Re­turn of the Good­ies Harry Mount

Messed around by the BBC, dropped by ITV, and then sadly ig­nored, Graeme, Bill and Tim are cel­e­brat­ing the DVD re­lease of their com­plete works, they tell Harry Mount

The Oldie - - CONTENTS -

Good­ies! Goody goody yum yum… To peo­ple of a cer­tain vin­tage, the words snap you back to the 1970s – and a unique mix of slap­stick, silent com­edy, silli­ness and satire cre­ated by Graeme Gar­den, Bill Od­die and Tim Brooke-tay­lor.

The Good­ies rode high in the tele­vi­sion rat­ings – for the BBC from 1970 to 1980, and then at ITV un­til 1982. But then ITV can­celled the se­ries. And the grumpy old BBC re­fused to show re­peats in the in­ter­ven­ing 36 years, the odd late-night air­ing apart.

And so The Good­ies slipped into a me­mory hole – cher­ished by adults and chil­dren who were around in the 1970s, but other­wise strangely stranded in time.

But the boys are back! All 67 half-hour episodes are now avail­able on DVD for the first time.

Talk­ing to them, it’s strik­ing what plea­sure they take in re­call­ing the pro­gramme – and their days in the Cam­bridge Foot­lights nearly 60 years ago. Graeme Gar­den, 75, was in the year below Bill Od­die, 77, and Tim BrookeTay­lor, 78.

When Graeme Gar­den – train­ing to be a doc­tor – met Od­die and Brooke-tay­lor, he was, at his own ad­mis­sion, a lit­tle un­sure of him­self.

‘I was far too afraid to join the Foot­lights to be­gin with,’ he says. ‘I joined Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Light En­ter­tain­ments – known as Cules. Thank God I didn’t join the Cam­bridge Uni­ver­sity Na­tional Trust So­ci­ety.’

Gar­den says this dead­pan – just like he de­liv­ers his one-lin­ers on I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, where he ap­pears along­side Brooke-tay­lor – while he waits for me to work out the acro­nym.

All three come across like their Good­ies screen char­ac­ters. Gar­den is quiet but breaks the si­lence to drop in the bril­liant one-lin­ers. He re­calls de­liv­er­ing ba­bies in Ply­mouth: ‘Ark Royal had been in nine months be­fore – so it was quite a busy time.’

‘Graeme’s al­ways been like that,’ says Od­die. ‘Says noth­ing and then drops in the per­fect jeu de mots, and every­one says, “Oh, isn’t he witty?” ’

Od­die is ef­fu­sive and chatty. ‘He al­ways talks more than us two, but he’s man­age­able,’ says Brooke-tay­lor, who’s af­fa­ble, mild and gen­tle.

‘The cast­ing in The Good­ies is spo­ton,’ says Od­die. ‘Graeme has got a touch of the sci­en­tist, Tim has got a touch of the golfer, and I wouldn’t wear suits. Class was there def­i­nitely.’

Gar­den agrees: ‘Tim with a hy­phen was the posh boy. I was the sci­ence boy and Bill was the scruffy lit­tle oik. Tim reck­ons he’s the most un­like his char­ac­ter.’

You can see their dy­namic at work on Top of the Pops when The Good­ies sing their 1975 hit Funky Gib­bon – com­posed, like all their mu­sic, by Od­die.

‘Bill is ab­so­lutely en­joy­ing it, Graeme looks like he wishes he was 1,000 miles away, and I’m in-be­tween,” says BrookeTay­lor. ‘Still, I’ve al­ways had two dreams: to score the win­ning goal in the World Cup, and to be on Top of the Pops with Pan’s Peo­ple. I’ve done one out of two.’

Gar­den de­nies he hated the song, say­ing, ‘I just didn’t want to show them up with my funky disco moves.’

There is con­stant teas­ing be­tween them but it is clearly af­fec­tion­ate.

‘We never had rows,’ says Gar­den, ‘Be­cause there were three of us, you

al­ways had a two-to-one ma­jor­ity. We never took our­selves se­ri­ously enough to get vi­cious.’

They still get on well to­gether but rarely re­unite.

‘It’s their fault – they both moved out of Lon­don,’ says Od­die, who lives in the cap­i­tal. ‘Graeme is near Ox­ford and Tim is in Cookham Dean. I be­gan to bris­tle when I saw Graeme mut­ter and look at his watch be­cause he wanted to go home.’

Un­tan­gling the birth of The Good­ies re­quires a doc­tor­ate in com­edy his­tory. Peter Cook was Foot­lights pres­i­dent in 1960; Tim Brooke-tay­lor in 1963; Graeme Gar­den in 1964; Eric Idle in 1965. And then the fu­ture Pythons and Good­ies min­gled on re­vues and TV come­dies through­out the 1960s.

‘I com­pare it to a foot­ball team or a band,’ says Od­die. ‘They ex­change a lead singer ev­ery now and then.’

So, when the BBC com­mis­sioned the first Good­ies se­ries in 1970, all three were drenched in the same in­flu­ences as the Pythons.

‘The ghost of Peter Cook had been very strong at Cam­bridge,’ says Gar­den. ‘Ev­ery­thing we did was la­belled satire. We wanted to shake that off. And so we went back to mu­sic hall for The Good­ies. We were also in­flu­enced by silent movies, par­tic­u­larly Buster Keaton, an­i­mated car­toons and the Beano.’

The Good­ies was dis­tin­guished from sketch shows by hav­ing a half-hour story, each with a new theme.

‘That’s the prob­lem with a sketch show – you have to have a punch­line,’ says Brooke-tay­lor. ‘We were anti­Estab­lish­ment – I think that’s why we’re pop­u­lar in Aus­tralia and Scot­land. And not be­ing able to swear en­cour­aged us to be fun­nier – even if there were some camp parts I wouldn’t do now.’

The only premise was that the three of them lived to­gether and would do ‘any­thing, any­time, any­where’.

‘Liv­ing to­gether is a good theme, like More­cambe and Wise and the Marx Broth­ers,’ says Brooke-tay­lor. ‘It means you don’t have to go into sto­ries about wives and girl­friends.’

The pro­gramme was spiced up with guest stars. ‘Pa­trick Moore was a punk in one episode,’ re­calls Gar­den. ‘We also had a lot of women who weren’t just eye candy – Beryl Reid as Mary White­house [called De­siree Carthorse in the show], June Whit­field, Jane Asher...’

Gar­den and Od­die wrote The Good­ies, with each writ­ing a sep­a­rate half, and then meet­ing to splice the halves to­gether. They would swap ver­bal and vis­ual gags, too.

‘I did the least,’ says Brooke-tay­lor. ‘The hard graft was done by Graeme and Bill.’

Be­fore writ­ing, they drew up what they called ‘a Panorama list’ of themes. ‘Any­thing with a strong im­age,’ says Od­die. ‘If it was top­i­cal, it was no bad thing.’

That ex­plains the 1975 episode at­tack­ing po­lice vi­o­lence in apartheid South Africa. The BBC ob­jected, com­plain­ing it wasn’t funny enough. So they added in more jokes, and the episode was aired.

‘We’d of­ten put two in­con­gru­ous things to­gether,’ says Od­die, ‘Kung fu was big at the time, and we were all from the North. So we came up with Ecky Thump.’

That 1975 episode – about a Lan­cashire mar­tial art, in­volv­ing hurl­ing black pud­dings while wear­ing flat caps – was the one that led to a fan dy­ing from laugh­ing so much.

The most fa­mous pro­gramme was Kit­ten Kong, the 1971 episode about a gi­ant kit­ten ter­ror­is­ing Lon­don, climb­ing the Post Of­fice Tower and squash­ing Michael Aspel. Od­die de­vised the idea from a re­jected sketch he’d writ­ten for Ron­nie Barker about Barker tak­ing a su­per-pow­ered kit­ten for a walk.

The Good­ies moved to ITV in 1980 when the BBC dithered about com­mis­sion­ing an­other se­ries. They were paid three times as much at ITV – and the se­ries was more lav­ishly filmed.

When a new boss chopped the pro­gramme in 1982, the BBC was still an­noyed at the trio leav­ing – and re­mained an­noyed for decades, re­fus­ing to run re­peats.

‘ “I have to re­mind you that the Good­ies left the BBC,” was the re­sponse when fans asked for re­peats,’ says Od­die.

The pro­gramme ap­pealed to grownups and chil­dren, even though it orig­i­nally went out at 10pm be­fore be­ing brought back to 9pm.

‘I get chil­dren from then say­ing, “I grew up with you,”’ says Od­die. ‘I tell them, “No one watch­ing The Good­ies ever grew up.” ’

‘The Good­ies: The Com­plete BBC Col­lec­tion’ is re­leased on 24th Septem­ber (£79.99)

Bal­leri­nas Graeme Gar­den and Bill Od­die and trainer Tim Brooke-tay­lor get stuck into a bout of bal­let vi­o­lence inFoot­ball Crazy, a 1982 Good­ies episode

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