29. Superstar


7 July 1973

‘Superstar’ is a difficult episode to review. I have an uneasy relationship with the Goodies specials generally, and this is one I’d not seen until its release on the Complete BBC Collection box set. Even with a healthy dose of childhood nostalgia, I’m not sure I’d have found ‘Superstar’ particularly funny. Without those memories to draw on… well, suffice it to say that Bill wasn’t too far off the mark when he changed his stage name to Rock Bottom!

A three-point diatribe of dislikes:

1. The self-indulgence. Goodies fans are well familiar with Bill’s pop-star aspirations, and for the most part we support them. Indeed, there’s nothing we’d love better than to hear all the music Bill conjured for the series released on its own Complete Collection. We dig the songs! But the songs have their place. Granted, in Series 6 Bill would go a step further with ‘The Goodies – Almost Live’ but at least that’s an honest bit of novelty pop showmanship. It’s not formatted like a regular episode. If you don’t approve, you can skip it. ‘Superstar’, on the other hand, is regular Goodies but just saggy and dull, like a silent comedy without the pictures.

2. The heavy-handedness. The super chaps set out to pass comment on the music industry’s profusely exploitative nature. All well and good, but they go about it in an uncommonly direct fashion. There’s no real blending of ideas or coming at the issue from left of field; just a straight and not-very-subtle lampooning. Perhaps the problem lies in trying to squeeze laughs by ‘upping’ the absurdity on archetypes and situations that are already outlandish to the point of self-parodying. It doesn’t leave room for the usual disparity comedy. Instead of the outrageous infiltrating the normal, the lads are left trying to reverse the polarity. “I’m sorry, honey, but that’s the deal,” Miss Chintz informs the telephone. “They want you in the nude or not at all. Yes, in the nude, wrestling with a live alligator.” The joke is not the alligator; it’s that she’s talking to Cliff Richard.

3. The guest stars. Once again, the Goodies do a disservice to their female guest. Barbara Mitchell is given a rotten part as ‘agent to the stars’ Isabel Chintz. What’s more, she’s asked to deliver her lines in a dreary cod-Australian accent. Like Gaye Brown in ‘Women’s Lib’, Mitchell towers over Bill, and there seems an attempt to squeeze comedy from portraying the agent/client relationship in terms of self-serving mother and indolent child. None of this really works. Julian Chagrin is equally hard done-by as TV host Maxie Grease—another tall guest but in essence just a botched rehash of Richard Wattis’s cloyingly two-faced presenter from ‘Gender Education’.

A single point of ambivalence:

1. The songs. Much of the effect of ‘Superstar’ will rest on the music. This, however, presents as a mixed bag, if not in quality then at least in quantity! We’re given:

a. “Tweet Tweet”. A half-minute Peter, Paul and Mary-esque folk song that walks the line between being very good (as if Bill can’t help himself) and utterly teeth-grating (the intention). This is a bit like the ‘learning to play their instruments’ jam session in ‘The Music Lovers’. It doesn’t outstay its welcome, and concludes, after a brilliantly understated “Hey” and half a beat for reflection, with the lads critiquing their own performance and dismissing themselves in reconciled chorus: “Get out!”

b. “Mummy, Mummy, Mummy”. This is the one piece of ‘Superstar’ I’d heard before.[1] It’s a bravura novelty song, a scandalous faux-tearjerker, the lyrics of which gain extra traction from Tim and Graeme’s shocked/sickened reactions as they sing it for the first time. As a one-off, it’s terrific. But of course, it goes on for upwards of two and a half minutes, not as backing to some madcap visual antics but as the sole focus of attention.

c. “Whole Lotta Love”. An instrumental cover version of the Led Zeppelin song. This plays while Tim and Graeme are trying to sneak into Bill’s tightly guarded (complete with barbed wire and machine guns!) Top of the Pops recording session, and sounds very in keeping with the original compositions that usually fulfil such function.

d. “I Don’t Want Your Love”. A sumptuous glam rock parody, which takes the Bowie-type Ziggy Stardust sexual ambiguity that was becoming de rigeur at the time, and mashes it up with an irreverent dash of Jesus Christ Superstar (“Randy Pandy, Superpoof!”). Bill sings to screaming female fans but discards his sequins for a monk’s habit, proclaiming, “You can lie there willing, all ready and ripe, but I ain’t gonna touch ‘cause you’re not my type!” It’s camp and suggestive and gloriously pelvis-grinding. There’s something utterly, saucily, unforgettably ‘Bill’ in the juxtaposition of booty-flaunting teen idol, sultry Pan’s Nuns and the Mincing Monks. Again, though, it goes for a full four minutes. Compared to “Land of Hope and Glory” in ‘The Music Lovers’, it’s an extravagance that feeds parasitically off the rest of the programme, rather than enhancing a greater concept.

Two points of redemption:

1. Tim and Graeme. While Bill is off living the dream, Tim and Graeme show off their acting chops. They don’t have much to work with, but one cannot help but admire their performances as would-be musical agents (with detachable false noses, glasses and cigars!) and effete gay rockers.

2. Occasional bits of comic business. These are few and far between but there are some nice touches: Tim’s special ‘bleeping’ device to censor rude words;[2] Graeme’s “1, 2, 1-2-3-4-5” count-in to “Tweet Tweet”; the repeated half-beat and “Get out!” self-dismissal once Tim proclaims their group to be nice; and of course, Bill and Miss Chintz’s hotpants exchange…

Yes, ‘Superstar’ has its moments… there just aren’t enough of them!

Jacob Edwards, 7 July 2023


[1] From the bonus disc of the 1992 CD reissue of the 1976 comedy album “The Complete ‘A Poke in the Eye (with a Sharp Stick)’”.

[2] Predating by some six-and-a-half years but very much calling to mind Monty Python’s “I Bet You They Won’t Play this Song on the Radio”.

Previous: Way Outward Bound

Next: Camelot