Along with Rentaghost and Here Come The Double Deckers!, The Goodies is one of the first television shows that I can remember absolutely howling laughing at. I have vivid memories of ‘playing’ the speeded-up slapstick antics of Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden at school, and of feeling that they had more or less achieved what would later come to be called ‘jumping the shark’ when they moved to ITV in 1982; I would later come to revise that opinion dramatically of course but even so once they stopped actually making any more episodes of The Goodies I missed it enormously. In fact you can find an article on just how desperate I was to get my Goodies fix, even when they were all working on new individual projects that weren’t especially funny (in so many different senses of the word), here. The BBC have never been keen to repeat any of it, and even less keen to elaborate on their reasons for not doing so, and in that lost pre-multimedia age it felt as though there was no chance of The Goodies coming for you and you and you and you ever again. It’s no wonder I sat through so many episodes of You Must Be The Husband.
In 1986, however, the BBC did repeat an episode as part of the TV50 anniversary celebrations. This was Kitten Kong, the international award-winning 1972 re-edit of an episode originally broadcast in 1971, and needless to say I was very excited about this indeed. It wasn’t entirely what I was expecting, though. Instead of the familiar theme song, it opened with an unfamiliar and extremely early seventies-sounding bubblegum psychedelic pop song with catchy stop-start riffing and totally different lyrics, accompanied by shots of Bill, Tim and Graeme leaping in the air with massive platform shoes. In the episode itself – which incidentally was every bit as funny as I had been hoping – there was an extended sequence backed by a proggy funk number charting the progress of the ‘whole lotta cat’ as it rampaged around knocking over London landmarks and swatting chat show hosts with its paw. It was exciting enough to see an episode of The Goodies that was effectively ‘new’ to me, and one that hinted at an entire undiscovered incarnation of the series at that. It was more exciting still to hear great and tantalisingly elusive music as part of it. As you’ll know if you’ve read this piece about Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons or this one about Bagpuss or even this one about Mr. Benn, even at that stage I was already an enthusiastic collector of beat, psych and soundtrack music from the sixties and early seventies, especially if commercial releases of it were hard to come by. You probably won’t win a Radio Goodies Goody Bag for guessing that when UK Gold repeated the entire series, I was sat there hovering over the ‘record’ button.
I was watching the repeats as much out of musical curiosity as a love of the show itself – though I’m underplaying just how strong that was there, and in the intervening years myself and the friends mentioned in the piece about The Mysterons Theme had become obsessed with The Goodies after catching a couple of bootlegged episodes here and there and once spent an entire day going through back issues of Radio Times in the local library to try and collate an episode guide (I’m not sure if we did get them all, although we did spot A Collection Of Goodies) – and they genuinely did not disappoint, especially the first run of episodes from 1970. Alongside that original theme song and the recurring incidental number Needed – surprisingly never commercially released in any form – there were two songs that particularly stood out to me.
The third episode of Series One, Give Police A Chance, was arguably the first where they trio really hit their stride, effortlessly combining high-speed silent movie-style slapstick and frantic visual gags with an uncompromising attack – ‘satire’ isn’t really strong enough a word for it – on a perceived rise in police brutality, right-wing sympathy and violent distaste for youth culture. It really is the first episode that you should show to anyone expressing a tedious opinion that they were unsalvageably ‘problematic’ (followed by several dozen more, and then you should really just keep going until they sign a legally binding requirement to think before they speak in future), and you do have to wonder where Mary Whitehouse, who prominently praised this first run of episodes as good clean family-friendly conservative fun, actually was when this one went out. It’s also worth bearing in mind that while the script was being written, the editors of Oz were arrested on ridiculous puffed-up ‘obscenity’ charges, which Bill Oddie in particular is likely to have had strong feelings about.
Partway through the episode, there’s a fantastic sequence in which, at the behest of two of Her Majesty’s finest bigoted thugs, Bill, Tim and Graeme go out in uniform to try and improve the police’s public image by helping old ladies across the road on pop-up zebra crossings, doing conjuring tricks while directing traffic, and helping some passing hippies ‘freak out’ in a local park. As well as being rip-roaringly funny, it’s accompanied by What Do I Have To Do To Make You Love Me?, a ridiculously catchy pop song that sounds like Everlasting Love by The Love Affair has got a tad over-excited, complete with scorching hard-rock guitar in the bridge. It’s a song that could easily have made the top ten in a time of Vanity Fare and Pickettywitch, and the fact that it was heard only twice by fans of what were then still very much cult comedians – the first broadcast in fact got less than a million viewers – really does beggar belief.
The sixth episode, Cecily, is widely regarded as the weakest of first run, mainly because it leans a little too far in the direction of a comic strip. In fairness, the flimsy storyline about a proto-Marmalade Atkins schoolgirl pretending she’s being targeted by a plot to murder her in an ‘accident’ and claim her inheritance, but in fact is actually arranging all of the literally explosive pranks herself, could have come straight out of the pages of Whoopee! or Whizzer And Chips. Or indeed Cor!, where The Goodies later had their own comic strip. There’s little in the way of satirical bite, some disconnected setpieces that don’t really flow into each other, and an overall sense that they were still finding their direction and hadn’t quite found it by this point. It’s still tremendous fun, though, and more to the point has another superb long-lost song behind the main filmed sequence. The gentle and wistful Are You Coming Out To Play? may share certain suspicious similarities with Happy Together by The Turtles, but it’s also a fine piece of light psychedelic pop in the style of The Herd’s b-sides or Andy Ellison’s It’s Been A Long Time from the Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush soundtrack.
Back in those technologically prehistoric days, I had to connect the headphone jack of the television to the microphone jack of a tape recorder to get a muddy and compressed recording of both songs onto cassette, complete with crashes, comedy leopard snarls and Tim spluttering in his ‘posh woman’ voice over the top, which I nonetheless listened to constantly. I was hopeful of finding better copies of both, but to my surprise neither were on their album The World Of The Goodies, which was mainly made up of re-recordings of songs from slightly later episodes (although one, the thundering prog thrash Taking You Back, was actually taken directly from the on-screen version). Neither were they on The Goodies Sing Songs From The Goodies, which turned out to be an earlier release of The World Of The Goodies with a very slightly different cover. No stray singles turned up with either song under an assumed name, and there were no primitive prototype versions to be found on Bill Oddie’s late sixties solo album Distinctly Oddie. Like everything from the Skiboy theme to the balloon race music from Mr Benn, recorded to be used once as throwaway soundtrack music and then forgotten about, it seemed they were destined to forever be lost in the dusty world of archive television, never to be heard in their full glory.
Sadly, the session tapes for the Series One songs are apparently long lost, presumably either adrift and uncatalogued somewhere in some remote forgotten vault in the deepest depths of the BBC or more likely erased and used for something else. For their spectacular DVD release of every single BBC episode of The Goodies (well, apart from the original edit of Kitten Kong, but that’s another story), though, Network have turned up a couple of original session tapes for an accompanying CD set. This includes two discs’ worth of tracks from Series Two, which is as close as we’re going to get really, and it really is something of a revelation to hear clean full versions of these songs without massive washes of audience laughter and whizzes of flexatone over the top. As well as being very well written songs with strong and witty lyrics that probably haven’t been clearly heard from that day to this, they’re also astonishingly well performed and betray a strong influence from the likes of Caravan, Soft Machine, Funkadelic and Curved Air (and I’ve only just got started there). Suddenly, Bill Oddie’s claim that Funky Gibbon was inspired by Sly And The Family Stone by way of Miles Davis doesn’t seem quite so ludicrous after all.
Nor indeed does the trio’s claim that the series was directly inspired by The Monkees – another outfit who had a clear musical influence on some of the songs presented here – as there were always good, solid songs underpinning all of the visual mayhem. It was just a bit hard to hear them was all. There are hours and hours and hours upon hours and hours and hours of similarly conceived, similarly recorded and similarly discarded musical cues from countless other programmes out there too, and maybe it’s about time that they were taken a bit more seriously. Which reminds me, if anyone knows of a good stereo version of the Rentaghost theme with the verses they never used on screen…
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If you enjoyed this, then you’ll enjoy my book Can’t Help Thinking About Me, a collection of columns and features with a personal twist. Can’t Help Thinking About Me is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
Take Five Really Swings! is a feature looking at what The Goodies did after they unofficially stopped being The Goodies; you can find it here.
The infamous South Africa episode of The Goodies, and how they were, broadly speaking, ‘The Goodies’, features in the edition of Looks Unfamiliar with Andy Lewis, which you can find here.
Taking You Back by The Goodies appears in Funny Ha Ha And Funny Peculiar, a playlist of comedy songs that are actual good records in their own right, which you can find here.
© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.