21. Kitten Kong (Montreux ’72 Edition)

Kitten Kong (Montreux ’72 Edition)

9 April 1972

As noted previously, ‘Kitten Kong’ is the one episode of The Goodies that has been lost to us—in its original form, at least. Yet it remains also one of the best known and provides the show with its most iconic image. How can this be?

Because the lads knew they were on to a good thing. The notion of a giant kitten running amok throughout London—pursued by the Goodies, who brought about the calamity through their overzealous efforts to restore said kitten to good health—was so obviously perfect, so quintessentially Goodies, that those Super Chaps Three were inspired to re-shoot it for entry into the Montreux Film Festival.

‘Kitten Kong’ is superbly realised. The technical achievement alone is award-worthy, let alone the sparkling script, adroit performances and exquisitely themed musical accompaniment. (‘Kitten Kong’ the song is a 24-carat funk-soul classic.)

Even without Twinkle toppling the Post Office Tower, ‘Kitten Kong’ was destined to go down in history!

‘Kitten Kong’ ultimately finished runner-up at Montreux to The Marty Feldman Comedy Machine. Today this seems unfathomable, and it apparently rankled at the time, Bill Oddie pointing out that the Comedy Machine entry condensed an entire season of hour-long episodes into a 30-minute ‘best of’ for the express purpose of winning.

The Goodies were more subtly underhanded in their ambitions. Seeing ‘Kitten Kong’ as a potential champion, they added/rehashed several visual gags during the re-recording. (The mice at the end are also an embellishment, even if these do come off about as well as would the giant rat in Doctor Who story ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’.) There’s a sense, too, that some of the early scenes have been put there to ground the programme for new viewers. To true Goodies aficionados, these seem a little forced.

Still, the episode for the most part is spectacular. In a sense, one could even consider it a ‘best of’, showcasing all the elements (save guest star; or does Twinkle count?) that made the first two series so successful. We have:

  • the early-style opening credits — still the best!
  • throwaway absurdities — Bill: “What did we get the last time you cooked supper, eh? A bowl of cornflakes! Haha. Yes… And they were burnt.”
  • Tim’s animal wrestling — the giant snake, cut back to with undiminished hilarity while Bill collects the rest of the neighbourhood animals.
Tim takes possession of—and wrestles with—a giant snake!
  • Graeme’s penchant for making animal props come to life — the not-so-friendly mongoose and the vampire bat who’s afraid of the dark.
  • recurrence and subversion — Graeme’s clingy bush baby, which keeps turning up no matter how hard he tries to get rid of it; eventually, he accepts his fate and keeps it as a handkerchief!
  • the rule of three — we have Bill taking the dog for a walk (normal), Tim with Twinkle on a leach (unusual), and then (for the prize) Graeme walking a tortoise!
  • overcranked slapstick / getting up / falling down — what Goodies episode would be complete without it? The park scenes afford us some nice pratfalls, one gem of which comes when Tim tries to hoist Bill up to pour milk into the bowl-on-a-pole (which Graeme is holding upright), and Graeme, whose plan it was in the first place, abandons the idea, takes the milk bottle from Bill and (in the process removing his own counterweight) leaves him to topple over and out of picture. Tim, only briefly nonplussed, turns his attention straight back to Twinkle in the tree!
  • gratuitous signage — note how the lads have written ‘nice milk for kitty’ on the bowl!
  • the Goodies’ casual disregard for each other — Bill and Graeme leave Tim up a tree for four days; Bill is offered up as bait, then the other two cycle off without him.
Tim and Roddy Maude-Roxby (‘Snooze’) make angry entrances.
  • a more widespread obliviousness — evidence, Bill’s poking a ruler through Colin’s empty shell. (“I reckon Colin your tortoise has escaped, you know.”)
  • interlude mock commercials — unnecessary but representative. The Goodies’ car makes a rare and final appearance in what turns out to be a plug not for the petrol it uses but for the super-strong toilet paper it crumples its bonnet against!
Tim drives his car into the ‘20 Miles’ sign from Charity Bounce.
  • progressive and not-so-progressive attitudes — the second mock commercial shows a superstar Tim pursued by female fans but ultimately skipping off hand-in-hand with his male bodyguard (progressive); later on, the Goodies qua mice startle a Black cleaner and prompt her to jump up onto a stool, screaming (not-so-progressive).
  • larger-than-life props — Twinkle’s vitamin pill and the giant syringe (which happens to be on hand when Graeme derives the need for it).
  • cracking music (‘Needed’ for the animal collection; ‘Dumb Animals’ for walkies in the park; ‘Kitten Kong’ for Twinkle’s occupation of the city).
  • convenient topographical tracks to follow / pursuing these too literally and crashing through walls.
  • cartoon logic — such as the Goodies still pedalling in thin air when the trandem comes out from under them; or their running off the top of a building and staying suspended there until realisation catches up and they remember to fall.
  • trandem antics — the plucky three-seater manages a complete circuit of the block all by itself after the lads fall off.
  • suspending the trandem from a hot-air balloon — as usual, the Goodies concoct a need to trade places!
  • ‘as themselves’ guest appearances by newsmen Michael Aspel and Corbet Woodall.
  • big visuals — and there are none in TV much bigger than Twinkle’s conquest of the Post Office Tower! (Lesser moments, such as the giant kitten’s imprisonment in St Paul’s Cathedral, are impressive in their own right.)
  • use of the quick-change closet (which Graeme goes through while holding the giant syringe, just to make it unclear how it was filmed!) and beds that fold up to reveal doors elsewhere.
  • delectable if skewed logic — such as the need, even when engaged in the thoroughly madcap enterprise of flying the trandem while dressed in mouse costumes (fixing to inject Twinkle with the antidote to Graeme’s growth mixture!), to swab the kitten’s paw prior to the injection!!
  • and so much more. There’s even the traditional, somewhat lame ending — which in this case is doubled: first the lads puncture their hot air balloon and are caught up and whisked away by a Concorde; then they are beset by giant mice and try to re-feed the kitten they’ve just shrunk back to normal size!
Tim, Graeme and Bill panic as giant rats break through the office walls.

Director Jim Franklin is in fine form throughout. The animal collection sequence is beautifully handled, his marrying together of the singing dogs footage is a remarkable accomplishment for the time, and of course the filming of Twinkle’s rampage is nothing short of a masterpiece.

Three shots of the Goodies, dressed as mice, being pursued by a giant kitten.

The Goodies, meanwhile, are at the top of their game. (Note especially Bill’s squeamish glances into the animal collection basket!) The remaking of ‘Kitten Kong’ is their graduation to true stardom, and it makes one yearn to have the original for comparison. How greatly did the two productions differ (in subtle reworkings if not major points of departure)?

Tim with the Minister of Culture [for the Masses] and the original ‘We do anything any time’ sign; Bill with the new ‘We do anything anytime’ sign.

How much did the Montreux version benefit from what in essence was an unprecedented, fully filmed and edited dress rehearsal?

Sadly, we may never know. But why linger on the negative?

50 years of giant kitten!

Jacob Edwards, 9 April 2022

Tweets:

The Goodies dressed as mice.
Bill in a chef’s hat; Graeme and Tim in football supporters’ garb.
Bill trying unsuccessfully to teach a particularly phlegmatic dog to growl.
Graeme hoists Tim up by the collar—once as upset kitten owner, once as eye-patched Leader (‘Radio Goodies’).
The Goodies, on their trandem, come face to face with Twinkle the giant kitten.

Previous: The Baddies