THE ROAD TO SUPER CHAPS THREE
By Andrew Pixley
The kind and generous offer from Brett and Lisa for me to write something about Kaleidoscope’s forthcoming book The Goodies: Super Chaps Three has provoked some reflection in my mind about the past fifteen years or so assembling this text, and how the only reason that it’s really got this far is – appropriately – because of the kind and generous behaviour of so many different people.
For me, I suppose the story really starts in 1972 when I became a regular viewer of The Goodies at the age of six. I imagine that I’d probably first seen snatches of Tim, Bill and Graeme in action as far back as 1970 when their highly visual comedy seemed to be in demand on a weekly basis from young viewers as they wrote into BBC1’s Ask Aspel, asking to see their favourite moments again in the days when DVDs and iPlayer were as much science-fiction as Kitten Kong. It would have been the trio’s bite-size appearances on Engelbert with the Young Generation that got me fully hooked, followed by the summer repeats on BBC1 and then the shift of the series on BBC2 to a pre-watershed – or more importantly for me, pre-bedtime – slot from early 1973. By 1975 of course, the Goodies were everywhere, and it’s difficult to emphasise now how very, very big they were; a major comedy phenomenon which I honestly doubt has ever been equalled in such a sustainable manner and on such grand a scale. There were the books, the records, and numerous TV appearances, with both new episodes and repeats being a joyous occasion to be savoured and relished … and even recorded as a soundtrack on compact cassette!
Sadly, the series expired about the same time as my childhood; the end of the LWT run was followed shortly afterwards by my departure for academia, during which time I was able to follow the sporadic repeats on BBC1 and ITV. Furthermore, Roger Wilmut’s landmark volume From Fringe to Flying Circus had appeared, and was able to whisk me back for a whistle-stop tour through the history of the show, as well as giving me the background to I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again (which I’d been a keen listener to since the final run in 1973) and other tantalisingly fascinating shows that I’d been too young to see such as Broaden Your Mind and Twice a Fortnight. Roger Wilmut’s work in documenting comedy is – to my mind – without parallel, and during my own research it was a pleasure to be able to correspond with him and to say “thank you” for all the enjoyment his writings have afforded me.
It was around 1990 that I started looking at The Goodies in detail. By now, I was working in the electronics and IT industry and – simultaneously – writing about archival science-fiction television series for a number of different magazines. But nobody seemed to be doing anything about comedy. Nevertheless, for my own interest I took myself off down to one of the few UK libraries to retain a near-complete run of the listings magazines Radio Times and TVTimes and started to compile a basic episode guide with broadcast details, synopses, cast listings and the like – a set of notes which I still use to this day. I’d also had the chance to view poor quality videotapes of some episodes in their edited forms from Australia broadcasts and satellite transmissions, and so I started to make various notes on the shows; these expanded immensely when The Goodies turned up on UKGold, and – through the kindness of my old friend and writing colleague Anthony McKay – was able to view more comprehensive runs of the shows (albeit heavily edited to fit in adverts). And I loved seeing these programmes again. They were every bit as enjoyable as they’d been in my childhood. But now I could also see an entirely different level for the humour to operate on. In addition to the amazing visual slapstick with gigantic props, or the sharp banter between the three highly contrasting main characters, I was now also becoming more aware of how culturally rich and deeply satirical these programmes had been – pointing out the failings, fads and hypocrisy of the times. As I recall Graeme saying in one interview, it’s effectively possibly to chart the development of the UK throughout the 1970s by studying The Goodies.
Since 1993, I had been conducting a great deal of my research into archival television shows at the BBC’s Written Archive Centre which my publishers had arranged for me to use. As soon as I got chance – amidst all the professionally commissioned work – I soon zeroed in on the remaining paperwork for The Goodies and found a plethora of facts and figures which added immensely to my fascinating and love of the series. I got a chance to read through the scripts for the shows I’d adored watching a couple of decades earlier, and was also amazed at items such as the scripts for the filmed specials which carried the intricate storyboards showing how each gag would be brought to life on screen.
By the end of the decade, I was toying with the notion of a book about The Goodies; after all, Monty Python’s Flying Circus had been lavishly treated with scripts edited by Roger Wilmut and some wonderfully enthusiastic reads from across the Atlantic penned by Kim “Howard” Johnson. Dabbling in the world of private publishing thanks to some ventures with the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, I started to wonder if such a project would be possible on a small scale, and discussed such a volume with David Brunt, whom I’d worked with extensively and happily. In the meantime, I was delighted to discover that Jan Vincent Rudzki – the editor of the late, lamented magazine TV Zone – shared my fondness for The Goodies; he took the radical step of making one issue of what was predominantly a science-fiction title into a comedy special, and then allocated quite an expanse of the page count to The Goodies, allowing me to write a brief history of the show and an episode guide.
My discovery of the internet in general and the Goodies Rule OK website in particular was an amazing turning point. I quick ordered and enjoyed Brett’s brilliant book of episode summaries, while also being fascinated by Matthew K Sharp’s astounding research into all the ABC edits I’d seen over the years. In those early days, it was a very rich experience to correspond and talk to both Brett Allender and Alison Bean. At this time in the UK, interest in The Goodies had sadly dwindled through the BBC’s inability to find a suitable slot for repeats, and being in touch with Brett and Alison was an amazing opportunity; I owe them a very great deal because of their kindness and generosity, and I also believe that what was established by the GROK in its early years was essential for much of what has happened since in the world of The Goodies. Both remain an absolute pleasure to chat to, and I’m proud to know them.
Shortly after this, I was working on various documentaries at BBC Manchester where the plans for what became I Love The 70s were being laid. And – at a key moment – there was a very, very good chance that we could get ten weeks of repeats of The Goodies on air on BBC2. God knows, I fought for them. The producers at Manchester fought for them. But – as history records – it wasn’t to be. Fortunately, what the experience did achieve was to sow the seeds for what – five years later – would hit the screens as Return of the Goodies. Being able to get a major celebration of The Goodies back on BBC2 for just one night remains something very, very special for me; the day in studio – for all its various problems – is certainly one of the happiest in my life, seeing my comedy heroes reunited in a version of their classic set and being aware that their landmark series was being so very much appreciated.
Prior to that, some work on TV Zone had led me to contact Network DVD regarding their release of Ripping Yarns. I quickly warmed to Tim Beddows, the head of Network, and his desire to see archival television made available and accessible. Soon it was clear that we both had a passion for The Goodies, and he was kind enough to allow me to work on subsequent releases under licence from BBC Worldwide. This also brought me into contact with Steve Rogers, a wonderfully supportive gentleman who has collaborated with me on numerous challenging projects in the last decade; Steve was one of the first people to read the manuscript for Super Chaps Three and to come back to me with positive, useful comments.
Around 2000, I think Brett and I had toyed with combining my research notes on the production of the series with his superb collection of episode reviews. I couldn’t quite make the format work, and Brett has gone on to revise his own notes to great acclaim; his summaries are a work which will be keeping people informed and entertained for many years. At the same time, chronicler of British comedy Robert Ross proved that a book on The Goodies was indeed viable with his amazing lexicon of the trio’s works from Batsford. I was so delighted the day that the finished volume arrived and amazed by the scope of what he’d covered. But it was also a catalyst in that it cemented in my mind what I wanted to do with my own studies about The Goodies. Robert’s alphabetical approach had been plot heavy (only to be expected, as few UK readers would have access to the shows to remember the storylines in detail). What I wanted to do was something more chronological, showing the development of The Goodies from the Footlight days through to its final LWT editions. While massively admiring the individual careers of Bill, Graeme and Tim since The Goodies, that wasn’t necessarily part of the story I wanted to tell. I also wanted to understand context far more. Why did the audience react so strongly to lines of dialogue which – in the twenty-first century – now seemed meaningless? Also, talking to fans in Australia and the USA, I understood that in some instances they were not aware of the full context of some of the gags … which even I was starting to forget. And I wanted to get this written down before I’d also forgotten it. Furthermore, I wanted to fill in the gaps around the actual episodes. It wasn’t just the shows themselves which made the show so big; it was the interviews, the advertising campaigns, the appearances on Ask Aspel and Disney Time … all of which had contributed to the Goodies’ conquest of 1970s culture.
The test notes I’d done for the book in 2000 underwent a lot of revision and the research necessary to fill in the gaps began in earnest in 2004. In addition to viewing all the episodes again, I was seeking out recordings of all the other shows made by the trio from 1963 to 1982 as well. Here, I was blessed with immense help from many people on both a professional and amateur basis. As I worked with other organisations on various projects for television or publishing, I’d often ask, “Don’t suppose you have anything on The Goodies in your archives,” and often be rewarded by access to some fascinating material. One private collector with hundreds of off-air tape recordings of 1960s comedy gave me the amazing chance to hear various editions of Twice a Fortnight. The late Richard Greenough – head of design at ATV from 1955 onwards – had maintained a day-by-day log of recording for the company’s shows, which plugged numerous gaps in the chronology. In particular, the amazing Lisa Manekofsky had taken the helm at GROK and had become the dynamo which has effectively driven so much of what forms Goodies fandom in terms of news reporting and promotion; for my research, Lisa enthusiastically provided scans of material from her own collection and we swapped various recordings for our mutual enjoyment. In more recent years, I have also received great support from Jess Pickles who – with her chums – fuels discussion and shares fun over at the Saucy Gibbon forum.
After a couple of years of note making, the chronology was established and the business of writing the text began in 2006. Whereas most of my work in this field has been simply a listing of facts and dates, what I wanted to do with The Goodies was something different; amidst all the sketches in I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again or Twice a Fortnight, I wanted to focus on which elements either showed the proto-Goodies at their best or which fed forward into their BBC show. As such, I was having to be selective, and also using the freedom to comment on what I felt was the best material – hopefully celebrating these other shows and maybe even encouraging others to seek them out too.
Various professional projects got in the way during 2007 in particular, but by 2008 I was determined to get a volume published to celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Goodies in 2010. Initially, a publisher called Telos was interested in carrying the title; predominantly active in the science-fiction and horror markets, comedy was a new territory for them. Although I’d known the company’s owners – Stephen James Walker and David J Howe – for many years and worked closely with them on numerous projects, by 2009 the vast amount of text I’d generated on The Goodies had become something so specialist that I felt it was too much of a financial risk for them to take – despite their keenness and support. As such, a new home was found for the venture with Kaleidoscope Publishing. Kaleidoscope is an organisation dedicated to the preservation of television heritage; they stage events showcasing fascinating material too humble for DVD release which are free of charge, they raise money for their nominated charity of the RNLI, and they publish limited runs of extremely detailed and specialist titles which would otherwise never see the light of day.
Simon Coward is one of the key players in Kaleidoscope, and has been a good friend of mine since we both discovered our shared love of Ace of Wands at a convention in 1985. I sent the draft text to Simon as a possible project for Kaleidoscope, waiting for them to say that a venture on this scale was impractical. On the contrary, Simon came back offering further material and suggestions which could be added to whatever I already had. Through the text, Simon rediscovered his own love and fascination for The Goodies, and all the hard work on this project over the last year has been immensely enjoyable because I know I’ve been working with such a good friend who is always so generous with his time and help … and who understands exactly what I wanted to achieve in terms of this celebration.
When it comes to the Goodies themselves, I very much hope that it will bring back some happy memories of their careers and that I didn’t get too much wrong or have written anything to cause upset. I was able to provide Graeme and Tim with draft chapters during their Edinburgh stage show run in 2006, and both gave their blessing and support for the project. Bill has also been enormously generous in trusting me. Rather than plague these three talented and busy gentlemen with a deluge of questions, I have been selective in my queries. After all, if a key anecdote has featured in twenty interviews over the years, do I really need to pester them into relating it again? Things have boiled down to specific questions which paperwork or interviews haven’t been able to answer elsewhere. Tim and Graeme have both been wonderful in responding to e-mails about trivia and obscurities (to save the gents’ time, sometimes in my missives I include a do-it-yourself reply which they can cut and paste back: “Dear Andrew, I’m afraid that this was over thirty years ago and I can’t remember”). Bill was kind enough to allow me some time after his recent illness to chat about various aspects of his 1970s and 1980s career. All this has enriched the writing experience immensely, and I am deeply indebted to them for their time.
One of the important things for me is not how the book will be received (because everyone looks for something different in such a work), but the journey I’ve had; the friends I’ve made, the places I’ve visited, the conversations I’ve had, and the very, very funny material I’ve had the chance to read and view. I’ve been extremely fortunate in having all these opportunities. And the result is the book I wanted – and which I hope aids in raising funds for the work of Kaleidoscope which I strongly support.
Looking back on it, the 1970s wasn’t an outstanding decade; in the UK, there were a lot of problems facing society. In some respects, The Goodies was one of the salves for the wounds being inflicted, offering colourful fun against the greyness of a strike-torn nation struggling against rampant inflation. The stars and their show took the silliness and satire which they had honed in the 1960s and turned it into something truly unique with which to hold up a distorting mirror to the country and allow the population to enjoy a laugh at the world around them.
But, the bottom line is, The Goodies is something very special for me indeed. Yes, I know that I can always sit down and admire other top-class TV comedy – the wise-cracking of Ernie Bilko on The Phil Silvers Show, the caustic blood bonds of Steptoe and Son, the delicious black comedy enveloping Victor Meldrew’s life in One Foot in the Grave – but at the end of the day, no matter how stunning they are, they can’t quite ever give me that same amount of delight and pleasure that watching the Cricklewood trio afforded me either back in my childhood, or now in the present day. The Goodies wormed its way into heart at a very early stage, and I now know will remain deeply rooted there for the rest of my life. Thanks Bill. Thanks Tim. Thanks Graeme!