Archive for The Goodies

Doing Rude Things

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on March 12, 2011 by dcairns

To Glasgow, and the Aye Write book festival, in the company of Mr Colin McLaren, ace screenwriter. Our chosen event was a Q&A with Graeme Garden, star/writer of The Goodies, our favourite childhood TV show next to Dr Who.

As part of the packed ninety-minute discussion, Garden screened three clips, chosen by each of the Goodies as their favourite moments from the show. This was his ~

“The closest thing we did to a sketch,” was how he described it (although the show featured excellent spoof commercials that might qualify.” In the show, the boys are commissioned by a thinly-veiled parody of renowned bluenose Mary Whitehouse to make a sex education film with no sex in it.

Whitehouse had no official position as censor, but was just a horrifying busybody member of the public. Her organisation, the Viewers and Listeners Association (now MediaWatch), campaigned against smut, getting a lot of attention in the seventies. An elderly retiree member led the obscenity case against LAST TANGO IN PARIS, seemingly under the impression that the film was a documentary showing real events. This delusional mindset seems to haunt the organisation’s members. Actual dialogue from one TV documentary (two little old ladies, formerly active members) ~

“Sex seemed to be the biggest problem in those days.”

“Sex always leads to violence.”

“And the crime that goes with it.”

My most treasured moment of Mrs Whitehouse madness came on a discussion show where she took exception to PSYCHO II: her critique appears at the end of this piece, and I feel it grants special insight into the confusions inherent in the would-be censor’s thinking.

The Goodies always claimed that it was their life’s ambition to offend Mrs Whitehouse, and they were mortified when they discovered they’d received a letter of appreciation from her after their first series, which she deemed suitably anodyne for televisual broadcast. The episode parodying her (with the great Beryl Reid as Mrs W) didn’t manage to offend her, but finally the image of Tim Brooke-Taylor wearing a pair of underpants with a picture of a carrot on the front provoked the required shock and outrage.

For Morag.

Goody Goody Yum Yum

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 21, 2010 by dcairns

The most exciting titles ever?

Been watching a lot of The Goodies lately. This was a 1970s comedy programme which Fiona and I grew up on, and which then went away, seemingly never to be repeated on terrestrial TV. The Goodies were three comics, contemporaries of the Monty Python team, but their show was nominally a sitcom, even if it exploited the quick-change possibilities of the sketch show. The situation part of the comedy was barely worthy of the name: three guys who ran a sort of agency promising to do “Anything, Anytime.” Sometimes the week’s story wouldn’t even have anything to do with that slender hook.

The question “Which is the good-looking one?” never really applied to The Goodies, consisting as they did of grumpy, working-class, diminutive beard guy Bill Oddie, chinless toff Tim Brooke-Taylor, and sideburn-sporting brainiac Graeme Garden. Although my Mum quite liked Tim, in the same way she quite liked Graham Chapman. And he did have a beautifully-defined comic persona. As a kid, Bill seemed the funniest, or most loveable, because he was like a hobbit, and I identified, but it’s clear now that Graeme always had the sharpest delivery and an amazing gift for physical silliness.

The Timbo and Orson Show!

Tim Brooke-Taylor has an intriguing Orson Welles connection. Timbo appeared in 12+1, a dire sixties version of THE TWELVE CHAIRS, which proved to be Sharon Tate’s last film. Welles plays a magician. I guess as a result of this meeting, he went on to appear in some of the comedy sketches now gathered in ONE-MAN BAND, sketches which some Wellesians find rather embarrassing. I love them, personally. And here’s Welles, with Dom DeLuise, on The Dean Martin Show, performing a sketch originated by Brooke-Taylor and Marty Feldman. “Funny he never married.”

After a few series in which the protags would be pitted against insane enemies representing aspects of British culture (like bluenosed arbiter of public taste Mary Whitehouse) played by famous guest stars, the writers (Garden and Oddie) got tired of giving their best lines to somebody else, and worked things out so that conflict could arise within the trio. Any given week, Tim could be the fascistic villain, Graeme the power-made scientist, or Bill the vicious thug, or two of them could gang up and oppress the third. The Goodies were frequently baddies. This fast-and-loose approach to series continuity meant that they might also end an episode with all three characters dead (of old age, having been entombed in their office under tons of concrete, or slain by the Lancastrian martial art of Ecky-Thump), the office destroyed and planet Earth itself blasted into smithereens.

That Ecky-Thump episode became famous when one viewer laughed so hard he died of a heart attack. His widow wrote a fan letter thanking the boys for causing him to depart this world in such a happy manner. The main, indeed only, technique of Ecky-Thump is to bash your opponent over the head with a black pudding. I’m just warning you now in an attempt to avoid fatalities.

“Silly”, the word the Pythons used to describe their comedy, in preference to “surrreal’, fits The Goodies even better — you really have to imagine a blending of Python and Benny Hill, since a lot of accelerated-motion running about, and a lot of corny wordplay, and a lot of cornier sexism was very much in play. Racism, too, although I think this was always a result of 1970s insensitivity, rather than evil intent. The Goodies just thought it was funnier to have one of them black up than it would be to hire somebody of the correct skin tone. They may have been right, but they were also wrong.

One of their more uncomfortable episodes is an attack on the apartheidt system in South Africa, performed with blacked-up Goodies instead of proper Africans. The intent was sound, but the execution certainly led to confusion. Another episode, and I can hardly believe I’m writing this or that it ever happened, was a parody of the TV series Roots, in which each Goodie plays a member of a different British “tribe” — for instance, Garden plays a Celtic Kiltie, a stereotypical Scotsman, in “Hoots” — abducted by package tour and brought to London to be sold into servitude in the television industry.

Already quite uncomfortable, the situation takes a nosedive into queasy horror when all three are blacked up and forced to work in The Black and White Minstrel Show (a grotesque BBC variety hour which actually ran until 1980). Weirdly, this proves to be the cathartic turning point at which the show emerges from the far side of bad taste back into political correctness: all the arguments in favour of minstrelsy are trotted out and made to appear grotesquely ridiculous. “It’s equal opportunities: black AND white! Anyway, they tried it without the makeup and it was only half as popular. So that’s obviously because all the black people stopped watching it.”

Graham gets halfway through suggesting that, by that logic, the BBC should present all its programmes in blackface — and then we discover that this has happened. Cue actual BBC presenters broadcasting through the medium of burnt cork, and poorly-airbrushed images of a black Michael Parkinson interviewing a white Mohammed Ali.

The real trouble is, I still find all this extremely funny, in an appalling kind of way. The gusto with which the boys plunge into absurdly inflated cartoon slapstick (a fight with black puddings, a chase through a commercial break, a battle with sentient construction machines or a giant kitten called Twinkle), the insane invention, and the delirious sense that the show basically existed to spend as much BBC money as possible (colour TV had just come in and the broadcaster was awash in cash), trump the dollybird sexploitation jokes and racial crassness, and even the visual ugliness of shiny VT interiors and zoom-happy grainy 16mm location scenes. In fact, the offensiveness just makes me laugh harder, although part of it is relief that we’re not doing quite this kind of thing nowadays.

Non-fans will point to the rudery, which goes beyond the blokey chauvinism of much Python stuff, the garishness, and the rather loud, relentless bludgeon of the action climaxes: practically every episode ends in a chase or battle accompanied by Loony Toon noises, laff track, and insistent funk score from Oddie. Buster Keaton was a key inspiration, but the end result has more in common with cartoons, panto, Carry On, music hall, The Goon Show, and the Keystone cops. I can sympathise with the haters, but really I don’t. This show just gets me.

Bill Oddie’s music was a big part of the show’s appeal/strangeness/production values. And Garden’s never really had the credit he deserves as a brilliant physical comedian.

Part of the pleasure is the way the stories go off on wild tangents, so that out of the blue we’ll end up with our heroes battling the entire cast of every British children’s puppet show, who have inexplicably become the government of the UK (“a puppet government”), or the MCC cricket club will engage in a pitched battle with a Rollerball team, or American biological warfare will mutate everyone in Britain into a clown.

The Goodies transferred from BBC to ITV, made one series and were cancelled when the bosses realized how expensive the show was.

In Invasion of the Moon Creatures, Graham takes over the lunar program for Britain after the Americans abandon it, and manages to lose two rabbits in his first launch. He sends Bill and Tim to look for them, and they land on a moon overtaken by sentient bunnies, who have bred and formed their own civilization. Peculiarly enough, this is EXACTLY the same narrative as Tim Burton’s de-imagining of PLANET OF THE APES. It all dovetails into a CLOCKWORK ORANGE parody (A Tranistorized Carrot) when Bill and Tim are brainwashed into becoming savage were-rabbits (in long johns and derbies) sent back to earth to wreak havoc (slomo battle with outsized carrots, dragging a girl into a hutch and — wait, I can’t really be seeing this???)

My short film CRY FOR BOBO really stemmed from this series, or rather, from the question, “What can we do that’s as unlike a typical Scottish short film as possible?” Co-writer Colin McLaren and I both agreed that The Goodies was not only the farthest removed point from social realist miserabilism, but the most promising direction in which to steer any artistic endeavor whatsoever. Had I remembered the clown episode, I might have balked at the idea of using costumed entertainers: I think I was trying to think of something like Minstrels, but not so troublesome. I mean, clowns are repellant to many people, but not actually morally repugnant. Come on, not actually.

What The Goodies taught me, along with Gary Larson’s The Far Side cartoons, is that beautiful things come from implausible conjunctions. Incongruity is the path to laughter.

A few episodes are screening on BBC2 this Christmas…

“…I shall think that insubstantial death is amorous…”

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2008 by dcairns

I’ve given up commemorating birthdays here on Shadowplay because whenever I do it, the subject promptly keels over in a state of rigor mortis. I homaged Richard Widmark and Jules Dassin in my first month and look what happened to them. I thought about mentioning Hazel Court, missed the date, and she STILL died. So, no more birthday celebrations here.

Obituaries, however, are fair game — I can’t see what harm I can do there. And Friday’s Guardian obits page was fairly thronging with film talent: Tristram Cary and Julie Ege have both crossed the river to the Western Lands. The link between them is Hammer films.

Alec the dalek

Cary scored THE LADYKILLERS, which is enough to make him a Shadowplay hero in itself. That film is one of the most perfect feats of stylisation in British cinema, and the score plays a big part: Cary not only wrote the music, but also arranged the sound effects, to create the kind of unified effect often rendered impossible by the compartmentalisation of film production. The big bass drum that sounds as characters topple from a great height into a freight train is an example of music crossing over and BECOMING sound. The build-up to Alec Guinness’ entrance is a symphony of music and sound in perfect harmony, with Peter Sellers impersonating a parrot and a ringing doorbell as seamless parts of the mix.

The producer of THE LADYKILLERS, Seth Holt, used Cary again for the little-known but rather fine BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB, but it’s his work in electronic music, at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and elsewhere, that is Cary’s other great claim to fame. Apart from scary electronica for Dr. Who, Cary crafted many of those oddly neutral-but-bleak themes used in BBC educational programmes in the ’70s. They create quite a strange mood, like lying in a flotation tank and thinking about the relentless march of time, destroying all things.

A different sort of mood is associated with Norwegian model-turned actress Julie Ege. A genuinely guilty pleasure, Ege’s career touches on greatness with ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE (the best Bond film, the best Bond!) and Robert Fuest’s THE FINAL PROGRAMME, but is more customarily found amid the depths of NOT NOW DARLING, THE AMOROUS MILKMAN, UP POMPEII, etc. A film festival gathering of her comedy output could easily induce mass suicide, but that’s not her fault. The simple fact is that prior to the late ’60s, the British low-brow sex comedy was about sexual failure — grotesque, cheerfully depraved working-class halfwits failing to get their end away. The moment anybody actually scored the laughter died in your throat, because nobody wants to picture Sid James engaged in the physical act of love. Not even with Julie Ege.

Ege’s scream queen career ought to have offered more quality, since there were some decent horror films made in the ’70s in the UK, but her roles were in LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES (standing decorously by as Hammer films jump on the Kung-Fu bandwagon), CRAZE (getting picked up by Jack Palance at the Raymond Revuebar) and CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT (the third of Hammer’s dinosaur movies — the one where they left out the dinosaurs, story, and the tops halves of the fur bikinis), films that seem to compete with the sex farces for sheer depression and poverty of imagination. These are all important works for the true student of dreadfulness. Julie Ege’s beauty and casual approach to clothing makes them perhaps slightly less unwatchable than they might have been, but her greatest contribution to society was becoming a nurse, something which we really should value more highly than a willingness to appear onscreen without knickers.

My fondest memory of Ege is a parody of this archetype in The Making of the Goodies’ Disaster Movie, a spin-off book from the legendary TV comedy The Goodies. Ege appears in the book’s copious illustrations, playing a starlet who is outraged at the film-makers’ suggestion that she keep her clothes on for a part, even if it IS essential to the plot.

Julie’s movies, while nearly all terrible, provided sex-starved Brits with cheap thrills during the years when America was getting its rocks off to DEEP THROAT and the like, and by contrast the British films are quaint and sort-of innocent, if sexist. That’s really the reason I can’t celebrate Ege’s contribution to film more wholeheartedly — she made many of us happy by baring her bits, but she did so in films that were dismal celebrations of bimbosity, often portraying women not as objects, as feminist criticism usually argues, but as mentally deficient obligatrons, autonomous, apparently sentient beings whose desires and behaviour just happen to conform to the densest fantasies of the average Razzle-reader.

NOT NOW DARLING is available to rent or buy.