Our son can sit still for an hour of old black and white television, but he sure doesn’t care about watching sports. We’ve gone to a couple of football games – gridiron, because I’m with him where soccer’s concerned – and drove up to Knoxville to see some hockey last month, and he’d rather do anything else. So I paused the Goodies’ third LWT episode to explain what football hooliganism was, and I might as well have said there are fans mad to the point of violence about macrame or vacuum cleaning, because he can’t envision anybody caring that much about anything so tedious.
The analogy had already formed before the episode went in precisely that direction. As Tim, the new police commissioner in charge of crowd control at stadiums, bans all but a single fan from either team from attending matches, hooliganism spreads to the next most likely target: the ballet. None of what happened next made any sense at all to him, but it involved lots of men in silly costumes dancing while rioting crowds of twerps in scarves threw toilet paper at them, so he enjoyed the heck out of it.
I thought it pretty weak myself, but there’s a hysterical scene at the ballet’s halftime back in the studio, where they roped in three actual sportscasters to give their thoughts on the state of play. I’ve no idea who the men were, but since 99% of sportscasters are the same the world over, and have been since these were shown in 1982, it’s a gag anybody can appreciate. I’m pretty sure the Pythons had been doing it a decade earlier, too, but still.
Last month, we watched the first episode of the final series of The Goodies and I hoped that the other installments that year would be a little more entertaining. Happily, “Robot” is a lot funnier, but unhappily, it’s also full of inappropriate-for-a-seven-year-old gags about Swedish au pairs and their kinky turn-ons. Ours didn’t know what any of that meant, but I think this one’s going back on the shelf for a couple of decades.
For those of you without kids in the household, Graeme and Tim and their computer decide to replace Bill with automation, but then end up accidentally rehiring him, disguised as an au pair, to care for his replacement: a robot that grows from an oil-guzzling baby into a surly teenager voiced by David Rappaport. There’s the usual location-filmed slapstick gags, this time involving unsafe playgrounds and angry, sentient fridges and gas ovens. Our kid howled with laughter, and maybe a couple of decades from now, he’ll have another chance to giggle at this.
Now all of The Goodies is available on DVD. Network has released their big set of all eight series that were made for the BBC, but because I’m contrary, and cheap, I picked up their ninth and final series from Network’s recent “Bonkers” sale. Seven episodes made for LWT in 1981 at about 40p apiece. Well, the sale’s over, and it’s back to £8.40 now, and I seriously hope the other six episodes are better than the first one.
“Snow White 2” is just a half-hour of slapstick with a pantomime theme. If you’re seven, and love the sped-up film bits most, then this is a classic, because there aren’t any comparatively slow studio parts with dialogue jokes, just mayhem on 16mm. David Rappaport’s in it – looks like he was a recurring guest player in year nine – and our son just howled through it. Afraid I thought this one was incredibly tedious, but we’ll look at another episode toward the end of the year.
With the release of the complete BBC run of The Goodies just a week away – eight series across 12 disks! – we’ve started to see the think pieces in the papers and the web about how, despite a couple of dozen great and silly and timeless gags in every episode, there are also a few problems with stereotypes, sexism, and the occasional presence of pop musicians who later got in trouble with the law.
To celebrate this tomfoolery, my son and I enjoyed an episode from 1976. It starts with a parody of an ad for laundry detergent in which Bill’s character beats up his “wife,” and later on, there’s a girl in a wet T-shirt, a jingoistic attack on the “dirty Arabs” who are cornering the world market on string, and then Valerie Leon (her again!) chases Tim around a bedroom.
Mercifully, our son didn’t seem to notice any of the… shall we say problematic elements. There’s still an absurd amount to laugh about as our heroes’ advertising agency manages to create an economic crisis over the scarcity of string, and he giggled over all the silly sights, but the big takeaway came when another commercial parody for a different brand of laundry detergent causes the entire studio to be engulfed in soap. “Bubbles are taking over the world!” he shouted.
I think that the Goodies’ 1973 Christmas special, “The Goodies and the Beanstalk”, might have been the trio’s most watched adventure at the time, but it wasn’t the first time that they worked with comedian Alfie Bass. He’d appeared in “Camelot,” the opener to their fourth series. It was filmed and taped four months ahead of “Beanstalk,” and broadcast a few weeks earlier in December 1973.
Bass plays a developer who would really like to knock down a nice castle owned by one of Tim’s loony relatives. Tim swears he’s called King Arthur, and it’s true. That’s the name on his birth certificate: King, comma, Arthur. The whole shebang is full of really awful jokes and puns, including one about a package of fish fingers that will make my head hurt for years, and medieval-themed slapstick fights with dancing bears, wild boars, jousts, swords in stones, and a fire-breathing pantomime dragon.
Our son was so pleased, and so exhausted from laughing, that he demanded to watch almost the entire show again. Almost. He didn’t quite understand the stuff in the office, where Bill’s reading a copy of the comic paper Cor!, so we played it again from the bit where we first get to Camelot, which is right next door to Dunmovin at 33 Acadia Street.
Obligatory “they’d never get away with that these days” note: there isn’t any surprise nudity in this episode, thankfully, but there are medieval minstrels. They’re only onscreen for seconds, but there’s something else I need to explain to our son.
The good people at Network finally released details about their forthcoming Goodies set, and if you click the image above, you can get a good look at it. All eight BBC series and the specials, along with two books and a 3-CD set of tunes.
So to celebrate, I sat down with our son this morning before heading off to work to enjoy “The Music Lovers” from series two. In this one, every famous musician in the world has been kidnapped by a diabolical mastermind, so our heroes have to become famous musicians themselves in order to also get kidnapped! Eventually, they join Cilla Black, Englebert Humperdinck, and Rolf Harris in the clutches of the evil Music Master, played by Henry McGee. Incredibly goofy gags follow. We chuckled all the way through the silly thing, even if our kid, mercifully, has no idea who Humperdinck or Harris are. Ignorance is bliss!
It’s not available for preorder yet, but Network’s planning to release a complete collection of The Goodies later this year. I haven’t committed to buying it yet. I’d like to see some reviews first and see just how complete it is. There’s some understandable feeling that since the show mocked some seventies entertainers that were later discovered to be horrible people – Savile, Harris – the current climate might see these references censored or omitted. So we’ll see what the reviewers say before I commit to it.
We watched “Cecily,” from the first series, this afternoon, and the main story was somewhat amusing, but the best gag was one of the commercial parodies. It’s for a laundry detergent called Razz, and I swear I remember similar American ads in the seventies, where some spokesman tries to persuade the shopper who just purchased the product to trade it in for something else – “We’ll give you three boxes of our soap for that one you just bought!” Andrew Pixley’s booklet notes say that it’s a parody of a British ad campaign for Tide, so I guess the ads were transatlantic. It ends with a completely wonderful punchline that had me roaring.
The other notable thing is that they filmed at a large house that was due to be torn down, and had the visual effects crew work with the actual demolition team to pull off a special effect that the BBC could never accomplish on their own. Last year, when we looked at the 1971 Doctor Who story “The Dæmons,” I wondered how viewers could possibly believe that the miniature church that blew up was the real thing. Maybe some of those viewers had seen this the year before and concluded that the visual effects team was just that good!
Tonight, a very welcome respite from all the shocks and frights we’ve seen recently. We enjoyed another classic episode of The Goodies from 1975. In this one, our heroes mine for gold, but go all Treasure of the Sierra Madre over a vein of Cornish cream, strike it rich with geysers of strawberry jam, and argue over the pronunciation of “scone.” They could have become Cornish milk sheikhs (groan), but jealousy leads them to a tomato-soaked shootout with ketchup squirters in the mean streets of Pennenink.
If any child has ever laughed so long and so hard, it would be news to me. This is pretty perfect television for kids of all ages.