A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the first episode of The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, and regular commenter in the Junkyard SFMike requested an article about The Goodies. You could hardly think of two more different comedy series if you tried, but the suggestion was a good one. I have always been intrigued by The Goodies and have never really got round to watching any of it. The original broadcasts were either before I was born, or too young to watch, and virtually none of the episodes have ever been repeated on British terrestrial television. There are reasons for that, but I’m not going to get into any of that here because I’m not sure what I can and cannot write about, but it’s enough to say that The Goodies has not really enjoyed the regular repeat runs that most successful British comedy shows have had over the years, despite being enormously popular at the time. The viewing figures were strong, and there were nine seasons between 1970 and 1981. It would probably have continued a lot longer than that, with 11 million still watching the final series, but for the fact that it was such an expensive series to make in comparison with most comedies. So my only experience of The Goodies was the occasional clip on compilation shows, normally of Kitten Kong. I’m not watching that one yet, though. Instead, I decided to begin at the beginning, like I always do, and watch the very first episode, The Tower of London.
It is immediately obvious, even from the opening credits, that this is a style of humour that is somewhere between slapstick and surrealism. The latter is achieved in the opening scenes by the use of chroma key, or CSO (colour separation overlay) as the BBC used to call it. Nowadays we know it as “green screen”, although in 1970 they used blue instead (as you can see from an accidental sideways shot through a door in the Goodies’ office). This might look a bit clumsy nowadays, and certainly a very familiar effect, but at the time it was something very new. Earlier in the year Doctor Who had made its first use of the technique, and just a couple of months before the broadcast of this episode it was being explained and demonstrated by John Noakes on Blue Peter. So at the time this was something fun, exciting and new.
The basic premise of the series is established very quickly, and it’s a good one, allowing for a great deal of freedom of storytelling. The “Goodies” are offering their help in any way that they can do some good, “anything, any time”. So they just have to wait for a phone call from somebody in need of their services, delivered by an elderly neighbour who has been roped into taking their messages. Then they are off to help, riding their triple (or “triplet”, and yes I did have to look up the name of a tandem with three seats). This week they are called to help a plain-clothed Beefeater.
“Somebody is stealing my beefeaters’ beef.”
What follows is a lot of silly fun, with a great deal of effective visual comedy. My favourite is the plain-clothed Beefeater who thinks he is incognito, but still wears the Beefeater hat. I enjoyed seeing George Baker, a very familiar face to British viewers, in a comedy role. There is a fake advertisement break in the middle (the BBC has never had adverts), with a “Goodies Tea Set” that made me laugh out loud.
For anyone thinking about watching this series, who has never tried it, you need to go into this with the awareness that it is 1970s comedy, so young women are treated as objects to be ogled and stripped, and the punchline to one of the jokes is about a gay man selling “fairy powder”. I could also have done without Jimmy Saville’s face flashing up on the screen at one point. But this is the minefield we must tread when we wander through the history of television, and you just have to either stomach it and keep watching, or leave the past in the past and never look back. I prefer to accept it as a product of the time it was made, because otherwise it means missing out on our television heritage, which is an enormously rich seam to mine. So I want to thank SFMike for his recommendation. I’m delighted that I finally gave The Goodies a try, and I will keep watching. Now, more than ever, we could all do with a bit of silly humour in our lives. RP