Goodie for them | Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor speak

Goodie for them

Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor speak

It’s one of the longest-running battles in comedy: Goodies fans versus the BBC. An incredible 37 years after Graeme Garden, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie first mounted their three-seater Trandem, the campaign to secure a repeat run of the classic series is as hard-fought as ever.

Few shows engender the same passion as The Goodies – and that fervour is stoked by an understandable sense of injustice. While acclaim is heaped on their Monty Python contemporaries, The Goodies are left forgotten by the mainstream, to this day dismissed by many as a kids’ programme. It even took until 2003 to get the first DVD release, and even then on an independent label, not by the BBC.

The success of that title, plus a themed Goodies night on BBC Two in 2005, heralded a revival of interest in the show – but still not enough to secure repeats. Now the team have taken matters into their own hands, with a theatre tour (sans Oddie who’s too busy peeping at badgers to commit to anything but prerecorded contributions), which serves as a reminder of just how funny the show could be.

‘It’s a trip down memory lane,’ Graeme says. ‘Doing it on stage is as close as we can get to having the shown again. We’d been trying to get repeats on for our 30th anniversary, but nothing came of it.’

The BBC’s head of comedy at the time, Paul Jackson, had the series ready to run, right down to the budget, but the BBC Two controller said ‘no.’

‘We’re going through the motions of not being bothered any more,’ Tim adds, more resigned than bitter.

But the ‘enthusiastic and affectionate’ audiences for their few live shows so far have encouraged them both – especially as they were unsure what reaction they would receive. The tour originated in Australia, where 25,000 tickets sold out in one day. But The Goodies is part of life there, being screened every night until well into the Nineties.

‘We thought the UK wouldn’t have the same fan base,’ said Graham. ‘But the DVD sales went quite well, which surprised and delighted us.’

‘There’s an extraordinary cross-section of people in the audience,’ Tim adds, ‘which has encouraged us, It goes from people in their 20s to people who remember it the first time around.’

In fact, it may be the very fact that The Goodies aren’t on TV that’s driving audience to seek them out live. ‘Now we haven’t been shown for a while, it’s subversive again,’ says Graeme. ‘We’re an underground cult.’

In their day, though, the team were very mainstream – possibly to the detriment of their long-term legacy. We were almost too popular,’ says Graeme. ‘Because families could all enjoy it together we were given that “kids’ programme” tag.

‘And, yes, kids would like the slapstick and the falling over and the non-verbal stuff. But there was also some very satirical stuff, sending up political and social issues.

Famously, among die-hard fans at least, they challenged South African apartheid with an episode in which Bill was discriminated against under the rule of ‘apart-height’. But the episode has become notorious for being politically incorrect - including casual use of the word ‘nig-nog’. Equally unfashionably, Graeme blacked up in the Ecky-Thump episode, which has also attracted criticism – even though they Pythons have largely escaped censure for doing the same.

It is, perhaps, the difficulty in placing The Goodies in one particular pigeonhole that has kept it off the schedules, especially in these days when TV executives like to know exactly what demographic they’re appealing to.

Tim, especially, is rather despondent about the way comedy is commissioned now. ‘There’s nothing on TV any more that’s in between sitcom and outrageous late-night shows like The Mighty Boosh,’ he says. ‘The problem now is that you have to justify everything. Before you commission a comedy, it’s got to go through lots of focus groups.

‘TV people used to be much more willing to take a chance on new things. The Goodies would never have been made now.’

Graeme cites another reason why this might be – ‘the amount of health and safety checks you have to do’. ‘I did a voiceover for an animated show called Bromwell High and I had a risk assessment,’ he said. ‘It concluded there may be cables on the floor that I could trip over.

‘We were going to ride the Trandem on stage, but we were told we couldn’t be insured.

But even if The Goodies would never have been commissioned in today’s climate, is there any chance of a new episode being made now? ‘I’ve always wanted to do it, but the other two don’t,’ says Tim. ‘There was talk of us doing it as a radio show, but nothing came of it.’

The stage show, then, is not an attempt to perform a Goodies episode live, but a nostalgic reminiscence, full of banter and video clips.

‘A new episode wouldn’t be possible without film,’ says Tim. “We need the visual impact.

But Graeme has a more practical reason. ‘There’s a good excuse for not doing an episode on stage – because we can’t.’ Their advancing years (he’s 64, Tim’s 66) means the physicality of their humour is out.

‘It might have looked a bit sad,’ he adds. ‘I’ve seen footage of Laurel and Hardy on stage in their later years, and it’s very indulgent.’

Perhaps surprisingly, the Goodies could once have had the same shot at the sort of international fame Stan and Ollie enjoyed, as Steven Spielberg toyed with the idea of making a movie with them. ‘Spielberg allegedly got all excited,’ says Graeme. ‘But it was around the time he made 1948 – and found that comedy wasn’t his forte.’

While both Tim and Graeme are happy to celebrate their past, they continue to keep legions of Radio 4 listeners entertained with I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. And once their Goodies tour is over, they will prepare to take this show on the road – no thanks to the BBC, who initially tried to prevent it in a dispute over who owns the rights to the games.

‘I did rankle a bit, says Graeme, although he insists it wasn’t as bad as the stories suggested: ‘That this modest show had the might of the BBC and its lawyers descend on it.’

But Tim’s a bit more frank, saying the dispute ‘was so pathetic that it worked to our advantage’. The radio show doesn’t pay the rent, he says ‘we do it because we love it’, but when Little Britain can make vast fortunes for Matt Lucas and David Walliams, it seemed churlish for the corporation to block the Clue stars from making an income from their devoted following.

Thankfully, now all is resolved, and the team will be on tour – starting in Birmingham in September, Tim reveals. ‘It’s all been cleared up,’ he says. ‘We finalised it all yesterday.’

So, two separate tours, with two separate shows, in the same year - there can’t be many comics half their age who can boast that. And that, as their fans will never tire of pointing out, is without the benefit of being seen on TV. Who needs the repeats anyway…

Steve Bennett

Click here for the Goodies tour dates (Clue dates have not yet been announced)

And The Goodies complete LWT series was released on DVD on Monday. Click here to order.

Published: 28 Mar 2007

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