Caught in the Act
29 November 1970
This is one of the rare Goodies episodes that didn’t form part of my childhood. Presumably due to its only existing in black and white, it was omitted from the ABC’s splendiferous bombardment of reruns. My first viewing came in 2018 with the release of The Complete BBC Collection.
Frankly, I don’t feel that I missed much!
This in itself raises some interesting questions. Is my lack of affection for ‘Caught in the Act’ in some measure because I didn’t see it when I was young? Does the lack of colour rob it of its vitality? Or is it, in brutal honesty, just not very good?
Emphatically, if ambiguously, the answer is, “Yes!”
‘Caught in the Act’ feels dated from the outset. Truly, it’s a little heartbreaking to watch those vivacious, flamboyant, intrinsically colourful opening credits play out in shades of grey. Black and white doth not The Goodies suit!
But the malaise runs deeper.
Granted, I might think more highly of the episode had I taken its good points on board during my formative years. And to be fair there are some nice touches. (Tim’s run downstairs is cleverly cut to add pace to the client interview; and in the days before computer desktop themes, the cosmetic overhaul of the office is an admirable flourish.) But these are little more than garnish. Like Tim’s phone conversation bleeding over into his interactions with the passing policeman, or Bill and Graeme accidentally blowing smooches at each other, they are comedic enhancements, nothing more.
And unfortunately, there is precious little substance beneath.
The plot this episode revolves around Tim, in dowdy drag, infiltrating a women’s social club to retrieve compromising photos of the Minister for Trade and Domestic Affairs (played by Mollie Sugden, subsequently to achieve world renown as Mrs Slocombe in Are You Being Served?). This guest role falls rather flat—not due to any lack of proficiency from Slocombe but rather because inane stream-of-consciousness monologues just generally aren’t very funny. The comedy aspect of Tim’s mission consists solely of him overheating from temptation as attractive young ladies shower around him.
These scenes in the Playgirl Club feature full rear nudity and seem in hindsight both a departure from the show’s ethos and a gratuitous misuse of the budget. In this episode more than any other there is a sense that the lads don’t quite know what they’re about. The sequence where Bill and Graeme set out to look up ladies’ skirts is… sordid. More than that, it’s knowingly sordid (as signified by the smoking and loitering beforehand) and played uncritically for laughs. Instead of subversion, we’re given exaggeration. It’s single-level, lowbrow humour of a kind the Goodies rarely sunk to.
It is only once Bill and Graeme find work in the Playgirl Club that the episode stops merely mimicking disreputable behaviour and starts making its point. The focus turns, by way of role reversal, to the sexual objectification of women. Bill and Graeme are kitted out in skimpy clothing and Graeme is subjected to groping, chatting up, solicitation and the unbridled advances of his new boss (Liz Fraser as the lascivious Miss Heffer). The social commentary is there and it is laudable, yet the execution is uncharacteristically clumsy.
Perhaps the best way to view ‘Caught in the Act’ is as a trial run for future episodes. Most notably:
- the scenes with Graeme and Miss Heffer find a far more accomplished echo half a decade later in ‘Fleet Street Goodies’, where Mildred Makepeace gives Tim and Graeme a taste of their own chauvinism.
- in the age of trousers, Graeme’s ‘wolf suit’ shorts and long socks leave an impression not too far removed from that of his overly tight ‘Scoutrageous’ shorts in Series 7. Indeed, by emphasising ostensibly wholesome acts perverted for personal gain, Bill and Graeme’s ‘Scoutrageous’ badge-earning montage proves a far better realisation of concept than their sleezy yet inept up-skirt voyeurism. (Compare also Graeme’s ill-fated use of the coal cellar for this purpose to his sheltering in a rubbish bin and having baked beans dumped all over him!)
Other, more immediate precursors to emerge from ‘Caught in the Act’ are Tim’s nanny voice (planted here to blossom in ‘Cecily’), and both the GPO’s lamentable slowness of service and, when Tim’s infiltration goes too far and he takes on the role of ‘Mitsy’, the concept of one of the Goodies going rogue and being pitted against the other two (‘Radio Goodies’ and frequently thereafter).
The Goodies, in short, are feeling their way. ‘Caught in the Act’ was conceived as the second episode in the series. It is a let-down after ‘Tower of London’ and even more so after ‘Give Police a Chance’. But it exists, and it led to greater things.
Worst house on the best street.
Jacob Edwards, 29 November 2020
 Eric Idle tried it two years later in Monty Python’s ‘Travel Agent’ sketch, playing up the irritation factor. Stephen Fry would also evoke Slocombe’s performance with his character in ‘Pooch’, a sketch from series four of A Bit of Fry & Laurie. The humour in this, however, rested heavily on Hugh Laurie’s reaction shots. The Goodies were less effectual in their cutaways.