6. Cecily

Cecily

13 December 1970

‘Cecily’ is a remarkable episode in that it tries—successfully!—to sustain itself purely on comedic garnish. There is no message. The babysitting plot makes little sense (especially once Cecily’s true nature is revealed). The haunted house aspect is rendered in so corny a fashion as to take the audience into its confidence and admit to barefaced genre tokenism.

It almost feels as if the Goodies stumbled upon a location and some props and challenged themselves to be as funny as possible with nothing else in mind.

This, of course, can’t entirely have been the case. (Note the creative planning involved in rendering an inflatable marrow, an unruly rolling pin, and no fewer than four unique portraits of Cecily’s uncle and aunt.) But there’s no doubt the lads pushed themselves here to create comedy from nothing. That they could do so and come up with a perfectly watchable (and indeed re- rewatchable) programme held them in good stead for later episodes where there was an actual cake to ice.

Fully one third of ‘Cecily’ plays out to music—first to the instrumental ‘Early Morning Theme’, then ‘Needed’ [how we’ll miss this recurring pièce de résistance], then ‘Are You Coming Out To Play?’ The segue from ‘Early Morning’ to ‘Needed’ is particularly well pitched, upping the tempo in the parallel (then intertwined) shenanigans taking place in kitchen and garden.

A similar energy boost is given by way of two-punch visual gags. For instance:

1. The garden is overgrown; Graeme disturbs a couple making out in the long grass.

2. Actually, it’s so overgrown he observes a giraffe and zebras.

This simple progression stands by itself, yet each element recurs in escalated form:

3. Graeme disturbs two African tribesmen making out in the grass.

5. Tim’s Nanny character tussles with a wild leopard.

This DIY prop-fighting (Tim’s speciality!) is itself presaged by:

4. Tim fighting off an overexcited creeper.

Other recurrences include Bill’s use of the turntable for whisking eggs (then moulding pastry); the collapsing kitchen table (firstly to Bill’s surprise, then to Tim’s anguish); and Graeme’s background passes with the ride-on lawnmower (the second of which reveals a shift in his demeanour from sangfroid to glee). The Goodies weren’t always subtle in their acting, but the look Tim gives Graeme when he first rides past—the tiniest of double-takes—is worth the price of admission.

And speaking of that mower…

‘Cecily’ provides three visual snippets for the opening credits: the house-destroying explosion at the end; Tim’s kite-flying into the river [used in all three themes]; and Graeme’s topple off the mower. This latter is perhaps my favourite Goodies moment ever. Consider:

1. Absurdness of context. Graeme comes across the mower sitting out ready for use. His hands-on-hips stance suggests that someone else must have left it there. [Who?!] He takes its manifestation in his stride much like a monkey encountering a banana.

2. The set-up. He circles the mower, turning it on and generally familiarising himself with its workings. He then sits down, has one last look, and activates the drive.

3. The pratfall. Exquisitely overcranked! The mower shoots out from under him. Graeme flies off the back, lands on his bottom, somersaults and comes up facing the machine just as it rolls out of picture.

4. The Graeme touch. Flailing about, he regains his cap and glasses. He glances behind him (as though to check if anyone has seen), puts his glasses back on, and comes to his knees facing the now-departed mower. He runs after it.

5. Retrospective appreciation. The way he gives chase is decidedly funny. It’s just an impression, a peculiar sense of the old black-and-white silent movies. It’s only once you slow the footage down that you can appreciate he has turned a full 360° circle between standing up and setting off!

6. The aftermath. Rather than end the gag there, he overtakes the mower, skids to a halt in front of it, backtracks for the handles, and in getting on accidentally steers it through the open door and into the house.

The whole sequence lasts only 12 seconds and it is utterly masterful!

‘Cecily’ is an especially good episode for Graeme. Other nice touches include his use of the specially boxed ‘weedkiller’ (a mallet), his pruning a shrub out of existence and stamping on it (evoking memories of every time I’ve cut up a bank card), his glance to the sky having mistaken Bill’s errant pie mix for bird guano, and his hauling blindly on a rope until it brings the lassoed oven crashing into him, whereupon he staggers away in surprise, inspects the offender and gives it a petulant kick.

All told, ‘Cecily’ is a lot of fun. Visual gags aside, it seeks humour through misdirection: Cecily’s aunt and uncle turning out not to be the villains; Graeme’s comforting speech being directed at Tim, not Cecily; and perhaps most gloriously, Razz washing powder. Though the halftime interludes continue to grate,[1] this spoof commercial does unquestionably provide one of the programme’s greatest ever ‘non-Goodie’ bits:

Thankfully Goodies fans don’t have that problem!

Jacob Edwards, 13 December 2020

Tweets:


[1] In fact, there’s something distinctly off in the juxtaposition of the adult-themed Supramatic camera (which turns ordinary snapshots into explicitly nude pictures) and Tim’s Nanny character caring for 12-year-old Cecily. Methinks it no bad thing that the Australian censors cut this out.