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GOODY - GOODY - RATINGS
by Andrew Pixley
(from C&G #57 September 2000)
PART ONE SERIES 1 TO 4
From this point in Great Britain 2000AD, it's strange to think that "The Goodies" was ever as popular as it actually was. The BBC would have us believe it's not fit to repeat - even less release further editions of on video. The wonderful compilation CD is relegated to bargain bins. Other classic 1970s comedy is aired again and again, but there are no return visits to the Cricklewood offices. At times you find yourself thinking "Is it just me?" "Was this show never that popular anyway?".
And so, it's with some delight that you research the viewing figures for the BBC's 1970s broadcasts and remind yourself that - yes - "The Goodies" was a major and potent item in the Corporation's comedy line-up which drew in audiences that current comedy BBC2 hits such as "Red Dwarf" and "Have I Got News For You?" can only dream of.
Admittedly, the origins are somewhat humble. The first season in November/December 1970 was scheduled as one of the final items on BBC2's Sunday schedule before closedown generally around 10.40pm - and on a channel which some viewers could still not receive because of a) transmitted coverage and b) UK viewers still with 405 line sets. And average of only 1.6 million tuned in for the seven episodes - the most popular show being the "Servants"/"Cecily" installment with just over 2 million viewers. At the bottom of the pile, "Give Police A Chance" failed to net a million, coming in at 900,000 viewers only.
"Give Police A Chance" was the subject of a BBC Audience Research Report which studied - in depth - the reaction of a viewing panel to the show. 107 viewers' comments were collated in a report for John Howard Davies. Overall, reaction was positive with nobody finding it 'Vulgar', 47% finding it highly entertaining and 52% finding it 'Fast Moving'. However, although funny the conclusion was "this program was rather less so than the first two editions". It was noted that "One in five ... clearly found little to amuse them in The Goodies' attempts to establish a new image for the police force." The show was found by some to be "childish and silly" and "a poor man's Monty Python". Using the wonderful old-fashioned BBC euphemisms which pepper the reports, others were said to have found the 'zaniness' attractive and refreshing ("One of the most enjoyable pieces of nonsense the BBC has provided for a long time"). One recurring comment was that "Viewers' only regret ... was that the show was not screened earlier in the evening so that their children, too, could enjoy it." All in all, the "camera tricks" were deemed excellent and "the overall production left little to be desired."
Of course the low figures were boosted when the series transferred to BBC1 for its summer repeats; this time the major network granted it a 7.30pm slot on Mondays, but the show had still to spark the public imagination. Viewing figures were higher by virtue of it being on the major channel, and 4.6 million was now the average, spreading awareness of the terrific trio to a wider audience. The peak rating this time around was for the infamous and seldom-seen "Playgirl Club", where Graeme and Bill's antics in trying to see up women's skirts netted 5.1 million viewers.
When Season Two hit the screens in October 1971, it was again in a reasonably late slot - usually 10.10pm - this time on a Friday night. Overall, about half a million more people turned their dials to BBC2 to see the loch Ness monster, giant kittens and global spacehopping; 2.3 million was the average for the run. Highest rated was "Come Dancing" with 3.1 million ... whereas the seasonal festivities on New Years Eve prevented all bar a solitary million from tuning in for "Gender Education". Poor and intermittent scheduling harmed the season. The audience had been building nicely to over 3 million with "Kitten Kong" and "Come Dancing" when the series was pre-empted for two weeks, and then again for Christmas.
Once again, it was BBC1 which would bring the team to an even bigger audience with their appearances in "Engelbert with The Young Generation". Almost 10 million people tuned in for the first edition in the highly popular and coveted Sunday 7.25pm slot from January 1972, and a show on which the team did some brief business in the office with Engelbert Humperdinck himself before the 'exercising the pets' film from "Kitten Kong" was rescreened. However, as the series continued, the ratings for this British-German co-production declined to around six million; a mere 5.7 million tuned in at the show's lowest ebb to see the Goodies' excellent "Street Entertainers" routine. But, overall, 7.5 million British viewers were getting to see a highly truncated version of the fun available late night on BBC2.
The Montreux nomination for the re-shot, re-edited, no-naughty-words-this-time-honest version of "Kitten Kong" gave a massive boost to the team's profile ... and the viewers. Showcased in a special broadcast at 10.05pm on Sunday 9 April 1972, 5.5 million viewers tuned in - a new high for the BBC2 broadcasts. The following month, "The Goodies" was set to take BBC1 by storm with the summer re-runs of Season Two - now in the excellent slot of 8.00pm on Thursdays (except in Wales where BBC Cymru only rescreened 10 of the 13 shows on Wednesdays at 7.40pm or Thursdays at 8.30pm). The Montreux nomination, clips on "Ask Aspel" and business with Humperdinck had paid off; an average of 8.8 million were tuning into to the network broadcasts alone - giving a very healthy audience for a summer repeat from the minority channel. "The Commonwealth Games" broadcast saw the Goodies break the 10 million barrier for the first time (the nadir of the run incidentally was "Food" with a still respectable 7.9 million).
Strangely enough, the audiences were not with the team for "A Collection of Goodies" when it aired on Sunday 24 September at 8.15pm on BBC2 - their first pre-watershed broadcast on their home channel. Maybe the prospect of five bits from "Engelbert ..." tacked together wasn't strong enough to attract more than the 1.7 million viewers which it did? However, in compensation, the Goodies' next brief film insert guest slot - their 1 minute 47 seconds of Yuletide fun in "A Christmas Night With the Stars" - would see them reach their greatest audience ever. BBC1's main programme for Christmas Day 1972 was seen by over a third of the population - some 18.9 million people. A couple of days later, BBC1 re-ran "A Collection of Goodies" in the afternoon - and the school holiday audience boosted its following this time to over 8 million.
Back on BBC2 for Season Three in February/March 1973, there was no major advancement in popularity or ratings - yet the show was in a more accessible pre-watershed time of Sunday 8.15pm. The average this time was 2.7 million, a slight improvement on Season Two with a peak of 3.5 million for "The Winter Olympics". At this point, the BBC re-introduced the collation of a 'Reaction Index' (or RI), a measurement of the quality and success of the programme with the audience who had watched it. Based on a range of 0 to 100, this third run of "The Goodies" wavered between 55 and 60, which was a fairly successful score for an oddball series (a more conventional hit comedy like "The Good Life" would average 75; 60 was average, under 50 was disastrous). The one-off broadcast of "Superstar" in its later 9.50pm slot some months later was much in line with the rest of Season Three.
"Superstar" was again the subject of an individual report and had "a decidedly mixed response ... About half the sample (of 81 viewers) were clearly thoroughly entertained by the transformation of Bill Oddie into a pop idol ... Several who usually enjoyed The Goodies, however, did not much care for this particular one - the style was different somehow (less 'mad' perhaps) and not nearly so funny." Many were "bored by the singing, which 'seemed to go on for ages'." As with the 1970 report, the performance of the core team was praised and it was noted that the "'Top of the Pops' sequence came over particularly well".
Over the summer, BBC1's Thursday 8.00pm slot didn't pack quite the same punch as the previous year, with an average of 6.8 million. The individual ratings were highly variable. Again, "The Winter Olympics" came in highest at 8.3 million, while lowest was Patricia Hayes' guest appearance in "That Old Black Magic" with just under 5 million viewers. Still, it was the summer, when the fine weather evenings and family holidays would hold a greater attraction than repeats of three guys on a bike.
The problematical Season Four still did not see any appreciable improvement in the show's fortunes in terms of audience size - although the appreciation itself was markedly higher. The original plan was to run the show on Sunday night in November/December 1973, leading up to "The Goodies and the Beanstalk". Unfortunately, the series was re-sequenced and held back, with the three episodes before Christmas going out on Saturdays at 8.00pm (not a good slot against high rated shows on both BBC1 and ITV) and those after Christmas pulled back to 6.45pm the same evening and buried away in the schedules. 2.5 million was the average for the run - slightly down on Season Three; "Goodies in the Nick" was the hit at just under 3 million, while the studio bound "The Stone Age" hidden in Christmas week barely managed 2 million. The Goodies' first Xmas film outing - "The Goodies and the Beanstalk" - attracted 2.8 million at 5.15pm on Christmas Eve on BBC2, and scored a remarkably strong RI of 76. Indeed, the RIs recorded for the new season were very healthy indeed; 70 for "The Race" and the lowest being 66 for "Camelot".
Research Reports were conducted on the first and last episodes. "Camelot" got a "warm welcome" from the panel of 119 people where the "'daft' humour ... kept them laughing from beginning to end." However, again comparisons were drawn that the show "lacked the wit and subtlety of Monty Python's Flying Circus ... [and] the standard of scripts failed to match the talents of the versatile team of Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, who were personally very popular." The verdict on this debut episode was one of "ideal family entertainment" with special commendation for the special effects and camera work.
"The Race" was found to be "fast-moving" with the panel of 153 generally saying that the team's "'dotty' antics provided a much-needed tonic" (perhaps the only occasion where the Goodies' humour has ever been described as "dotty"!). The team were "Very talented and made for each other" and the series as a whole was "'unique', 'absolutely crazy', but 'great' entertainment." 79% said that they definitely wanted another series. "In the field of comedy," concluded the report, "The Goodies had no equal at present."
It seems that with this Season Four, the style of the show was catching on with those loyal fans who were watching. "Superstar" then attracted a reasonable 7 million when shown on BBC1 (except Wales) one Friday night in January 1974 at 9.25pm, and the popularity of "The Goodies and the Beanstalk" ensured a rapid repeat for the film, with almost 10 million catching the BBC1 rerun in the primetime slot of 5.55pm one Saturday in February.
The summer repeats for Season Four in July/August 1974 did superb business for the team, with a good overall audience of 8.3 million on Thursdays at 7.40pm; a repeat of "A Collection of Goodies" this time captured the attention of 10.8 million people, out-stripping their previous high for a BBC1 repeat in 1972. Industrial disputes had forced the debut of Season Five back into the new year, and 1974 signed off with a third broadcast for the highly popular "The Goodies and the Beanstalk" on BBC1 at 7.45pm on the Tuesday before Christmas. A new record was set by the trio with an audience of 11.5 million for one of their shows.
* PART TWO - SERIES 5 TO 7 will be featured in next month's newsletter *