28. Way Outward Bound

Way Outward Bound

11 March 1973

Series 3 of The Goodies concludes[1] with something of an odd duck. ‘Way Outward Bound’ continues the soul-searching reprise-cataloguing of past successes and failures, resulting in a choppy episode with plenty to recommend it but also plenty of deadweight.

Some conclusions the lads appear to have drawn, or been in the process of drawing:

1. In a programme that aspired to world domination, there could be no place for slavish adherence to continuity.

If Tim had to turn into a morning person, then so be it. Even within the episode, the lads are ready to sacrifice consistency for humour. For example, the junk-mail ‘circular’ (a record!) is addressed ‘Dear Sir or Madam’, to which Graeme immediately declares, “Oh, it’s for you, Tim.” While this gels with earlier allusions to Tim’s cross-dressing (Series 1’s ‘Tower of London’, for instance, or ‘Cecily’), it is Graeme who then disguises himself as a girl, arriving at Way Outward Bound as ‘Grace’.

Graeme’s ‘Gracie’ persona provides some of the funniest moments of the episode, and was a far more astute choice than having Tim dress up.

2. Guest stars were increasingly becoming millstones around the Super Chaps’ necks.

The Goodies have said that they stopped writing guest stars into scripts because they took all the best lines! This in itself is a good quip, but the truth is more that guest stars were unpredictable. Some were brilliant, some mediocre. Some, in fact, were given lousy material and thus dragged the episode down.

‘Way Outward Bound’ features two guests. The first, Joan Sims, had appeared in Series 2’s ‘Come Dancing’, where she made the most (ie. not very much) of a poorly conceived part. Her character here is much improved, and so too, therefore, her performance; yet even the highpoint—her megalomaniacal oration—is immediately overshadowed by Graeme’s counter-proclamation. By the end of episode when Tim launches into his own power-crazed speech (complete with snippet of ‘If I Ruled the World’ from the musical Pickwick!), the overwhelming, inescapable impression is that the Goodies needed no guest stars. Publicity benefits aside, they could play these parts better themselves.

The second guest is Bill Fraser, a veteran of comedic roles but in this instance terribly hard-done-by. Fraser’s character, Sergeant Major Bullcock [2], is ham-fisted and ineffectual, ensuring that the initial 4-minute sequence at Way Outward Bound unfolds with painful slowness (relative to the lads’ usual liveliness of touch). It transpires, of course, that Bullcock was written that way to disguise the truth of his and the Matron’s characters / power dynamic… but a dud part played for subterfuge is still a dud part![3] Fraser does have his moments—most notably his scornful reaction (“They’re for what?”) to Bill’s suggestion that guns are for killing people—but for most of his performance he is goggle-eyed and jowl-wobbling to an unhealthy, unfunny extreme. Indeed, Tim’s end-of-episode transformation incorporates a Bullcock impersonation that is far more convincing than the original!

From Series 4 onward, the Goodies would be far more sparing—and far more selective—in writing guest parts.

3. Episodes worked best when taking an idea or issue to some madcap extreme; reductio ad absurdum!

Granted, the nature and treatment of said issue / idea would then determine the success of the episode, but it was important always to take advantage of the scope afforded by The Goodies’ freewheeling format.

In ‘Way Outward Bound’, the Super Chaps explore the notion of military indoctrination; specifically, taking young people and brainwashing them to fit a particular mould. Children, we learn, have this Lord of the Flies-esque capacity for violence. (Hence the lads taking a cage with them when attempting to sign up kids from the local school, only to be chased off, not by adults but rather by a horde of youngsters.) Barracks life presents plenty of comedic material:

But the material is effective only because it’s layered on top of truth. Music continues to play an important role here, and it is to the funky-cool strains of ‘Run’ that the lads are chased around a military obstacle course by orange/red-tracksuited, gun-toting trainers in a jeep. The ludicrous nature of the programming is then revealed at its deepest extreme by way of the baby army. The sequences here form a sublimely orchestrated, explosion-filled extravaganza, all to the rock-soul protest, heartfelt appeal of Bill’s ‘They’re Taking Over’. It’s utterly nuts, yet one only has to consider the orphaned and abducted child soldiers of Africa to realise that there’s a serious message here.

4. Never forget the garnish.

Comedic inspiration is fickle. Sometimes the Super Chaps would soar to great heights; on other occasions they might bump along like an early Wright Brothers launch. Whatever the case, the key to bolstering an episode was to pack it with gags.

‘Way Outward Bound’ is, in essence, a rehash of ‘The Music Lovers’. The Goodies disguise themselves so as to infiltrate a villainous organisation, triumphantly reveal their true identities, then have to run away, outwitting their opponents with a song before the onset of a heavily firepowered pursuit. There’s a lack of originality here, but it’s papered over by some nice (if familiar) bits of business: the crying phone; dodgy wordplay (Loch Jaw); the placing of a dog statuette (“His Master’s Voice”) beside the gramophone player; Bill’s interpretation of ‘PTO’ (“Put T’it On!”); OBE-bashing (Tim: “When do we get our medals, Sir?” Bullcock: “Get your medals? We do not give ‘em away, like OBEs.”). Even the cow milking, which is straight out of ‘Farm Fresh Food’, is spruced up with a nice bit of military signage:

To top it off, we’re given Tim’s baby speech translation (a brilliant precursor to his turn as infant prodigy in Series 8’s ‘War Babies’), and of course Graeme’s pitch-perfect take on the double-barrelled question:

Regardless of one’s overall impression of an episode, it’s gems like this that keep us coming back again and again!

Jacob Edwards, 11 March 2023


[1] Notwithstanding the tacked-on mid-year special ‘Superstar’.

[2] A contracted spoonerism of Cock-and-bull (story), but also evocative of ‘ballcock’; ie. the floating valve in a flush toilet.

[3] Writer Douglas Adams and director Pennant Roberts would make the same mistake, on a bigger scale, in Doctor Who story ‘The Pirate Planet’ (1978) with The Pirate Captain, played by Bruce Purchase.

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