1. Tower of London

Tower of London

8 November 1970

Those opening credits! My favourite of the three sequences employed across The Goodies’ BBC run. What a brilliant beginning…

Sunday, 10:07pm. The Goodies bursts onto screen with an exuberance heretofore unseen. Starting with the three lads on their trandem, it hits viewers with an upbeat, fast-cut potpourri of action sequences interspersed with the show’s name in flashing red-on-yellow mania font. The lyrics are whimsical, the music beat-driven. We’ve Tim, then Graeme, then Bill bouncing sky-high on a trampoline. More shots of the trandem. The lads in costume. Explosions! Pratfalls. There’s an energy here and a joyousness that far outstrips that of any contemporary programme.

The Goodies, like Monty Python’s Flying Circus, had its origins in the experimental comedy coming out of Oxford and in particular Cambridge University in the late 1960s. The two shows maintained a friendly rivalry, and while the second season of Monty Python (September-December 1970) featured the catchphrase ‘And now for something completely different’, one could argue that, of the two, it was The Goodies that most wholeheartedly embraced this notion.

Where Monty Python took sketch comedy to new, surreal heights, it nonetheless remained definable. The Goodies was simply impossible to pin down! Even now, how can you describe it to someone unfamiliar with the show? A musical sitcom with built-in sketches? Miniature bottle episodes interspersed with wild flights of fancy? A colourful and dialogue-heavy reenvisaging of the old black-and-white silent films?

At the beginning of this first episode even the Goodies themselves seem unsure what to make of their new situation. After Graeme gives Bill and Tim a tour of their custom-built office—which through the wonders of colour-separation overlay he’s designed to include no fewer than six different rooms behind just two interior doors—conversation turns to the trio’s raison d’être:

Barely three minutes into the first episode and we’ve not only been introduced to the characters and their base of operations, but also to the concept of not knowing what to expect of them. One of The Goodies’ great charms is its unpredictability. This becomes immediately apparent in little ways—such as revealing their trandem hidden behind a parked car—and escalates to a shocking extent when we learn that the villain of the piece (back when the British royal family could still claim to be revered) is none other than young Prince Charles apparently out to steal the crown jewels!

The Goodies started as they meant to continue. Nothing was off-limits.

Being the first episode, ‘Tower of London’ unsurprisingly contains a number of Goodies firsts, including first use of Graeme’s computer and the quick-change wardrobe, the first genuine absurdity (a blow-up guard dog), and the programme’s first tall guest actor (film star George Baker as the Chief Beefeater). We’re given an early sense, too, of the lads’ respective characters: Tim the patriotic coward; Graeme the clever but callous scientist; and Bill the rough-and-ready troublemaker.

One hallmark of The Goodies was to be its musical film sequences. In this first outing we have the masterful ‘Needed’ (a recurring song, used here to score their conveyance by trandem to the Tower of London) and also ‘Catch Me If You Can’ (in which the Goodies, dressed as Beefeaters, attempt to run down the masked polo player). More than anything, this melding of music and mayhem is what at first viewing captures the viewer’s attention and sets The Goodies apart.

There are, of course, a few false steps. The halftime commercial interlude, though undeniably funny, is a throwback to the sketch-based humour of Goodies precursor Broaden Your Mind (1968-1969). Bill’s lemon sherbet trip lays the grounds for a quick game of charades but lacks any real punch of its own. Both elements were phased out as the series progressed.

All told, ‘Tower of London’ is a fine inauguration. While at times all three Goodies overplay their parts, these are early days and the lads will soon settle into the roles. Granted, the plot is ludicrous, yet this itself will become de rigueur and is very quickly established as a plus! Even the drab necessity of exposition is covered by some larger-than-life physical comedy as the Chief Beefeater prepares a corned beef sandwich using torture instruments from the Tower dungeons.

Like the Goodies themselves when undercranked, time moves fast. 10:37pm and suddenly it’s over. 1.2 million people are staring dazedly at their TV screens. Cor, blimey! Whatever it is we’ve just seen, you can bet your bicycle we’ll all be tuning in again next week…

Jacob Edwards, 8 November 2020

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