No-one loved The Goodies more than Australia. And there was no member of comedy troupe more loved than Tim Brooke-Taylor, the blonde, posh, vulnerable but good-humoured comedian at its core.
Thus, in this dismal, anxious year, with the Melbourne International Comedy Festival cancelled, TV studios darkened and comedy clubs silent, the death of Brooke-Taylor hit home hard for professionals on the dole queue and fans alike.
Coronavirus has made his passing, out of the blue, a death for our times. You couldn’t scroll through the Generation X parish newsletter, Facebook, without personal laments and fond remembrances of posh patriot Tim playing “Land and Hope and Glory” while giving stirring speeches about the British Empire to the bemusement of co-stars Graeme Garden, the nutty professor, and Bill Oddie, the rebel hippy musician.
Family WhatsApp groups buzzed with memories of the Funky Gibbon and the long-lost martial art of Ecky-Thump, (special weapon, a black pudding), as we recalled our childhood minds trying to wrap around the fact that the Goodies in the show had the same names in real life. But we were too young to realise Tim’s British Empire speeches were not an homage but taking the mick.
Often the memory cheats, but this outpouring wasn’t just nostalgia for an old TV show that hasn’t stood the test of time. The nostalgia fest became a reminder of its quality, an irresistible combination of slapstick, satire, music, absurdist parodies and ever shifting bromance between the three characters.
The 76 episodes of the absurdist comedy about the three-man agency whose motto is “We Do Anything, Anytime” were repeated ad nauseum by the ABC in the 1970s and 1980s, at 6pm before Doctor Who and the news.
That Aussie ubiquitousness paid off unexpectedly for the BBC’s commercial arm, which was astonished when the trio toured in Australia in the noughties, selling out venues the size of the Sydney Entertainment Centre.
But the show was treated badly in Britain, never repeated by the BBC, (which made the series from 1970 to 1981) despite audiences of up to 14 million. After their Australian success, the three toured Britain but only as a cult act, reduced to playing modest gigs at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Parody was the essence of the show. TV adverts for baked beans, the Olympics, gangsters, Margaret Thatcher, the Bunfight at the OK Tea Rooms, often with Brooke-Taylor in parody drag. King Kong became Twinkle, a giant fluffy white kitten which terrorised London, and the episode
“Kitten Kong” won an award at the prestigious Montreux TV Festival.
The show was successful, but expensive, axed by the BBC to make way for The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. A move to commercial rivals London Weekend Television lasted a further seven episodes. And that was that.
While many wrongly dismissed the program as a children’s show (many episodes were censored in Australia), Brooke-Taylor had a top comedy pedigree. A law student, he was a president of Cambridge Footlights, the university comedic incubator. A friend of John Cleese. The pair were mates and Brooke-Taylor could easily have been a member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, only they didn’t need a nice guy.
But that famous sketch about four Yorkshiremen boasting that they lived in shoeboxes as deprived kids was partly Brooke-Taylor’s work. His popularity in Australia was such that he even starred in a Paul Hogan sketch, sparking applause as soon as he walked onto the set.
The Goodies were forever regarded as second string to the Pythons and Brooke-Taylor instead became a much-loved fixture on radio panel shows while Oddie became the bigger star, hosting nature documentaries.
But the comedy legacy is real and lasting. It is hard to imagine Max Gillies, The D Generation, Fast Forward, The Chaser, Shaun Micallef and others appearing in quite the same form without The Goodies.
Comedy is big business down under. Comedians on FM radio stations are some of the highest paid in entertainment figures in Australia, while the Adelaide Fringe Festival is the second biggest in the world, after Edinburgh.
Comedy in Australia is in the midst of astonishing surge. In 2018, 2.5 million of us spent $125 million on ticket sales to comedy performances, spending an average of $114 per ticket.
This is in no small part because the Goodies trained a generation of Aussie kids to delight in the absurd and the silly.
But if Brooke-Taylor and the Goodies need an epitaph, let it be this. A 50-year-old bricklayer from Kings Lynn couldn’t stop laughing while watching the Ecky-Thump episode and promptly gave a “tremendous belly laugh, slumped on the settee, and died,” according to his widow.
She wrote to the Goodies thanking them for making her husband’s final moments so enjoyable.