Remembering Tim Brooke-Taylor

❉ The legacy of the Goodies lives on, writes Michael Seely.

Tim Brooke-Taylor had a reputation for being nice, and playing nice. Every time he made a joke at someone’s expense on Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue he could be heard to offer a quiet apology to the said victim unless he was drowned out by Barry Cryer’s hacking and reassuring laugh. Mind you, Tim could get a bit edgy during games of Mornington Crescent, especially if Fairlop was played too early on in a match.

In performance, Tim came across as a quintessential middle class Englishman who had received a decent education, and as an instinctive comic, knew precisely how to use it to good effect. No wonder Orson Welles roped him in to play a bowler hatted presenter in one of his short and unfinished films One Man Band. Welles spotted another side to his characterisation – the supressed playboy – off comes his hat and there comes out the thick flowing locks of a hippy. Dances off into the distance.

Because of this niceness, he was perfect casting in an episode of BBC2’s radio 4 transfer Absolute Power, where he played a TV personality who is so nice that he has a fan base of women in their eighties queuing up to shag him – if he would let them.  As he explained to the ghastly trendy, young and immoral PR influencers from 2005, he wanted them to roughen up his image, get him into the headlines by doing something that was not nice – and, of course, he couldn’t do it. Yet in his performance you could see there was a deviant bursting to get out, but no, he was far too nice and always paid the bill.

He did another good guest spot in One Foot in the Grave, another neighbour for Victor Meldrew to unintentionally waft his curse over and drag him into a nervous breakdown. I seem to remember armed police.

But it is The Goodies for which he will always be remembered, the comedy show that straddled the 1970s and sent the decade up in a manner no other show could do, and not always with subtly too. Theirs was sometimes a broad brush, and no wonder repeats were few and far between, even videos and DVDs took their time in coming. Discovering anyone who still had off-air recordings in the ’80s and ’90s became something of a quest for a few of us back home, and when we did watch them we were not disappointed. UK Gold then aired the complete series, and butchered them to fit in adverts.

The Goodies started under one Conservative Prime Minister, Edward Heath, and bowed out under another, Mrs Thatcher, who Tim portrayed quite convincingly and at times rather kinkily. In between them, there was a Labour government struggling with the economy of the time, and that too gets sent up in the best of their two one hour specials The Goodies Rule OK where Tim is about to receive his coveted OBE at Buckingham Palace – except it is raining, and becoming a flood. ‘Rain? What rain? This is the happiest day of my life,’ Timbo says as he nearly drowns.

The Goodies sent up contemporary television and lampooned – sometimes extremely – people like Nicholas Parsons (blown up), Tony Blackburn (shot on safari), and Patrick Moore – who underwent several memorable embarrassments. It is hard to think of any other comedy that just shrieked the period it was made in and didn’t go in for historical pastiches.

In The Goodies, Tim played the establishment man – of sorts. He may have ended up with the Union Jack waist coat, the rampant Monarchism, yet there was more to him than that. He was apparently the sensible one opposed to Bill Oddie’s reactionary politics and Graeme’s insane schemes. It was always fun watching them take sides against each other and wrap up another episode with an absurdist chase which may or may not end with a huge explosion or something else quite off the wall. I preferred it when Tim was hunting down Graeme and Bill who were ruthlessly exploiting the latest fashion, fad or whatever it was that was going to make them rich (a BBC contract wouldn’t do that). This could be punk, no-touch dancing (rather apt in the current world), the scouts or – my favourite – converting the world into a string-based economy.

Tim could sometimes take over the world too and needed stopping (unless he was Winston Churchill playing the World Cup against a German tank). Tim was the character who had secrets. The most alarming was an A string which he wore to cover up his belly button. That episode ended with the world blowing up for Christmas. Their studio based episodes designed to balance the budget were always Tim Brooke-Taylor’s favourites to perform.

If you want one episode that show-cased Tim Brooke-Taylor’s talents then try the sixth series episode where there is yet another revival of the 1950s. Tim plays a vicious and ruthless Hughie Greene style presenter in a talent show, who then has a nervous breakdown, becomes a 1940s style spiv and then morphs into a camp television director cueing explosions, bricks to fall upon Moira Anderson and charging armies – look, it would be easier if you watched the episode. But he also mimics several 1950s rock musicians to the background of a brilliant Bill Oddie song.

Tim Brooke-Taylor had a physicality to his performance. He was the British answer to Peter Tork in The Monkees, the first to well up and cry when things went wrong. He could play a convincing baby and – as previously mentioned – a decent Winston Churchill (although it has been said in that episode War Babies that the two are rather similar).

My taste for The Goodies points more towards the end of their run on the BBC rather than the guest star-driven earlier episodes. I just wanted to see them fight and interact like the proto-family they were in a sense. Tim, of course, was the mother.

There isn’t much of Broaden Your Mind nor At Last the 1948 Show to show us more of Tim’s earlier comedy style. At least we can watch a young Tim interact with John Cleese and Marty Feldman in the BFI release of what’s left of At Last the 1948 Show.

I can imagine that without The Goodies, Tim would have found himself a successful LWT sitcom as a hen-pecked husband (he is too nice to be dominant) to settle down in. He managed two in the 1980s: You Must Be The Husband with Shelia Steafel, and Me and My Girl with Richard O’Sullivan. Naturally, I was too much of a teenager to watch a ITV sitcom and give it a chance less it was late on a Sunday night and swore. I suspect I wasn’t the target audience – and they were right! Bananaman too passed me by, although I remember being pleased the three of them were together again after LWT poached them from the BBC and dropped them after one gloriously silly series.

The legacy of the Goodies lives on, it is a programme that few wanted to forget, or even could forget, and it was only recently resurrected for audio as The Big Ben Theory by Barnaby Eaton-Jones who also recreated Tim’s earlier radio series I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again.

I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue will never be the same again. Tim used to be partnered with the mega-talented Willie Rushton until his death in 1996, and since then he has been supporting that edition’s guest. He had a marvellous love-hate relationship with compere Humphrey Lyttleton, who also died in 2008.

One moment that springs to mind is after a brief sketch with the much missed Linda Smith who for some reason is underneath their desk. After the routine, he helps her to her feet, he says. Linda then asks quite innocently: ‘Tim, can you really get me on Just a Minute?’

❉ Writer Michael Seely is a regular contributor to We Are Cult, and is the author of acclaimed biographies of director Douglas Camfield and Cyberman creator, scientist Kit Pedler. Michael Seely’s Doomwatch guide ‘Prophets of Doom’ is to be reprinted by Telos to coincide with the programme’s fiftieth anniversary.

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