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The Goodies 2.8 – Come Dancing

If our son was muted and polite about that Ace of Wands adventure, he was screamingly happy with another new-to-him escapade with The Goodies tonight. This time, we watched 1971’s “Come Dancing,” and he prepped for it by rewatching two of the episodes we’d watched previously this morning before I went to work.

He chuckled and giggled all the way through it, but I thought the climactic silly film bit wasn’t half as funny as the middle-of-the-show silly film bit, and that wasn’t half as funny as watching the guys step back to let June Whitfield and Joan Sims steal the whole show. They play rival gangsters stepping on each others’ dancing shoes to control the fixed ballroom dancing circuit. Whitfield spits out an amazing paragraph of gobbledygook when her subterfuge is revealed, and Sims’ character, Delia Capone, is like a villain from a John Wagner 2000 AD comedy.

Marie wondered whether this was originally made for 3D as the color is slightly off, with pink and blue bands occasionally overlapping the actors. It turns out that “Come Dancing” was one of the episodes that the BBC wiped, as they did back then. The print we have today was made from mating a decent quality black-and-white telerecording for overseas sales to a long-forgotten and beat-up color videotape that somebody at BBC Scotland had made of a 1972 repeat of this installment, discovered 26 years later. I remain amazed both at how good of a job the artists and technicians who perform these restorations do, and how frustrating it is that there’s a need for their services at all.

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The Goodies 1.7 – Radio Goodies

We haven’t watched any Goodies together for a few months, so I’ve scheduled a couple for June. First up was this very silly 1970 installment, in which our heroes set up shop just outside the five-mile limit in order to run both an incompetent pirate radio station and a breathtakingly inefficient pirate post office. Graeme gets drunk on power and schemes of providing more pirate social services. It’s more amusing than funny, but there is one whale of a good gag once his real goal is revealed.

Our son liked it, but he’s picked up this really obnoxious fake laugh that he wheels out when he wants to join in with the studio audience’s chuckling but doesn’t actually understand the joke. I can’t wait for him to knock off this habit.

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The Goodies 5.1 – The Movies

I won’t swear that this was the best episode to show our five year-old, because he hasn’t had time to experience very many of the people mocked or celebrated in this one. These include Glenda Jackson, Andy Warhol, Mae West, Ken Russell, Francois Truffaut, Franco Zeffirelli, Buster Keaton, Richard Harris, Laurel and Hardy, Samson and Delilah, Macbeth, Stanley Kubrick, Charlie Chaplin, and so on. I certainly giggled, though I also cringed and winced, afraid that the nun in the Ken Russell parody was going to take off all her clothes. (She didn’t. That probably happened in a real Ken Russell movie, though.)

All’s well in the end, of course, because it climaxes with a rather brilliant slapstick battle between Graeme’s cowboys, Tim’s legionnaires, and Bill’s silent film comedians. It’s not just very funny, it’s probably the most technically complex Goodies sequence that I’ve yet seen. About two-thirds of the way through, the characters are projected on a screen in a theater and begin interacting with other characters in the audience, and then it pulls back to reveal that this audience is also being projected, with a second audience watching, and interacting, with it. I didn’t double-take, I triple-taked.

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The Goodies 4.4 – The Goodies and the Beanstalk

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!

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The Goodies 1.1 – Tower of London

Back to 1970 tonight and the very first episode of The Goodies, which I’d never seen before, and once again I am forced to do the parent-gritting-teeth bit because I’m showing this to my five year-old and Bill Oddie somehow conspired to put a picture of a topless girl on the screen. What a naughty man. I’m working under the idea that just not commenting or drawing any attention at all to anything slightly racy is the best idea. That, and remembering these little bits of bawdy business so that when he’s eight or nine and has a friend over and asks “Hey, Dad, can I show my friend The Goodies,” I’ll know what to say to avoid a tricky conversation with another parent.

Of course, saying that, it’s more likely that if he does want to tell his pals about this show, they’ll probably be sharing videos on YouTube to each others’ tablets or whatever and bypass me entirely. Groan. I do remember, at least, not to show him the episode “The End.” That one’s got a blackface gag – Oddie again – that I once showed my older kids and had a whole lot of ‘splaining to do.

Mommy missed the episode due to work and asked him what the episode was about. “It’s about a burglar who stole… (beat) the crown jewels! There was also a horse chase! There was a burglar on a horse and the Goodies were trying to get that horse!”

Somewhat lost in that description is that the Goodies were hired on their very first case by a mysterious man in the Tower of London played by the great George Baker to find out who was stealing the beefeaters’ beef. The culprit is none other than Prince Charles and a “by appointment” associate burglar, the first of dozens of cheeky references to the royals across the Goodies’ run of nine series. There’s the usual filmed shenanigans and slapstick that had him howling.

It culminates in a genuinely surprising bit of first light location filming, where the “Charles” on horseback escapes with our heroes, dressed as beefeaters, right behind him. They run right up to the gates of the real Buckingham Palace, with all the moxie of guerrilla film making. I wonder whether the BBC sent Her Majesty’s secretary a note asking the Palace guards to kindly ignore any tomfoolery taking place in the road that morning.

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The Goodies 3.1 – The New Office

I was right. I said to myself that there are three episodes of The Goodies that Daniel will absolutely adore, and all three have had him howling. “The New Office,” which started their third series in 1973, began a little slow, but all the dopey visual gags and sped-up film had him roaring with laughter. At the end, he actually applauded! Then he begged to see the climactic battle a second time.

A screencap wouldn’t do the climax justice, but take my word for it: if you’ve got a kid who loves construction equipment, earthmovers, excavators, and bulldozers, they will also love this. The premise is that the Goodies lose their original office to some incompetent builders who destroy the place, so they construct a new one that looks like a disused railway station and tow it to “miles from anywhere.” But this part of England’s green and pleasant land is infested with sentient construction trucks that, thanks to the magic of film editing, howl like dinosaurs and charge like bulls. Some basic animation and miniature special effects add to the illusion, and you’ve got a sure-fire way to thrill young viewers as the Goodies wage a desperate and ridiculous battle against them. Just ignore the poster of the topless girl riding a Vespa that Bill uses to decorate his part of the office and maybe they won’t notice.

Incidentally, both the builder and the estate agent are played by comedian Joe Melia, who would later play the builder who threatened to knock down Arthur Dent’s home in the TV version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But sometime around when this Goodies episode was taped in ’72, Melia guest-hosted one of British TV’s pop music shows when Roxy Music was on to play “Ladytron.” In a delightful blooper, Melia had no idea who the band or the singer was, and thought the song was called “Try Out Girl.” We forgive you, Joe, because that estate agent character is hilarious.

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The Goodies 5.14 – Goodies Rule, OK?

Second after that glorious shot of “Kitten Kong” knocking over the Post Office Tower, the other iconic and silly image of The Goodies is one of our heroes being menaced by an absolutely enormous Dougal from The Magic Roundabout. It’s the sort of thing you wish you had never seen, that had never been photographed, just to preserve its absurdity, but it’s also the sort of thing that you can understand the BBC publicity department pushing, and it was no surprise to see it on the cover of the third Network DVD collection.

Nevertheless, for our second viewing of an episode of The Goodies, I again kept the visual a secret from our son by keeping him out of the room while I set up the episode, but I also prepped him with a little bit of the necessary background information to make the climax of this 50-minute episode more amusing. Over the course of the last month, we’ve watched a few episodes of The Magic Roundabout, The Wombles, and Clangers on YouTube. There’s also a new series of Clangers that airs in the middle of the night on Sprout (narrated by William Shatner!), and he also watched the 2005 movie version of Roundabout with the amazing voice cast.

(Incidentally, it’s perhaps hypocritical of me to be pleased with the new Clangers having an American-audience version voiced by Shatner, when I’m sure the original version by Michael Palin is just fine, but also reject the Americanized Doogal, which dumped the ’05 Roundabout script and voices. So be it.)

Anyway, I’d only seen the last twenty minutes of “Goodies Rule, OK?” on YouTube, some years ago, and didn’t realize that our five year-old son certainly needed a whole lot more prepping to understand even a tenth of the jokes. Basically, this is the Goodies version of a rewritten history of the previous fifteen years, with gags revolving around pop music, politics, light entertainment, royalty, and the Valentine’s Day Massacre. I’m sure I missed a pile of the jokes myself – I’m aware that there were entertainers called Tommy Cooper and Cilla Black in the seventies, but I’ve never seen their acts – but mercifully, our son wasn’t too bored. There was just enough of the slapstick and silly voices to keep him chuckling.

The plot goes like this: after fifteen years of having their daringly original music stolen by no-talents like the Beatles and the Supremes, the Goodies pilfer all the styles of the chart acts of 1975 and become the biggest band in Britain, saving the music business while simultaneously bankrupting the nation. With the United Kingdom underwater in debt, and in water, they cheer up the country with a tune called “Bounce,” leading Prime Minister Harold Wilson to bounce off a balcony and a General Election is called.

Eventually – I’m skipping a lot – the Entertainers Party takes charge and installs a puppet government. Of puppets. Led by Prime Minister Sooty and Home Secretary Sweep, the puppets are very, very naughty indeed, and so the Goodies raid the PM’s country estate to show them who’s pulling the strings. In an escalating series of ridiculous sight gags, the Goodies do battle with the Clangers, Pinky and Perky, the Flowerpot Men, Andy Pandy, a sort-of Oscar the Grouch, and the Wombles, and then, funny bone prepped by all the amusing silliness, they calmly play their masterstroke and introduce an enormous – no, an absurdly enormous – Dougal and Zebedee.

So how’d it play with the youngun? Not anywhere as well as “Kitten Kong,” honestly. He’s too young, and too far removed from the pop culture of the seventies, to really even understand this thing, but the war against the puppets is truly hilarious and he asked to watch that part again.

Me? Even knowing it was coming and having seen it before, it still slayed me. The Dougal prop is just so huge and so ridiculous that I just collapsed in stitches, and I’m – no affectation – the loudest person on Earth when I laugh. When I’m in hysterics like that, our son has this rather obnoxious habit of trying to force an equally loud laugh when he’s really only chuckling, and I actually had to tell him to knock it off!

So this was only a partial triumph, though it was nice to see the whole thing, and in such wonderful quality. I think that for next month’s visit with the Goodies, however, we’ll watch something a little shorter, and with dancing construction equipment…

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The Goodies 2.14 – Kitten Kong

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.)

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