Goody, Goody, Yum, Yum! By Keith Topping
The Goodies: Beginnings
'In the 70s, there was long-hair, there were
left-over hippies everywhere, and I should know
'coz I was there!'
Denim - 'The Osmonds'
`Television loves a formula' wrote Roger Wilmut in the book From Fringe to Flying Circus (Queen Anne, 1985). 'Any idea which produces good rating is certain to promote a flock of imitators, all conceived within a tight predictable format, which can easily be written, directed and acted by a team of experienced hacks who appear to be working in their sleep. In 1970 the current formula was 'caper'-type crime series, with teams of criminals or semi-official law enforcers, lots of action and little plot. It was partly to send up this idea that Garden, Brooke-Taylor and Oddie created the formula for their own series - except that, wisely, the formula was kept as unspecific as possible.'
In 1963, in the aftermath of previous groundbreaking Cambridge reviews, like Share My Lettuce (1957) and Beyond the Fringe (1961), the Footlights sent out another show that was to have a profound effect on the future of comedy. Humphrey Barcley's Cambridge Circus. Whilst this wasn't as innovative as its immediate predecessors (though it did enjoy a successful West End run and a world tour), rather it was the cast who were to achieve greatness. These included David Hatch, later to become head of BBC Radio comedy, Jo Kendall and Jonathan Lynn, along with two sets of writing partners, John Cleese and Graham Chapman, and Bill Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor. Halfway through the world tour, Chapman was forced to leave the cast to return to England for his doctorate exams and was replaced by another young medical student, Graeme Garden.
With the success of Cambridge Circus, BBC producer Trevor Nunn commissioned the team to record a radio series, I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again, which became a regular feature on BBC radio, running for nine seasons. More importantly Cambridge Circus was the gestation, not only for the most influential comedy series of all time, Monty Python's Flying Circus, but also for one of the great cult series of the 1970s, The Goodies.
"The series, perfected the manic exploitation of unrelated sketches, which became Monty Python's trademark"
By 1967, Brooke-Taylor had teamed with Eric Idle as a writer on The Frost Report and Oddie and Garden were writing sitcoms for Humphrey Barley at LWT when Brooke-Taylor with John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Marty Feldman created At Last, the 1948 Show for Rediffusion with David Frost. As a building block in the comedy of both Monty Python and The Goodies, At Last was vital. The series, perfected the manic exploitation of unrelated sketches, which became Monty Python's trademark (some sketches have become so famous via Python remakes that many fans do not recognise their origin: 'The Four Yorkshiremen' for example). It also allowed Brooke-Taylor (who co-produced the series) room to experiment with slapstick, something that was to become The Goodies most celebrated (and notorious) aspects. One episode featured Bill Oddie as a hospital patient, visited by a robotic, cliché-spouting Brooke-Taylor. Tim followed this by spending 1968 as Marty Feldman's straight-man in his BBC series, Marty.
Brooke-Taylor had already been involved (in 1967) as a writer in the BBCs Twice A Fortnight, a late night sketch-based show featuring Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Oddie, Garden, Dilys Watling and Jonathan Lynn. 1968 saw a short lived BBC2 production called Broaden Your Mind - a star vehicle for Garden and Brooke-Taylor which featured Oddie as a writer/performer.
Michael Mills and Barry Took, who brought Python to the BBC in 1969, were also responsible for the decision to give Brooke-Taylor, Garden and Oddie their own series in 1970. Initially, to be known as Super-Chaps Three, then Narrow Your Mind, The Goodies' bizarre premise had Tim, Graeme and Bill play, in effect, exaggerated versions of themselves. Many episodes were written in the same kind of stream-of-consciousness manner of Python, although, with Garden and Oddie's grounding in TV writing on Doctor in the House, the plot element was retained and therefore most episodes would have a storyline (of sorts).
The 1970s was a time where computers were just coming around and were most likely only to be found in a laboratory somewhere. Someone would look at you like you had two heads if you asked them about a 3D barcode. Technology like that just didn't exist. It would be nearly 4 decades because someone would hop onto their computer and search for how to make a QR code. At the time, the internet was a distant hope let alone something like a QR creator.