Between 1970 and 1982, the trio of Tim Brooke-Taylor, Bill Oddie and Graeme Garden were a regular fixture on British TV screens in The Goodies, a sitcom all about fictionalised versions of themselves who – perpetually strapped for cash – would offer their services for hire with the slogan “We Do Anything, Anytime”, which acted as a jumping-off point for a series of off-the-wall, madcap adventures.
Since going their separate ways, The Goodies seem to have fallen somewhat from favour in the eyes of the BBC, as the shows have very rarely been repeated, unlike contemporary comedy programmes such as The Two Ronnies. While they went on to provide the voices for the cartoon Bananaman in the mid-1980s, the three didn’t perform together again as The Goodies until 2019, when an audio special was made – entitled ‘The Big Ben Theory’ – for Audible.
It was so well-received, this backdoor pilot was due to go to a series, with production set to start in 2020. However, the recent passing of Tim Brooke-Taylor has meant that what should have been a renaissance for The Goodies has actually been a fitting swansong. Despite the perceived antipathy (or apathy) towards The Goodies by Auntie Beeb, we can only hope to see some episodes screened by them as a tribute to Timbo (as he was known in the show).
The obvious choices would be classics such as ‘Kitten Kong’ (with a giant white cat, Tiddles, destroying the Post Office Tower and flattening Michael Aspel), or ‘Kung Fu Kapers’ (about the ancient and mystical Lancastrian martial art of ‘Ecky-Thump’); the latter was recently voted the public’s favourite episode. However, with a total of 76 episodes to choose from, there are so many worthy examples.
In fact, it’s hard to draw up a shortlist (or even a long list), and this isn’t by any means an attempt to do a definitive ‘Top 5’ or anything similar (as that sort of thing can lead to bunfights); instead, it’s a look at some of The Goodies that really demonstrate the show’s diversity, without needing to have any oversized killer felines, or assaults with a deadly black pudding anywhere in sight.
For five decades, Mary Whitehouse was the self-appointed moral arbiter of the nation, with her Clean Up TV campaign, as well as her National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association (now Mediawatch-UK). A thorn in the side of programme makers, she was a prime target for lampooning, which is exactly what The Goodies did with ‘Gender Education’, one of their most satirical episodes.
With Beryl Reid playing the overly puritanical and prudish Mrs Desiree Carthorse, The Goodies are recruited to make a squeaky-clean S-E-X education film about the facts of life, ‘How To Make Babies By Doing Dirty Things’. However, even though they’ve followed her script to the letter, they incur her moral outrage and wrath by using the word ‘gender’ in a caption, leading to her threatening them with legal action for obscenity.
Things culminate with one of the famously elaborate and ambitious Goodies set pieces, as BBC Television Centre is blown up (in an impressive bit of model work by the BBC’s Visual Effects Department). Despite their attempt to incur Whitehouse’s wrath, she wouldn’t make a complaint about them until 1980, with the episode ‘Saturday Night Grease’. And the thing which attracted her ire? The suggestiveness of a cartoon carrot on the front of Tim’s underpants.
While The Goodies is seen as being a BBC programme, the very last series they made for TV was actually for ITV. The Goodies never had a formal contact with the BBC, and when they learned the resources of the Visual Effects Department would be firmly tied up working on The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, they jumped ship and signed a three-year deal with London Weekend Television; however, the series was dropped after a year for being too expensive.
During the seven episodes they made for LWT, The Goodies turned out some material which was easily as good as their BBC years. One such example is ‘Bigfoot’, which starts out with a parody of Yorkshire Television’s contemporary show Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World, with Graeme playing Arthur C. Clarke. The show gets cancelled when it turns out that Arthur C. Clarke doesn’t actually exist, but Tim fails to accept this, and goes on a quest to find his hero.
This gives The Goodies a perfect opportunity to get outside the studio for the last part of the episode, where they get to indulge in some of the slapstick humour that they’re known for; some of it is verging on the cartoonish, in the very best traditions of Tex Avery or Chuck Jones. The episode is worth it for the impersonation of Clarke alone, and the merciless send-up of the sort of paranormal, unexplained conspiracy fodder he used to cover.
‘Farm Fresh Food’
As well as having a strong satirical vein (whereas people might only remember the slapstick or visual elements), it had to be said that The Goodies were also ahead of their time with this episode. ‘Farm Fresh Food’ opens with the trio on a health kick, dining on seaweed salad, plankton, brown rice, and “the ultimate in basic food”: soil. However little it does for their tastebuds, it does even less to quell their hunger, so they go to a local restaurant.
Ye Olde Shepherd’s Cottage prides itself upon serving the finest British farm produce; on reading the menu, however, it quickly becomes clear everything is artificially enhanced using modern food production techniques: “tinned, frozen, preserved, coloured and flavoured by experts”. Desperate to get something nourishing and all-natural, The Goodies decide to visit Tim’s Uncle Tom (John Le Mesurier), who has a farm in the country.
It soon becomes clear that Uncle Tom is the main supplier for Ye Olde Shepherd’s Cottage, running his farm like a lab from his control centre (which is a surprisingly accurately-rendered replica of the bridge of the USS Enterprise). They set about sabotaging his factory farming, and highlight the plight of the animals. It’s an episode which still has a lot of resonance today, with concerns about provenance of food, farming methods, and healthy eating.
’Bunfight At The O.K. Tearooms’
This is The Goodies’ attempt to make a Western, with all of the action transposed to the Wild West Country, as Graeme, Tim and Bill head to look for gold in Cornwall (an area best known for tin mining). However, they instead strike a vein of pure cream, which ends up with Bill and Tim doing all of the hard work actually extracting it, while Graeme sits back and supervises. He then double-crosses his friends by filing a claim for the cream himself.
Bill and Tim are all ready to head back to London when they happen upon a whole new discovery, and strike a rich seam of strawberry jam and scones (as well as an argument about the correct pronunciation of “scones”). However, Graeme’s been spying on them, and decides to offer them a sporting chance to settle the score, by letting them take him on in a high-stakes, winner-takes-all game of Poker at Graeme’s establishment, the O.K. Tearooms.
This is where their creative genius is at some of its highest, as the Tearoom is decked out like a Western saloon, sugar cubes are rolled like dice, biscuits and cakes are being used as Poker chips, and slices of toast are employed in the place of playing cards. There’s also a shootout – accompanied by Bill Oddie’s ‘The Ballad Of The O.K. Tearooms’ – in which those squeezy plastic tomato-shaped sauce bottles are used instead of six-shooters, and the ketchup within providing a Sam Peckinpah-level of gore and splatter.
‘The Goodies Rule – O.K.?’
This is probably one of the best-remembered of all of The Goodies episodes, due to its striking visual image of Tim, Graeme and Bill being chased down by a giant Dougal from The Magic Roundabout being used in the opening credits. The story has The Goodies trying and failing to make it as pop stars, only to have their material and style thieved by other groups, such as The Beatles and The Bachelors, who become huge successes instead of our heroes.
In a bid to get their own back, they steal some of the main characteristics of other artists and mash them all together, with this hybrid group becoming a big smash. Despite their coming up with a hugely popular hit song to take people’s attention off the parlous state of the nation’s economy, a snap General Election sees them – and all other forms of entertainment – outlawed by a new Government, formed entirely of shop dummies.
In retaliation, The Goodies manage to overthrow them and set up a literal puppet Government – formed of children’s television favourites such as Andy Pandy, Sooty and Sweep, the Wombles, Basil Brush, The Clangers, Rupert Bear, Pinky and Perky, Bill and Ben, and Paddington. When The Goodies try to wrest back control, they end up being pursued around the grounds of Chequers by the puppets. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a grown man set upon by Wombles.
Got a favourite Goodies episode? Tell us in the comments below.