(FRONT COVER OF ‘EVENT’ MAGAZINE FROM MAIL ON SUNDAY, 16TH SEPTEMBER 2018. – HARD COPY)
‘The BBC banned us but only white liberals and stupid people find the Goodies offensive’: Twelve million viewers watched them do the Funky Gibbon at their peak (and one even laughed himself to death). But you won’t find the Goodies on TV today – and that makes them VERY angry…
PUBLISHED: 22:02, 15 September 2018 | UPDATED: 22:02, 15 September 2018
Bill Oddie, television personality, celebrity birdwatcher and one-third of the Goodies, hasn’t found a good word for his former bosses at the BBC – until now, when he explodes angrily, using a phrase unprintable in a family newspaper.
Chastised by his fellow Goodies, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden, Oddie modifies his verdict to: ‘Bloody bastards then.’
Either way, there is little doubt in Oddie’s mind what ‘BBC’ stands for.
The reason for this extraordinary outburst is mention of his abrupt dismissal from the long-running wildlife programme Springwatch just before Christmas in 2008.
‘I never had a proper explanation at the time,’ Oddie fumes. ‘I was called into the office and told, “We won’t be asking you to make any more programmes.” Looking back, unfortunately my bipolar element had come into it and I could be very irascible and tetchy, I don’t mind admitting.’
From left: Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor. The Goodies no longer wish to be the forgotten heroes of British comedy
Oddie was plunged into depression by the redundancy. Unable to ‘talk or think’, he would sleep for days at a time, but the blackness became unbearable and he tried to take his own life, twice, in 2009 by overdosing on prescription sedatives.
He was finally diagnosed as bipolar in 2010 and now receives treatment.
It infuriates Oddie that, having let him go, the BBC implied that it had done so due to concerns about his mental welfare. Of course they didn’t know about his illness when they sacked him.
‘Oh yes,’ he sneers. ‘“We wish Mr Oddie a very quick recovery.” They didn’t give a damn.’
But it wasn’t just Oddie. After 1980, the BBC didn’t give a damn about the Goodies either.
For 40 years, since their decade of Seventies prime-time supremacy that routinely drew television audiences of 12 million, the Beeb has refused to regularly repeat The Goodies shows.
Despite vigorous lobbying, the upper echelons of the Corporation have come up with myriad excuses not to re-screen the once-popular programme. ‘Of its time’; ‘not progressive enough’; ‘the demand isn’t there’… they’ve heard it all. Somebody up there doesn’t like them.
‘When fans have written in asking why they aren’t repeating The Goodies,’ Garden divulges, ‘the BBC always reply saying they’re looking forward and want to invest in new comedy. So, I thought, “Well, that means we won’t be getting the 6pm Dad’s Army slot then.”’
The Goodies in 1970, from left, Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor. The trio’s devotees include many of the biggest names from the world of entertainment
Quite what Auntie has against the Goodies’ topical satire, surreal flights of fancy and slapstick tomfoolery is anyone’s guess.
What’s not to love about a huge kitten toppling the Post Office Tower, or black-pudding-wielding Lancastrians in outsized flat caps, experts in the martial art of Ecky Thump?
Now in their mid-to-late-70s, the gently subversive trio have returned, in box-set form, to re-claim the respect that is rightfully theirs.
The Goodies no longer wish to be the forgotten heroes of British comedy. The Morecambe And Wise Show, The Two Ronnies and Dad’s Army are considered classics, while Monty Python have been elevated to the comedy equivalent of The Beatles.
Yet The Goodies languishes in an archive marked ‘naff Seventies, nostalgia’ along with Spangles, stack heels and the Space Hopper.
But the trio’s devotees include many of the biggest names from the world of entertainment: David Walliams, Austin Powers star Mike Myers, Martin Freeman, Reeves and Mortimer and Simon Pegg (who once moved to Cricklewood because it was the Goodies’ fictional home) all adore them (see panel below).
There is no disputing that The Goodies was funny. In one case, fatally so. During the episode, Kung Fu Kapers in 1975, bricklayer Alex Mitchell of King’s Lynn in Norfolk tragically died, aged 50, laughing at the show.
‘We were in the studio when it happened,’ recollects Brooke-Taylor. ‘The newspapers were calling up to ask us how we had reacted to this terrible news, which was not an easy thing to answer.
‘I managed to say, “Well, if I am going to die, watching Morecambe and Wise would be as good a way as any to go.” But it was tricky. He’d died laughing.
During the making of the quietly controversial show, the trio would occasionally be ‘yanked upstairs’ at the BBC and told to re-think a particular programme
‘He had a heart defect and was already poorly,’ interrupts Garden, who qualified as a doctor with a medical degree.
‘His wife wrote to us eventually and said, “Thank you for making his last moments so joyous. I have the lasting image in my mind of my husband laughing his head off. He died happy.” Which is lovely,’ beams Oddie.
Despite its post-teatime slot, The Goodies could be edgy.
During the making of the quietly controversial show, the trio would occasionally be ‘yanked upstairs’ at the BBC and told to re-think a particular programme.
‘I was an androgynous pop star in one,’ Oddie puzzles. ‘They said, “No, we can’t have that.”’
Clean-up television campaigner Mary Whitehouse complained when Brooke-Taylor wore a pair of underpants with an image of a carrot emblazoned on the front.
‘It was the carrot that did for Mary,’ Oddie acknowledges. ‘She sent a telegram to the Director-General, but we didn’t rise to it.’
Their excitable followers even have a collective name: The Giddies. Prince Charles, Brooke-Taylor reports proudly, is an honorary Giddy.
‘He actually said at one stage, “Monty Python… is good but I prefer The Goodies.” He rose in our esteem enormously after that.’
It was the Prince Of Wales who presented Brooke-Taylor with an OBE in 2011, the same year that Garden received his from Princess Anne at Windsor Castle.
Oddie had been awarded his OBE in 2003 and is wearing it around his neck today. He fishes it out of his chest hair for closer inspection.
‘Ours aren’t like that,’ Brooke-Taylor sniffs. ‘We got proper ones with ribbons and everything. I think that might be a fake.’
‘Shut up,’ barks Oddie. ‘It’s wonderful. I got it for conservation and my contribution to ecology.’
‘Bill’s wasn’t for entertainment, you’ll notice,’ mutters Garden. ‘Which I believe ours were.’
The Goodies weren’t just a TV phenomenon, their five hit singles, including the glam rock pastiche The Inbetweenies and a Northern Soul spoof, Black Pudding Bertha, totalled almost a million sales.
Funky Gibbon, complete with its catchy armpit-scratching dance, went to No 4 in the UK charts in 1975.
At their musical peak, Oddie, who wrote and recorded all of the Goodies’ music, recalls mixing with rock royalty, dining with Paul Simon (‘very reserved’) and Mick Jagger, a fellow fancier of feathered wildlife (‘He was really rather nice. We had a very enjoyable lunch at Eric Idle’s, talking about music and birds’).
In 1979, the phone rang. It was Steven Spielberg, enquiring if the Goodies might be interested in making a movie. The Anglophile director was drawn to their curious blend of fantasy and reality and enjoyed their anarchic way with a plotline.
‘We’d have bitten his hand off, but the timing wasn’t right,’ says Taylor.
The Goodies never got to Hollywood, but a few years later Spielberg began work on a film about some bicycling adventurers entitled The Goonies. Mere coincidence, of course.
The Goodies are charming company: Brooke-Taylor, 78, is urbane and genial, Garden, 75 witty and acerbic, Oddie, 77, engagingly eccentric. Garden lives in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire with his second wife, Emma. He has three children: eldest John is a composer and musical director who has worked with Scissor Sisters. Garden senior is a panellist, as is Brooke-Taylor, on I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, the improvisational show now presented by Jack Dee that he devised for BBC Radio in 1971.
Brooke-Taylor lives in Cookham, Surrey where he has been married to Christine Weadon for 50 years. They have two sons, Ben and Edward, who are in their late 40s.
‘We hated the bloody trandem,’ grumbles Oddie. ‘It was lethal, it was as if it wanted to kill us’
Oddie is settled in Hampstead, north London, close to the Heath, with his second wife, Laura Beaumont, where his various grown-up offspring ‘come and go, as they please’. His three daughters are all in the arts: Kate Hardie is an actress, Rosie Bones is a musician who has collaborated with the likes of Jeff Beck, while Bonny Oddie is a sculptor.
Between them, the Goodies have eight children and ‘umpteen grandkids’.
There is the occasional senior moment this morning. Oddie becoming enraged about ‘Lionel Blair invading Iraq’ is met with gales of laughter.
Asked if they ever fell out, Brooke-Taylor replies, ‘No, but we fell off quite a lot.’
‘I used to get told off for being out of control,’ Oddie owns up. ‘Years later that was diagnosed as being bipolar. But looking back on it I was extremely hyperactive and that must have been difficult for everyone. Although in many ways it suited the character.’
‘The Goodies actually had the advantage of being tri-polar,’ muses Garden. ‘We didn’t fall into camps like Python, we had a built-in majority. Two against one, done deal.’
The ‘good-natured rivalry’ with Monty Python is still evident. They were all friends and flatmates at Cambridge University (where Garden was president of the esteemed Footlights) though you sense they might also be mildly aggrieved that the Pythons became very wealthy men.
The individual Goodies are comfortable financially, but repeat royalties from the BBC would have provided a handsome pension pot. ‘We never made much money from The Goodies,’ Oddie sighs. ‘I can’t remember what the BBC were paying us but it wasn’t that generous. The only big pay day was when ITV made us an offer and we went there and earned as much in one year as we did in three at the BBC.’
‘People may not agree with this analogy,’ posits Oddie, ‘but I saw the Pythons as the Stones, slightly dangerous and slightly naughty, and we were more like The Beatles because we were family-friendly and appealed to the widest possible audience.
‘Python wasn’t so much of a family show as The Goodies,’ Garden agrees. ‘With us, it was, Go and tell your granny, The Goodies is on.’ They reminisce about the irreverent fun they had with various guests: pretending to murder DJ Tony Blackburn, casting Doctor Who (Jon Pertwee) as an insane Welsh preacher and transforming astronomer Patrick Moore into a safety-pinned punk.
There are other guests they’d sooner forget. ‘Rolf wasn’t actually a guest,’ corrects Garden. ‘He featured. There was one episode where there was a plague of Rolf Harrises.’
‘I think we can look forward to thousands of tweets about that when the box-set comes out,’ says Oddie. ‘They’ll tear us to pieces.’
One controversial episode, South Africa, addressed apartheid – or in Goodie-land ‘Apart-Height’ – where the diminutive Oddie was persecuted under an oppressive size-ist regime. But certain segments involved racial stereotyping, with some of the comedians blacking up their faces, and using what is now considered racially offensive terminology. ‘There probably was [racist language],’ says Garden. ‘But if you put offensive words into the mouth of a villain, is that still offensive or is that making a point? I think at the time we were using language which was pretty well current, but would not be current any more.’
Oddie once played a black Muslim who rejected his ‘slave name’ of Bill and called himself Rastus P Watermelon. The trio admit to being ‘slightly embarrassed’ by scenes and expressions that would be unacceptable today, but Oddie maintains that the only viewers who found The Goodies offensive were ‘white liberals’.
‘And stupid people,’ reckons Garden.
Were there ever Goodies groupies? ‘We did some shows in Australia about ten years ago,’ says Brooke-Taylor. ‘And there’d be these girls at the stage door saying, “Could I have a hug?” I have to say, these sad old men were rather pleased, and hugged away.’
Were they writing and performing together today, the Goodies would certainly be sending up Donald Trump and Boris Johnson, ‘maybe with huge haystacks on their heads’.
Meet their no 1 fans, the Giddies
Charles wrote a letter to Bill Oddie where he says: ‘I remember guffawing like a drain at your antics back in the Seventies, especially the Ecky Thump episodes, to the point where my sister, HRH The Princess Anne, was quite short with me.’
‘Little Britain’ mainstay and bestselling children’s author In a selfie taken with Brooke- Taylor, Walliams describes him as ‘my favourite Goodie’ and cites watching the Goodies being chased by Dougal from The Magic Roundabout as his pre-eminent comedy memory.
Austin Powers by any other name ‘He said that The Goodies were a very, very specific influence on him, which I was very happy about,’ glows Tim Brooke-Taylor.
Star of ‘The Office’ and ‘The Hobbit’ ‘They were obviously three clever blokes but they weren’t afraid to just be silly. I was seven at the time and I trust everything I liked when I was seven. There’s a lot to be said for that kind of honest judgement before you start worrying about what you should and shouldn’t like. Does it make you laugh? That’s the only criterion worth bothering about. The Goodies made me laugh.’
There is now a photoshoot with the dreaded three-seater bike. ‘We hated the bloody trandem,’ grumbles Oddie. ‘It was lethal, it was as if it wanted to kill us.’
‘I’d still quite like to take a sledgehammer to it,’ says Garden.
Sadly, there won’t be an appearance from the super-sized kitten, star of The Goodies’ title sequence. ‘She’s somewhere in China,’ Brooke-Taylor jokes. ‘Still getting work but hasn’t been in touch for years.’
‘Probably ended up on a plate,’ says Oddie, the lovable loose cannon delivering a reliably inappropriate parting shot.
‘Bill!’ his fellow Goodies chorus affectionately. Oddie beams, his righteous anger having abated.
Just don’t mention the BBC-word.
‘The Goodies: The Complete BBC Collection’ is released on DVD on September 24, courtesy of Network Distributing
(From the Event section on the Daily Mail website