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The Goodies – ‘The Big Ben Theory’ – Audio Review

The Goodies is a name which might well be known to you, but unless you were a child of the ’70s and ’80s, chances are you won’t have actually seen their work. The show of the same name hasn’t been seen on our TV screens for many years – other than very occasional showings on digital channels, the last time The Goodies was seen on the BBC was a one-off screening of the episode ‘Winter Olympics’ back in 2006.

Other than that, The Goodies have been somewhat sidelined, and not received the sort of attention or acclaim which other comedy acts – including the Monty Python team – have had lavished upon them. It’s not as if The Goodies themselves have vanished into obscurity – Bill Oddie has made a niche for himself in presenting TV shows like Springwatch, and both Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden are regularly to be heard on our airwaves in shows like I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. The trio also provided the voices for the cartoon adaptation of British comic strip Bananaman in the ’80s.

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However, The Goodies remain woefully under-appreciated. Even when they were being transmitted, despite some episodes containing risqué content at times and airing in prime time, it was still seen as a kids’ programme – in fact, they even made explicit reference to this when they had John Cleese make a cameo appearance in one episode just to level that accusation at them, in a nice bit of self-referentialism. The fact they went on to do Bananaman probably didn’t help with the perception.

So, who were The Goodies? Well, put very simply, they were fictionalised versions of themselves – Graeme as the archetypal boffin with all sorts of wacky science; Tim as the nice-but-dim one, renowned for his staunch patriotism, as well as his Union Jack-adorned waistcoat; and Bill as the rather put-upon dogsbody member of the trio, bringing a working class perspective. They marketed themselves with a slogan of “We Do Anything, Anytime”, and would aid people who needed their help. All of this was a way of getting into all manner of madcap and offbeat adventures.

They would ride their trandem (a three-seater tandem) into action, and end up in all sorts of bizarre scrapes. A lot of their comedy heritage came from people like Buster Keaton, and so they used a lot of visual humour – they would undercrank the film, like their silent movie heroes, which meant that the action was sped up when played at normal speeds. But The Goodies also featured puns, parodies and even satires of things like Apartheid. In one infamous incident, a viewer actually died during the episode ‘Kung Fu Kapers’, after suffering a massive heart attack due to laughing uncontrollably.

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So, you’d think that the series would be held in higher regard, but alas no. The Goodies still has a devoted fanbase, and they’re hugely popular in Australia to this day, where the shows were a massive hit. Slowly, things start to be tipping back in their favour as far as the UK is concerned – all of their episodes have been released on DVD by Network Distributing in time for their 50th anniversary in 2020, and they’re all appearing at Bristol’s Slapstick Festival in January, to commemorate five decades of the programme.

However, perhaps the most notable thing that’s happened may be the revival of the show on audio for Audible, with a brand new story – ‘The Big Ben Theory’ – having recently been released. Directed by Dirk Maggs (he of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy fame, as well as Audible’s Alien III), the backdoor pilot for a potential new run was devised by Barnaby Eaton-Jones (who has also been behind a recent 50th anniversary Up Pompeii! audio special), giving us a tale – written by Gareth Gwynn & John-Luke Roberts, along with Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie – which brings The Goodies firmly into the 21st Century.

The script openly acknowledges not only the passage of time, but also the fact that The Goodies has been rather overlooked – the trio now live in an exhibit within the ‘G’ section of The Museum Of TV & Film (sandwiched between The Good Life and Goodfellas), and characters in the story make comment about being too young to remember The Goodies, as it was never repeated by the BBC. They’re called out of retirement by the Civil Service, as all the MPs have resigned due to scandals (some of which even overlap), and back in the 1970s the Government had passed an Emergency Bill (as well as Emergency Graeme and Emergency Tim) for such an eventuality.

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They soon realise that with just two MPs (Bill being the Speaker), the country will end up being deadlocked, so they decide to recruit a third MP, and put out for job applicants. The script is so wonderfully timely, as there are plenty of knocks and digs at the current state of politics in the UK, including allusions to Brexit – one of the post’s applicants is Nigel Farage (Jon Culshaw), who soon gets short shrift off The Goodies; there’s also a deliciously pointed reference made to “the will of the people”. Who knows, maybe The Goodies will be able to finally lance that Brexit boil, by giving us some sorely-needed comic relief?

It’s easy to think of The Goodies as being just a piece of TV history, yet when it was on air originally, it was very current and contemporary. With the basic concept of the show being essentially timeless, it’s actually been remarkably straightforward to update The Goodies and make it all seem relevant again. As such, despite a little bit of an initial shock to the system (as you realise they aren’t preserved in aspic), you soon find their pop culture references aren’t actually jarring, and are strategically deployed throughout.

For example, at one point Bill pretends to be Ed Sheeran (wearing a ginger wig he caught roaming free in Scotland), and he also mentions previously masquerading at Glastonbury as Florence + the Machine. Thrown in also are mentions of Call The Midwife, emojis, homeopathy (in what’s a deliciously crafted gag), Facebook, and a beautiful mashup of Paddington with the current “See It. Say It. Sorted” campaign on public transport. References are also made to Kim Jong-un, as well as Vladimir Putin meddling in foreign affairs. None of it feels forced or shoehorned in, which is great testament to the script.

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All of the typical traits of The Goodies are present, from the basic characterisations, to having a commercial break right in the middle of proceedings, with spoof adverts galore. There’s also a chase sequence on the famed trandem, which they somehow manage to pull off on audio – in fact, the joke is amplified by having the need to use stunt doubles, due to their advancing years, even though you can’t see what’s happening. You can even imagine how the BBC’s Visual Effects Department would’ve crafted the big moment when Big Ben gets hijacked and piloted to Russia – it’s such a typically audacious Goodies setpiece.

Added to this – the veritable cherry on the icing on an already indulgent cake – is the appearance of Joanna Lumley, as Joanna Lumley (although not the Joanna Lumley you’d perhaps expect). The whole enterprise is nearly an hour’s worth of well-crafted intelligent daft comedy, and contains some genuine belly laughs. This may have been a labour of love, but it’s ended up as so much more than that, and you can honestly see this really having some potential longevity to it. Let’s just hope it’s popular enough to bring us some more of the Super Chaps Three.

‘The Big Ben Theory’ is definitely a goody goody yum yum. More, please.

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