RIP Tim Brooke-Taylor, 1940-2020

COVID-19 has taken Tim Brooke-Taylor from us. This one really hurt. It broke my heart to tell our son that we’ve lost one of The Goodies, and so we looked for a smile in the legendary travel agent sketch from Marty, where Tim and Marty Feldman drive John Junkin insane. Tim also featured in At Last the 1948 Show and the radio series I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue for almost fifty years. Our condolences to his family and friends.

Black and White Comedy Night

Tonight we broke from our schedule and routine in a big silly way to watch some really funny old programs from the UK. In case you hadn’t heard, last month, the BFI released two sets comprising all of the surviving episodes of At Last the 1948 Show (first shown in 1967) and Do Not Adjust Your Set (first shown in 1967-69). 10 of the 13 1948s exist, and 14 of the 29 Sets. These have been given a clean-up, although not as comprehensive a restoration as would have been ideal, and released along with audio excerpts of some of the missing material, script pages, several documentaries and features.

These are shows that I first read about when I was in college, when even fewer of the episodes existed. I went through a long period of Monty Python fandom then, so I really wanted to see these back then, but they remained stubbornly unavailable. Some pretty ropey copies of some of the material came out in 2005, rush-released and without any TLC. I’m very glad to have made the upgrade.

If you’ve never seen them, At Last the 1948 Show featured Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, and Marty Feldman. We watched the first episode, which is mostly dominated by Cleese’s performances, until Feldman stole the show from everyone in a painfully funny sketch in which three alleged experts in art debate the authenticity of various pieces. This was the highlight of the whole evening. It’s always good when you miss some of the show from laughing so hard.

(Incidentally, I once had a few sketches from a compilation of Feldman’s 1968-69 series Marty, which also featured Tim Brooke-Taylor along with John Junkin. The three of them are in a sketch about the Edinburgh Festival which is one of the funniest things ever written. I’d love to see more of Marty, and the 1971-72 Marty Feldman Comedy Machine one day.)

Next up, we looked at the Boxing Day “pilot” of Do Not Adjust Your Set, which starred Denise Coffey, Eric Idle, David Jason, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. Each episode features a tune or two by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, one of those oddball acts I find interesting but not particularly compelling or funny. Musical dada, basically. In fact, I was much more interested in spending an hour watching the documentary about them on disk three a few days ago than I am spending three minutes listening to their tunes.

Our son is familiar with Set already, because he’s watched the nine episodes that came out on that 2005 DVD, sighing ostentatiously when the Bonzos play and giggling uncontrollably when Jason and Coffey take over for the weekly serialized adventure of Captain Fantastic, where an oddball hero confronts the surreal machinations of the evil Mrs. Black. The pilot only has a little of the Captain – Idle introduces a preview of the serial while eating a bowl of cereal. Set was ostensibly a children’s show, with the humor coming more from slapstick, sight gags, and wordplay and free from references to either high or popular culture or skewering bureaucracy like you’d see in 1948 or Python. The standout for me was a TV game show in which Idle spends so long explaining the sound effects and rules that they run out of time to play it.

We then dipped back into the 1948 set to watch the “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch, which I’ve unfortunately seen too many times, but our kid never had, and then looked at one of the surviving fragments of Dudley Moore and Peter Cook’s Not Only… But Also which I’d been saving for a rainy day to show our son. I first saw the sketch “Superthunderstingcar” around 1996 and had to pause the tape because I’d quit breathing from laughing. Our son echoed almost everybody to whom I’ve ever shown this by giggling here and there and summing it up with a shake of the head and announcing that it was the stupidest thing he’d ever seen.

(Bizarrely, that’s been the case whenever I’ve shown Not Only… But Also to anybody. The Pete ‘n Dud double-acts would get a small chuckle, especially when Moore almost loses it and falls down laughing, and so would any of the Arthur Streeb-Greebling interviews, also especially when Moore almost loses it and falls down laughing, but that’s about it. I once showed a room Ladies and Gentlemen, Ludwig van Beethoven!, which reimagines Ludwig as the host of an early ’70s Englebert Humperdinck-type variety show. We got to the bit where William Wordsworth was reciting poetry while girls dressed as daffodils danced around him, which is side-splittingly funny, and while I was pounding the floor laughing, a dozen people sat in stone-faced silence wondering what on earth they were looking at.)

Well, anyway, “Superthunderstingcar,” in which Dad, Brains, and Johnny Jupiter singularly fail to save Engerlund’s tourist attractions from the menace of Masterbraun and Klaut, remains godlike in its inspiration and execution. It’s a little mean to the original voice actors – I’m pretty sure Peter Dyneley knew how to pronounce “Parliament” – but it’s a parody so perfect that we are incredibly lucky that this episode survived when so much of the show was wiped, even if our favorite eight year-old critic was largely unimpressed!

The Goodies 9.7 – Animals

Unusually, I had to pause tonight’s episode to explain the very first gag to our son. Tim buys a Barbara Woodhouse complete dog training kit, takes it into a men’s room, and exits the ladies room dressed as Barbara Woodhouse. That’s also the one and only gag in the final episode of The Goodies that I laughed at. I’d heard from the grapevine that “Animals” wasn’t particularly good. Overall, their sole series for LWT was actually a little better than I had thought it would be, but they did indeed end on a turkey.

I’m still on the fence about buying Network’s complete collection of the first eight series. Maybe when the price comes down a little more, we’ll have a little more Goodie goodness at the blog…?

The Goodies 9.6 – Holidays

Throughout the Goodies’ career, they’d overspend massively and have to do one show a season using just one set, no guest stars, no location filming, almost no visual effects, and a pile of props and costumes. “Holidays” was the cheapie for series nine, and it’s got a blisteringly funny gag about the most poorly designed restroom you’ve ever seen.

But then they break out the deck of cards.

Tim and Graeme have been regular panelists on the radio show I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue since the early seventies, and they’ve frequently played a game on the show called Mornington Crescent. Now, I’ve had very little first-hand cultural experience of either Great Britain or public transportation, but I used to enjoy playing Mornington Crescent back in the old Livejournal days. I typically liked to play 14th edition rules without the Sunday travel addendum, and took advantage of the lack of service on the Circle Line to shunt three stations back and collect two extra vouchers. I was never very good at the game, mind you, and I’m still sore about a game where a fellow I used to know scored a double-line whirlygig because I’d parked at Goodge Street for what I thought was a bonus turn, but I had overlooked that under Titan Rules, Goodge Street didn’t use at least three vowels. Nevertheless, we did all have to applaud when a fellow player stole the whirlygig on a second-line match using an Explorer travel coupon. And he still didn’t win the game.

So when Tim and Graeme introduce Bill to a game called Spat and tell him that he’ll pick it up as they go, I just about stopped breathing from laughing. I jarred up the middle cushion on the sofa, and our son ended up in the floor and blamed me, but giggled loudly as he pretended to protest.

The Goodies 9.5 – Change of Life

Feeling old and in the way, the Goodies are about to pack it in and shuffle off this mortal coil, but a possible new job presents itself. But their robot – introduced in episode two of this series – jumps at the job first. Their computer then puts the team in a competition against the robot in typical Goodies scenarios, bringing back Twinkle the giant kitten, a Beanstalk, the mysterious martial arts of Ecky-Thump, an oversized special effect, and a cutout of a pointless celebrity, in this case game show host Nicholas Parsons. It had a few chuckles. I wouldn’t call our heroes old and in the way just yet.

The Goodies 9.4 – Bigfoot

I’m taking the day off to stay home with our son, who’s recovering from the flu, and asked him what he wanted to watch. Before he settled down with the second disk of Eerie, Indiana, he said “Hey, can we watch a new Goodies?” Glad he’s feeling better!

The seven episodes made for LWT sometimes get overlooked, and I only found the first three sporadically entertaining, but “Bigfoot” is pretty hilarious. It starts with Bill and Tim watching the latest episode of The Mysterious World of Arthur C. Clarke. I not sure whether we ever got this show in America, but we did get the uncannily similar In Search Of, so while our son was guffawing over the slapstick, I was roaring over the explanations provided for Stonehenge and frog rains and the Loch Ness Monster. An abominable snowman takes a bite out of Clarke’s overpriced tie-in book, and when Graeme insists that Clarke himself isn’t real and there’s no empirical evidence as to his existence, Tim goes off to make his own television series searching for any elusive proof that people may have seen Clarke in the wild.

Eventually, all three Goodies make their way to an Arthur C. Clarke theme park in the Canadian Rockies to find UFOs and other unexplained phenomena, and of course Graeme needs to be there if they’re actually to find Clarke. It kind of falls apart at the end, as the slapstick and silly costumes overwhelm everything else, but for those first fifteen minutes of seventies paranormal nonsense, this was as funny as The Goodies at its peak.

The Goodies 9.3 – Football Crazy

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.

The Goodies 9.2 – Robot

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.

The Goodies 9.1 – Snow White 2

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.

The Goodies 6.5 – It Might as Well Be String

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.

The Goodies 4.1 – Camelot

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.