» 11 Things That You ...
» Goodies Autobiograp...
» Goody Goody School ...
» Behind The Scenes -...
RADIO TIMES ROME-ANTICS
(Ian Greaves - Goodies-l - January 29th)
(from C&G #74 February 2002)
8-14 February 1975
[Picture : full page cartoon of Bill and Tim rock climbing down Graeme's face. Caption : 'Goody, goody, they're back. Back feature: see how they rose, see how they fall about. The Goodies, Thursday, BBC2 Colour.'
Cover Story: Ten years ago, Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor left Cambridge and joined the wave of university wits, satirists and comics who had the country in paroxysms of laughter all through the 60s. At the start of a new Goodies series, Michael Wynn Jones went to see who these people are.
[Side-panel: Family Tree of Oxbridge comedy from 1961 onwards with cartoon legends of TBT, BO and GG's faces to signpost their own work.]
THE GOODS ON THE GOODIES
WHERE THE GOODIES CAME FROM
The seeds of The Goodies, like so many shows which have flickered on and off our television screens over the last ten years, were sown at those indulgent, end-of-term college entertainments at Cambridge, called (very appropriately) 'Smokers'.
You could get away with murder in those thick, smoggy atmospheres, and most people did - nor would anyone have pretended the esoteric brand of undergraduate humour had changed much from the days of Jack Hulbert to those of Prince Charles.
But in Cambridge in the early 60s, there were certain standards to be kept. After all, the satire boom was well under way, and wasn't the government and establishment reeling under the first wave of university satirists? In West End theatres you could see Peter Cook savaging Mr MacMillan, or watch David Frost on television smoothly dissecting the Profumo scandal.
You could read Christopher Brooker in Private Eye, or Jonathan Miller in The Observer insisting on the need to shout 'bloody fools' down Whitehall. Or for the really heavy stuff you squeezed into the Establishment Club to nod sagely at John Bird. Oxford had done its bit, too, by producing Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett, Ned Sherrin, Richard Ingrams to name a few.
Yet when a new generation emerged with a revue called Cambridge Circus you'd have searched in vain for even the suggestion of a political innuendo. There were pin-striped City gents on a Green Line bus bursting inexplicably into a Negro spiritual, there was a robot hospital visitor and a newscaster from the Old Testament; but the nearest to social satire was Bill Oddie's immaculate take-off of a rock'n'roll singer.
"Everyone assumed that because we were undergraduates, it must be satire," recalls Bill Oddie. "But we were positively reacting *against* it." (The same thing was happening at Oxford as well, where Terry Jones and Mike Palin were even then devising embryonic Monty Python material - the now-famous Custard Pie routine and the Tennis Match.)
Cambridge Circus was an instant success, both in the West End and - in spite of its eccentric Englishness - on Broadway. Suddenly Graeme and Bill and Tim found themselves embarked on a career of comedy.
"I think I'd have been far too scared to have dreamed of doing it on my own," Tim admits. "But the Footlights" (the Cambridge revue club) "gave us a group confidence, which helped us all, I think."
And as a group they have soldiered on through several series (I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again, Broaden Your Mind) infusing their own brand of humour with touches of Goonery and film-cartoon techniques.
Now and then you can detect anarchic echoes of those old 'Smoker' days - and perhaps it's these which prompted Prince Charles once to confide to Tim that while he loved Monty Python, he *adored* The Goodies.
"He also gave me one or two ideas for sketches, but I'd better not tell you them. He might want to use them one day," said Tim. "Very good they were."
"Don't mind him," added one of the others. "He's just going for his OBE!"
WHERE THE GOODIES GET TO
[Photos: Two action shots of Tim carrying the 'torch' around the Colosseum, plus four matching storyboards. Caption: 'Above: scenes from the Goodies' new series, starting this week. The boys are dauntless gladiators in Ancient Rome, believe it or not. All the visual effects for The Goodies are carefully worked out on storyboards first (see the small pictures, left).']
CHISWICK. An endless playing field that has soaked up hours of rain, a biting wind and a melancholy English sky. Alternatively…
ROME. A big signpost at the gates says so, an amphitheatre further on confirms it, Atilla The Hun gnawing hungrily at a steak-and-kidney pie proves it indubitably.
It is, I suppose, the logic of The Goodies that if all roads lead to Rome, then Rome is at the end of every road; and a sodden rugger-pitch on the north bank of the River Thames is as good a place to find it as any.
Our heroes are busy filming an episode (Rome Antics), in which they're playing dauntless gladiators (if those bloodless blue knees do not mislead me). They stand huddled round the generator for warmth. Suddenly Tim Brooke-Taylor strips off his protective layers and lurches off into the Colosseum to do battle with a fluffy sheep.
From deep in the cavern of his Roman helmet Graeme Garden indicates that the absurdity of the situation has, once again, struck him. "Grown men!" he murmurs. "You know there are times… well, we might be in the middle of a perfectly rational, serious discussion and it will suddenly dawn on the three of us that we're actually standing in the middle of a field dressed as mice or something."
He stares glumly at Tim writhing and wrestling on the ground with the mock stuffed sheep (and losing heavily), then breaks out into a chuckle. The assembled crew are laughing now, sending out ripples which draw in more spectators to this bout of lunacy. Tim extracts his matted hair from his face and shuffles back to his warm place at the generator.
"Someone laughed?" he enquired. Film crews, least of all damp ones, are rarely prone to such outbursts. "When we first started filming The Goodies, it was two weeks before one of the crew - I think he was an electrician - laughed. That really depressed us at the time, but you get used to it."
"Of course, you're always laying yourself wide open, and that's half the fun - though it still frightens me. We're always walking the knife-edge between being very funny and very silly, so when you do fall flat on your face, it is *awful*. We think in terms of a sort of human animated cartoon, which inevitably means (especially on a day like this) half the humour is technical."
"Mmm, I've never thought of myself as being funny," agreed Bill Oddie from the other side of the generator. "Only as having enough technique to do what I do. You might say, in a way, we're superior props. It wouldn't surprise me if the director's eventual idea is to replace us with dummies."
[Photos: Tim as petrified gladiator, Bill and Graeme as gladiators, plus mid-air sheep above panicking Tim. An additional two storyboards demonstrate the sheep's landing. Caption: 'You thought Ancient Roman gladiators fought with lions and tigers, didn't you? Well, the Ancient Roman Goodies fight… er, sheep. Top left, Bill and Graeme unleash the fearsome creature on to a quaking Tim (top right) - and BAM! (below)']
The fake sheep has been packed away in his crate but Freddy - the real one - is cantering off into the distance with a scrum of assistants in pursuit. He is brought down well inside the 25-yard line, to polite applause.
The rain has started to come down, and fantasy-making looks more than ever like a hard slog. The Goodies' affronts to the natural world which we take for granted on film - sheep that fly, cannon balls which boomerang - may take days to set up. "We're always writing "impossible" stunts into the scripts," Tim says, "but never without suggesting ways of doing them."
The suggestions are not always practical: producer Jim Franklin points out that "there's a team of people who actually make things happen." Even the simple matter of the sheep fight demands the combination of a real sheep, a dummy and a speeded-up film. And when Tim catches Attila's flaming bolus in his giant ice cream cone it's not because he has a good eye and a steady nerve. Just outside of camera shot is a set of steps from which the bolus is dropped.
The cast of thousands stacked in the stands of the Colosseum is painted on a sheet of glass, which is held in front of the camera. And a small-scale model of Rome cut-outs, scattered with inflammable material and photographed with a high-speed camera, becomes a realistic Rome in flames.
The rain has set in, and the Goodies have sensibly retired to the shelter of a changing room, still faintly redolent of a generation of rugger-socks and jockstraps. Tell me when you first made people laugh, I ask them. Graeme answers first:
"When I was nine, I was ever so good at falling over. I used to be invited to perform before the assembled company." But before I can ask any more, there is a knock at the door: the rain has stopped.
I leave quietly as another impossibility is being attempted. I extract my car from the melee of cycles - one of them seating no less than 15 persons - and start to make my way back to Central London.
I should be so lucky. Right and left, wherever I looked, the signposts said… ROME.
[Photo & Caption: 'The final triumph of Goodies over ovine (left): victorious gladiators Graeme and Bill hold vanquished sheep aloft.']