Forty-three years ago on December 24, the BBC showed “The Goodies and the Beanstalk” for the first of several times. It is probably the episode that audiences in the UK saw more than any other in the seventies. It was repeated often around Christmastime, to audiences as big as 11.5 million viewers. So to celebrate its 43rd anniversary, we watched it, leaving a very hyper and keyed-up little boy who laughed all the way through it and who’s going to have trouble enough getting to sleep tonight anyway.
In the summer of 1973, the trio got the go-ahead for a fourth series of six episodes as well as a separate 45-minute Christmas special, to be made entirely on film (with a sound recordist this time! They had money! Real money!). The special was broadcast as the middle episode of the series, and it gleefully sends up all the usual Christmas pantomime silliness.
The beanstalk in this version of the story is the centerpiece of the game show It’s a Knockout. The Goodies, destitute and having sold their three-wheeled bicycle for a can of baked beans, represent Britain in the competition and climb the beanstalk to find a retired zookeeper, played by Alfie Bass, pretending to be a giant and feeding chickens a formula that has them laying golden eggs. Zingers in the story this time are aimed at the Marx Brothers, Cole Porter, and Alfred Hitchcock, but the show comes to an end before John Cleese, appearing in cameo right at the end, can take the story into a parody of Aladdin, another annual pantomime tradition in the UK, as well.
Shooting on film the whole time gave the trio the opportunities for lots and lots of sight gags, sped-up film, and slapstick. I honestly didn’t think any of it hit the heights of their other work, but our son embraced the silliness completely and was hopping up and down in places. The climactic battle this time is with an army of geese, represented by models, miniatures, men in costumes, you name it. It must have taken forever to shoot, and amusingly – considering their decisive victory two years later in their 1975 Christmas special over Prime Minister Sooty’s puppet government – the geese are much more successful in antagonizing our heroes. But beans get dumped on people, Tim gets eggs dropped on his head, and Germans fall into a kiddie pool, so our boy was in stitches.
A note on the ever-present racy content in this kids’ program – look, John Cleese called it that, and he’s right about many things – this time out, we don’t just get surprise photos of topless girls, we get Tim raised by the beanstalk over a wall of a French nudist colony to see a few seconds of two naked ladies tossing around a beach ball. Can you imagine the BBC letting Tim, Graeme, and Bill get away with gags like this these days? The seventies, man. It was another planet.
Merry Christmas to all of you good readers! Take care and watch good TV!