompanied by a little dance with hand gestures. A very catchy number – once you hear it you’ll be murmuring ‘do, do, do the funky gibbon’ to yourself for ages – it got to number four in the UK and number 1979 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States.
The Goodies kept the nonsense up for eight series (69 episodes including specials) on the BBC. Having never signed a proper contract they discovered in 1980 that the corporation’s Light Entertainment budget had been depleted by new programme The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy so they moved the show to London Weekend Television for one special (‘Snow White 2’) and a six episode series in 1982. And that spelled the end of The Goodies’ television series as LWT then cancelled it; this may have been down to how much it actually cost to create The Goodies’ inventive ideas on the screen.
So The Goodies television show may be over, but they and their influence are not. The Might Boosh (created by Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt) was inspired by wanting to make a ‘modern-day Goodies’ and US band The White Stripes’ sixth album was entitled ‘Icky Thump’ which is a direct reference to The Goodies’ episode ‘Kung Fu Kapers’ in which Oddie is unmasked as an expert of a little-known Lancashire martial art called ‘Ecky Thump.’
So there you have it: The Goodies television show was a mix of funny, musical absurdness, loved by many. And in case you’re wondering – Ecky Thump involved Bill hitting people with a black pudding while wearing braces and a flat cap. Marvellous.
The Goodies was immensely popular and won awards: in 1972 and 1975 the episodes ‘Kitten Kong’ and ‘The Movies’ respectively won the Silver Rose at the Festival Rose d’Or in Montreux, Switzerland. The show was also nominated for an Emmy and narrowly lost out on a BAFTA in 1975 to Fawlty Towers.