An Audience with The Goodies review, Leicester Square Theatre: enjoyable catch-up with the Seventies' favourite human cartoons
By Claire Allfree
8 JUNE 2018 • 4:05PM
“You could never do now on TV now what we did back then” says Bill Oddie towards the end of this oneoff live evening with The Goodies. “It’s all healthy and safety and risk assessment,” agrees Graeme Gardner. “Back then,” chips in Oddie, “we risked our lives!”
He’s not wrong. The Goodies, three hapless wannabe heroes whose mix of sublime slapstick and surreal satire became essential family viewing during the Seventies, would climb trees, wrestle huge inflatable snakes and run through walls in the service of their motto: “anything, anytime”. Injuries sustained by Oddie, Gardner and Tim Brooke-Taylor while filming included a dislocated thumb when their three-seater bicycle detached itself from the balloon during the chase sequence in Kitten Kong and fell to the ground. Given the trio did all their own stunts (badly, as Stewart Lee, interviewing them here, pointed out, “You couldn’t even fall off a toy donkey. You didn’t know what you were doing,”), it’s astonishing there weren’t many more. “That bike was most unpleasant to ride,” said Brooke-Taylor of the trio’s favoured – and rarely upright – mode of transport. “It had no brakes.”
This live event, hosted by the BFI’s Dick Fiddy, in front of an audience that included Barry Cryer and Tony Blackburn, was filmed to accompany the September release of a 12-disc box set of all eight BBC series, including many episodes not seen since their original transmission. So what did we learn? That Oddie first wanted to call The Goodies Superchaps 3. “Then in the middle of the night I thought of the Goodies. Like The Monkees. Or the Rolling Stoneys.”
Their innately physical comedy, “like human animation”, as Gardner put it, was inspired by their love for Sixties cartoons such as Tom and Jerry and Bugs Bunny, and their mutual worship of Buster Keaton. They met at Cambridge, where their friends and contemporaries were John Cleese and Eric Idle, who went on to purvey a more cerebral, abstract comedy as Monty Python. For years, rumours of rivalry persisted: Cleese once dismissed the Goodies as a kids show. “They made albums,” pointed out Oddie. “We made singles. And, as everyone knows, it’s the singles that sell.”
The Goodies in conversation with Stewart Lee
Lee sometimes came a cropper with his questions for the trio who still retain elements of the class and character traits that defined their onscreen personas: Oddie, the “oik”, resembles a hairy Californian biker; Gardner, the boffin, largely maintained an aloof distance, occasionally dropping deadly one-liners; Brooke-Taylor, the “Tory”, still retains that delicious plummy voice. At one point Lee asked them about the “Fellini-esque carnival act” of Funky Gibbon. There was a moment’s silence. Then: ‘We just did what we thought was funny,” said Oddie.
It was always more than that, though. Oddie and Gardner would script everything, right down to the technicalities of every stunt. And although unbridled lunacy always seemed the most ostensible narrative achievement, each episode was always about something – most notably apartheid in South Africa, although that episode remains controversial for its occasional racial stereotyping. “We always wrote from a moral point of view,” says Garden now. “We were always anti the establishment,” adds Brooke-Taylor.
Perhaps the most illuminating observation, though, came from the ever voluble Oddie. “I always loved those Sixties cartoons for their pointless violence: someone would get completely flattened by a steamroller and then someone would come along and blow them back up again with a bicycle pump,” he said. “I loved how indestructible those characters were.”
On the evidence of their comedy, still so fresh after all these years, you can probably say the same about The Goodies.
The Goodies: A Binge of Goodies is available to preorder now from abingeofgoodies.com
Related Topics: Bill Oddie Cambridge Gibbons