It’s perhaps a measure of where we are after approaching a month of this that the famous names who routinely pass away are now having announcements of their deaths placed in a coronavirus context. Every celebrity obituary provokes the question ‘Did they die of it?’ The Marquess of Bath – he had it; Honor Blackman didn’t; Stirling Moss didn’t; Peter Bonetti didn’t; Tim Brooke-Taylor did. When we are informed the UK has now experienced over 10,000 deaths connected to Covid-19, it seems almost naive to feel sad just because some of those to have gone during the lockdown happened to have been strangers who nevertheless felt like friends on account of them being in the room during our formative years. But it’s only natural, whatever the circumstances; and in the case of Tim Brooke-Taylor, it’s one of those deaths that it’s difficult not to feel sad about, particularly if one is the wrong side of 50.

It’s not been the best year for characters associated with comedy whose training grounds were now-vanished comedic academies, namely the music hall and the working-men’s club – Nicholas Parsons, Roy Hudd, and Eddie Large being prominent casualties. Added to that list of long-gone schools could be the one-time ‘intellectual’ alternative, the Footlights. Tim Brooke-Taylor was a Cambridge graduate from an especially fruitful Footlights era, making his mark alongside the likes of John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Eric Idle as well as a duo with whom he would eventually cement his household name status, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie. Smoothly traversing the then-obligatory route to television, TBT (as he was known to his friends) ended up working with his fellow graduates on 60s TV, starring with Cleese, Chapman and Marty Feldman in ‘At Last The 1948 Show’.

His association with the nucleus of the Pythons meant TBT apparently came within a whisker of being asked to join the embryonic team in 1969, but he had already embarked upon a new series with Garden and Oddie called ‘Broaden Your Mind’. The programme was a sketch show with humour dovetailing between slapstick and the surreal; this winning combination was then carried over into the sitcom (in the loosest meaning of the phrase) the trio premiered in 1970, ‘The Goodies’. The only TV comedy series that spanned the entire decade from beginning to end, ‘The Goodies’ when seen as a time capsule accurately evokes so much of what constituted Britain in the 70s – good and bad – that it probably serves as a better guide for those who weren’t there than any documentary or heavyweight volume. Few expressed that belief for years, but it’s good that ‘The Goodies’ recently received a long-overdue appraisal that all three of the team lived to see.

Every fad, fashion, craze, cultural, social and political development was lampooned, satirised and spoofed throughout the ten years the show aired on the BBC – everything from Apartheid South Africa to Punk Rock and from feminism to Fleet Street. The programme may have been absent from TV for decades, but the entire series was finally (if belatedly) issued complete on DVD a year ago. Coming to it with fresh eyes via the box-set, it’s surprising how sharp the satire is when the main childhood memory is of the silent movie-style film sequences, which were akin to live action equivalents of what the Pythons relied on Terry Gilliam to animate.

Each of The Goodies displayed clearly-defined personas on screen. Graeme Garden was the brainy boffin, an eccentric inventor producing the same kind of implausible gadgets Wile E Coyote regularly purchased from the Acme Corporation. Bill Oddie was the anarchic idiot who was often looked down on by his colleagues as an uncouth pleb, but whose refusal to compromise was especially popular amongst the show’s huge audience of children, many of whom identified with his childlike obstinacy. In contrast with Oddie’s working-class ruffian, TBT represented a rather wet upper-middle-class patriot; in his trademark Union Jack waistcoat and unswerving loyalty to the Crown (one episode ended with him marrying Prince Charles), TBT’s character would often stick ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ on the turntable and embark upon a rousing speech whenever the country was confronted with another crisis. Ironically, compelled to watch an episode last night, I randomly selected one in which Britain has become a virtual police state as the boys in blue are out of control zealots, arresting people on the flimsiest of pretexts.

This unintentional serendipity aside, The Goodies are generally rooted very much in place. Whereas Monty Python combined basic silliness with timeless highbrow references that retain their relevance, The Goodies focusing more on whatever happened to be in the moment has perhaps prevented the series from having a longer life beyond the massive success it enjoyed at the time, for nothing dates quite as quickly as the recent present. The fact The Goodies capitalised on their appeal to children by venturing into the musical arena and becoming as much a fixture on ‘Top of the Pops’ as The Bay City Rollers and David Essex also helps preserve them in 70s amber; but Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden had a parallel career on another medium that is impervious to changing trends, the radio.

From its inception in 1972, TBT has been the one mainstay of that sublime oasis of silliness, ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue’, outlasting original host Humphrey Lyttelton and remaining a permanent fixture of the antidote to panel games even when fellow veterans Garden and Barry Cryer routinely take time off. I’ve been lucky enough to see the show live twice, first around seven or eight years back, when the aforementioned trio were all present, and again when TBT was the only member of the core team there; the latter occasion was just three months ago, even though January already feels like another lifetime. Tim Brooke-Taylor was on top form, giving no indication he’d be taken from us by April; but nobody in that audience could have imagined where all our lives would be by then, anyway.

Amidst a mounting death-toll that included a childhood hero in its depressing numbers, the PM has finally re-emerged into the spotlight after a week in which his own mortality received a dramatic jolt. Despite accusations largely emanating from journalists still in search of points to score, Boris Johnson’s condition seems to have been reported to the public with refreshing candour. Certainly when compared to the manner in which serious health issues afflicting past US Presidents such as FDR and JFK were hidden from view, there appears to be little evidence there has been any ‘cover-up’ or conspiracy to deny the public the truth of Boris’s battle with Covid-19 – though, of course, we shouldn’t refer to him as ‘a fighter’ in case that casts aspersions on the failure of others to overcome the virus. Is it racist? Not sure. I’ll have to consult the Guardian. Give me strength. I bet The Goodies could have satirised it brilliantly.

© The Editor

5 thoughts on “RIP TBT

  1. I’ll see your ‘At Last The 1948 Show’ and I’ll raise you “I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again’, of which I was a devoted listener from 1964 and in which TBT had played earlier alongside Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie, John Cleese and others. If pressed, I could still perform the ‘Angus Prune Tune’ and recall much of the script of the ‘Flying Wombat Pantomime’ – a worthy successor to The Good Show.

    The enthusiasm with which TBT assumed any female parts was a tad concerning, although being at an all-boys school at the time maybe I shouldn’t have been thus troubled, but his rather raunchy Lady Constance de Coverlet was a little extreme at times: imagine Lady Bracknell on steroids.

    I was fortunate to attend the very last ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’ chaired by ‘Humph’, only a few days before his death and with the ever-present TBT on one team – little did we in the audience know that, when Humph closed the show by playing ‘We’ll Meet Again’ on his trumpet, that wasn’t ever going to happen.

    But if there is another place, TBT will now have reconvened with Humph and Willie Rushton to start to rebuild that glorious original team on the other side – not wishing to hasten the demise of Cryer and Garden but, when they also get there, there’ll be lingering laughs for an eternity, especially if the lovely Samantha takes a turn too.

    TBT may not have been a megastar, but he played a significant part in my appreciation of imaginative humour for more than half a century and his passing is much regretted. RIP Lady Constance.

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    1. Yes, I would’ve given ‘I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again’ an honourable menton, but the editing that takes place prior to putting a post on sometimes warrants judicious pruning, alas. Impressed to hear you attended a ISIHAC recording with Humph at the helm, though the irony of the most recent one I was at is that Jack Dee entered into full-on Nicholas Parsons evisceration via ‘Just a Minim’, reducing the audience to hysterics, only to be followed the next day by news that Mr Parsons had joined the Choir Invisibule, placing the programme’s broadcast in unfortunate jeopardy. It still hasn’t aired. Perhaps TBT’s sad passing will bring that transmission date forward now.

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      1. I suspect that, rather akin to being puppeted on ‘Spitting Image’, being eviscerated on ‘Clue’ (as Lionel Blair was so frequently) was probably a badge of honour amongst fellow performers – I’m sure Parsons would have taken it in the right spirit.

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      2. Yeah, I reckon Parsons would have got the joke. It was just the timing that was undeniably weird, though hopefully the distance between recording and transmission will be sufficient enough for the requisite time to have elapsed for it to be heard in the same spirit by the listeners as it was for the audience present.

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