» 30 Years Later
THE GOODIES 30 YEARS LATER
(by Denise Baran-Unland)
(from C&G 148 – March 2008)
One of the first words I hear from a kid when he or she walks through the door of our youth group is, "Are we watching the Goodies tonight?"
While showing reruns of The Goodies may be an unusual activity for a church youth group, we believe that "A merry heart doeth good like a medicine" (Proverbs 15:13), especially when it is a Goodies-inspired merry heart.
Although it has been nearly 30 years since The Goodies filmed their last episode, the comedic trio continues to attract new audiences of all ages while retaining its diehard fans, despite the BBC's continued reluctance to rebroadcast the series.
"The show is as hilarious now as it was when I was 7 years old," said Robert Ross, author of "The Complete Goodies," and "The Goodies Rule OK."
Australian comedy producer John Pinder, who, in 2005, booked The Goodies for The Big Laugh Comedy Festival, said, "My oldest daughter watched the show every afternoon. She is now 35 and a very typical fan. In fact, she was the one who suggested, 'Get The Goodies back together,' to me."
Last year, the live show "The Goodies Still Rule OK!" attracted an audience range of age 8 to 80 said Jenny Kicks, stage door keeper at The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury. Rachel Thorne, press and marketing services manager at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester, said "The Goodies Still Rule OK!" was the fastest selling show in the spring 2007 season.
"While the humor is slapstick and schoolboy, it has that Oxford/Cambridge University underpinning that prevents it from being too vulgar and so keeps the whole family entertained," Thorne said. "Their brand of comedy is easily identifiable and people know what to expect."
Although steadfast fans of the series have no trouble understanding The Goodies' continued appeal, others may find it amazing that The Goodies can sustain this kind enthusiastic following when other shows from the 1970s and their respective stars are all but forgotten, despite boxed sets of their television programs.
Pinder said it's because The Goodies offer a timeless, class comedy that is not readily dismissed.
"In my view, the Goodies at their best were also masterful exponents of visual comedy on film," Pinder said. "They reference silent film comedy frequently and add to the cannon in some of their remarkable 'new wave silent movie stuff.' I find it fascinating that many young Australian and British comedians adore The Goodies. This is their mark of their place in the comedy family tree."
But the Goodies have also left their mark in comedy history, too, despite the fact that it is sometimes nearly impossible to strictly label the show as suitable for only one particular age group.
British-born English professor Caroline McCracken-Flesher, who shows clips of The Goodies in her British humor class at the University of Wyoming, said that certain elements of the show—including some cultural references and its fair amount of blue humor—suggest that The Goodies was not originally intended to be a children's show.
"In other respects, though, the surreal humor—which we might think of as a drawback—works well for children who have less rigid, generic expectations than adults," she said.
In Australia particularly The Goodies enjoyed a 10 to 12 year run at 6:00 p.m. five nights a week and was billed as a children's show, Pinder said. Today, it's the limited DVD releases of a handful of the episodes that have introduced younger viewers to The Goodies.
"My experience is that DVD's have created a very complex time warp in terms of classic material of all kinds, much more so than broadcast TV's tradition of repeating material," Pinder said. "I have always been of the view that comedy habits are like pop habits; they're picked up very young. The Goodies, which had something of a pop sensibility, did just that."
However, Ross thinks that the BBC itself also designed the show to engage a wider audience as opposed to the obvious adults-only Monty Python's Flying Circus, with which The Goodies are often compared.
"It quickly became clear that the powers that be at the BBC saw The Goodies as a 'family entertainment,'" Ross said. "Certainly, there are missives from within the BBC directed at The Goodies and their director, requesting certain toning down of language and content."
For instance, he added, the term "bloody hell," was unacceptable in a Goodies show. "Hence Tim's frantically overemphasized, 'Ruddy hell!' in the Montreux re-presentation of 'Kitten Kong,'" Ross said. "As head honcho Michael Mills wrote, 'It is like Alice in Wonderland saying, 'Shit,' or Bertie Wooster saying, 'Bugger!"
While both The Goodies and Monty Python employed punning, associative humor, The Pythons narrowed their audience a bit by focusing on the more abstruse perspective of their undergraduate education, McCracken-Flesher said. The Goodies, on the other hand exploited popular culture.
"Add in the fact that Monty Python initially ran on Sundays late at night and you have one show coded as 'adult' and the other as 'family,'" she said. In addition, a few other sources perpetuated the notion that The Goodies was a children's show, most notably English journalist and television presenter Michael Aspel.
"In The Goodies' first series, there are many adult elements, whether it be Bill's sherbet-dip induced drug visions or attractive ladies stripping down to their scanty underwear," Ross said. "It's only that copious clips were utilized on the children's show, 'Ask Aspel,' and that, as a result, the young audience for the show increased, that this label has stuck."
"That and a certain John Cleese yelling it at the end of 'The Goodies and the Beanstalk.' But The Goodies were always subverting their chosen subjects, even kids' programs, as witness the climax of 'The Goodies Rule-OK?'"
Yet for all its successful youth appeal, The Goodies never intended to write a children's show, but one that they and their peers would enjoy, gleaning inspiration from Buster Keaton and Tom & Jerry's "vicious cartoon type of humor," said Bill Oddie in a column he wrote for The Mail On Sunday in 2000.
"Being popular with children became a rod for our own backs," Oddie said. "We were labeled as just a kids' show. But there was always a satirical element to it and we were censored by the BBC more times than Monty Python."
Another element of The Goodies all-age appeal is their creation of three, well-defined characters whose personalities played off each other, contributing the conflict and balance that is essential to all good group comedy, Pinder said.
"They cover all the bases," he added. "It is quite a complex relationship defined in part by the high, middle and low characters, with complimentary skills and varying attitudes to violence and being hurt."
Although it has now become something of a cliché now, Ross said that the fictional, personalities of Tim, Graeme and Bill represented the Great British class system.
"Bill was the lowly, working class, hairy oik. Graeme was the middle-class boffin, who remained the backbone of the nation. Tim was the upper class wet, the landed gentry toff that believed in the Queen and the God-given right to do what you damn well please because he had won the lottery of life and been born British," Ross said.
"As a result, particularly in 'The End' and "Earthanasia' and the other one-set episodes, the three elements battled out the entire class struggle. The edges really only blurred when the Goodies wanted to use the very blur as part of the humor, notably in '2001 and a Bit.' Usually, the three classes within The Goodies reflected life and stayed exactly where they were supposed to stay."
Yet those stereotypical roles were actually based on certain character traits of these comedians, Oddie said in a column he wrote for The Mail On Sunday in 2000.
"To be honest, there was a very thin line between the characters in the show and our real selves," Oddie said. "We took our natural characteristics and exaggerated them. Because I was quite fiery, I became the belligerent one; Graeme, who was a doctor, became a kind of mad scientist; and Tim, because he had a double-barreled name, had to be the posh one. But if anybody embodied the views of all of us, I suppose it was me because we were all really anti-Establishment. This meant that Tim actually came to hate his own character."
Although The Goodies continue to be popular with adult and young viewers alike, would the show's concept hold up to 21st century standards if it were being produced today?
Despite the fact that her students, 11 year old son and his friends all enjoy The Goodies, McCracken-Flesher is uncertain that The Goodies would be successful with American audiences, especially the younger ones.
"The Goodies almost required its rather raw approach, something American TV, with its high production values, is afraid to tolerate," McCracken-Flesher said. "Various American kids' links on channels like Disney and Kids Discover attempt this, but to do it well requires cultural sophistication and a lot of respect for your audience. This form of humor is not afraid to assume a lively audience, willing to do a bit of intellectual work to get the joke."
In addition, she added, while certain dated parts (The sets and facial hair that Graeme Garden, in a 2006 Clarion & Globe interview, called "quaint, period pieces"), of The Goodies are fashionable once again, other elements, such as the South Africa' episode, did not age well.
However, Tim Brooke-Taylor believes that most of the episodes stand the test of time. "There are some things by definition that have dated, but I'm pleasantly surprised by how many haven't," he said in a 2006 Clarion & Globe interview.. "One or two politically incorrect bits are there, but funnily enough, I'd think they'd be all right now."
Ross agreed. "The basic premise of The Goodies is so flimsy that, by its very simplicity, the show would easily work if it was being made today," he said. "It's basically an office situation: Three men who will do anything, anywhere, anytime. That is a timeless concept.
"The Goodies always reflected the contemporary issues in the news when the shows were being written and recorded. With the obvious trick of looking to the news for script inspiration, The Goodies could happily be resurrected—as long as Bill agreed and as long as we were continually reminded that the three employees really should have retired by now."