I have a foolproof plan to make a five year-old laugh for twenty-five straight minutes. Show that child “Kitten Kong.” We’ve seen this boy fall apart with the giggles many times, but for sheer volume, for uninterrupted hysterics, the seventh – slash – fourteenth episode of the second series of The Goodies is pure gold. If you’re an adult, you’re certain to chuckle a little. If you’re a kid, this show is why they made television.
Most of our readers are in America and may not be aware of this unbelievably ridiculous program. It was written by and starred Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden, and Bill Oddie, whose comedy background was intertwined with the better-known six members of Monty Python. They all came from the Cambridge and Oxford “Footlights” troupes and often worked on projects together in the 1960s, and would occasionally be seen on TV, heard on radio, or doing Secret Policemen shows for Amnesty International in the company of each other and like-minded comedians like Marty Feldman, David Jason, Peter Cook, and Dudley Moore. But since The Goodies was these three’s best-known project – it ran for 76 episodes over eleven years – and it was made with kids in mind, it’s been my experience that some of the snobbier members of American Python fandom look down on them. Fools!
The Goodies are sort of adventurers who come up with or are assigned bizarre projects like capturing the Loch Ness Monster or flying to the moon or representing Britain in the Winter Olympics. Most of the humor comes from extremely silly sight gags. Actually, silly’s a good word. You remember Graham Chapman’s colonel character, who would stop anything in the Flying Circus show from getting too silly? Imagine he wasn’t around, and imagine that whenever they went outside the studio to film material, they frequently ran out of daylight, and they didn’t have the budget for a sound recordist, so they dubbed on goofy effects later.
Earlier, I called “Kitten Kong” the seventh – slash – fourteenth episode of the show’s second series. They made the episode midway through their 1971-72 series, and then got the opportunity to remount it with a little bit more money and several script tweaks for an annual film convention in Switzerland, the Rose d’Or Festival. In what sounds like an insane decision, the BBC then replaced the original episode in their sales package to other countries with the new version, and wiped the master tape and destroyed any film prints of the first version. We’ll talk about this weirdness at greater length when we start watching Doctor Who some months from now, but basically episode 2.7 no longer exists at all, however episode 2.14 is a remake of it.
So, what makes “Kitten Kong” such a perfect laugh factory for children, and also such a great introduction to the show? Well, at £30 a pet, the Goodies open an animal clinic, and Twinkle, a tiny, undersized white kitten with phenomenal strength, becomes one of their clients, along with singing dogs and a vampire bat that’s afraid of the dark. Our heroes give Twinkle some growth hormones, and then this happens:
Twinkle’s “occupation” of London has some really great sight gags, and the BBC got in the spirit by allowing one of their TV news celebrities, Michael Aspel, to play along and report on the turmoil. The whole affair is an iconic bit of seventies British pop culture, and if you’ve got kids between the age of five and ten, they absolutely need to see this. However!!! Don’t spoil it for them; Network’s DVD issue has an image of the giant Twinkle as the menu screen. I had a feeling that might be the case, and so I sent our boy out of the room until I had the episode keyed up. The beautiful thing about The Goodies is how phenomenally unpredictable it is. They never let their tiny budget get in the way of their silliness. Anything can happen in this show, and it often does.
24 of the 69 BBC episodes of The Goodies, and all seven from their final series for London Weekend Television, have been released in four double-disk sets by a terrific company called Network. They’re sort of the Region 2 equivalent of Region 1’s Shout Factory, putting out all sorts of good archive projects in nice, reasonably-priced sets. The quality of “Kitten Kong” is better than I’ve ever seen it before, and the sets come with these mammoth, detail-packed booklets full of fun production minutiae by TV historian Andrew Pixley. I have no idea how they picked the eight-per-set lineup; it seems pretty random, which is a huge shame because the episode with Patrick Troughton as a mad scientist and the episode with Bernard Bresslaw as a suicidal zookeeper have not yet been released.
As for us, a little Goodies goes a long way. We’ll pop in and look at another episode together in a month or so. We don’t need to expose the poor kid to that kind of laugh riot every single night, you know.
(Note: I can play them, but I’m not presently able to get screencaps from Region 2 DVDs, so many of these entries will just have a photo of the set to illustrate it. The second photo came from here. Click either of the images to purchase the Network DVD set from Amazon UK.)