Monday, March 05, 2007


Welcome back, The Goodies. Again.

A long Brian Logan article in today's Guardian presented a curtain-raiser to a nationwide tour of a Goodies stage show, presumably cadging for crumbs from the Guilty Pleasures/We Will Rock You bandwagon. Logan was sympathetic, and he intelligently gave the trio enough rope to hang themselves with, which motormouth Oddie managed to succeed in doing several times over (not easy, I concede, but the pint-sized funster pulled it off).

Throughout, you got the feeling that the author, and the readers, are being buttonholed by three men who have allowed themselves to be defined not so much by their own mythology but that of others. It was around 1992 I first heard them referred to as a 'kids' Monty Python', and yet here they were coming over as having borne the grudge since the BBC axed them in 1977. In the wilderness years that followed, people simply assumed - correctly - was that the Pythons were funnier and more original. There was never any doubt whose material would stand up the better. There still isn't, even allowing for relativism. In 1978 I went from Goodies to Python within nine months. It wasn't opportunism or teen revisionism - it didn't meant the Goodies were no longer funny. It was just a no-brainer. Even the brief, gloriously silly inaugural run of The Kenny Everett Video Show that summer had made The Goodies look suddenly, well, a little old. Yet Garden, Brooke-Taylor and Oddie seem besotted with past Python-related slights, real or imagined, and seem to be becoming bitterer with the years. Maybe it's pure front - but a lot of Logan's quotes are pretty grumpy and very anti-Python in tone. And having recently enjoyed Michael Palin's 1969-79 diaries of Python, I suspect that either the mild-mannered globetrotter is a dastardly serial fibber or the Goodies have fallen off their trandem a few times too often for the good of their own recall.

Not so very long ago, the BBC repeated The Goodies and the Beanstalk from 1973, a deafeningly-acclaimed 60-minute special I was allowed up to see and treasured for years in my memory. I was pleased to find myself chuckling out loud at a couple of early-doors visual gags, but that was the lot. I'd forgotten how much like a below-average Benny Hill show so much of it was.
Then it hit me; some further snacking on other 'classic moments' (Kitten Kong on PO Tower, Big Dougal, Oddie's inflatable flares) made me realise how our view of the show has been shaped by its remorseless exposure on Ask Aspel, as a random handful of spectacularly striking and very funny visual clips which, as the years passed, we selectively isolated from the school-panto filler that linked them. Cf Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em.

An aspect of The Goodies' decline for which blame cannot be attributed is something for which it is now forgotten - its precocious engagement with blue-chip SFX technology. Documentary features were made admiring the astounding visual trickery that went into the shows, the coordination of sound and vision, the stuntwork. Like watching Nationwide or Tomorrow's World with Keith Emerson explaining the rudiments of the Big Moog with its banks of phone-exchange plugs, valves and diodes as the embodiment of the future, it seems as dated these days as watching a mumming troupe. Tellingly, one of the features of Python that has dated the least and still remains perhaps its most consistently funny highlight is Terry Gilliam's toytown stop-frame animation, technically outdated then and downright Neolithic now - but imaginatively dazzling irrespective of period and kit.

Logan quotes contemporary acts who cite The Goodies as formative influences, notably The League of Gentlemen and the ubiquitous Walliams and Lucas. I'd say this says as little for them as it does for The Goodies. Both 21st century phenomena, I'm willing to wager, have for all their profile and prestige the same built-in obsolescence as The Goodies - grabby, in-your-face playground stuff which, within a few years, will appear to its contemporary fans as the thin, Fast Show-lite gruel it really is. Like The Goodies' cause célébres, we'll be pleased to preserve in aspic the odd bit of Dafydd... Vicky Pollard... er... 'local shop for local people' 'I'm a laydee' and that'll be it. Although I somehow fancy that a quarter-century hence, the Big Dougal will have survived better even than these.

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