1 December 1973
The first episode of Series 4 is an unexpectedly lavish affair, commencing with Tim’s silk dressing gown and continuing on to showcase location filming at Bodiam Castle, an array of mediaeval costumes, and what in Goodies terms must count as a wild extravagance of extras.
The theme of the day is, without doubt, undermining. The lads are in their element, taking all things mediaeval and divesting them of the magic of yore. Tim’s Uncle King Arthur is really Arthur King. The stronghold of Camelot, Tim warns, won’t be so much a castle as a two-up, two-down in Wessex (subsequently downgraded to Birmingham and then Solihull). Bill wears a packet of fish fingers because [joke-teller’s pause] they’ve run out of codpieces!
Of course, being the Super Chaps they are, the Goodies proceed apace to undermine the underminings. Arthur King’s letter to Tim is written upon a scroll and delivered by heralds as if he is of royalty (this itself then undermined by Tim’s sudden shift from portentous proclamatory to casual Cockney when reading the missive aloud). Camelot turns out actually to be a castle, albeit one plonked down in the middle of suburbia and which hosts bingo every night. Excalibur becomes both sword and shield when Graeme cannot separate it from its stone and instead has to wield both!
Undermining. Wrong-footing. (Tim: “Not Queen Guinevere… Queen Doris.”) Whatever we’re expecting, the lads pull the rug out, whether it be a long-held tradition:
…or something newly established, such as when Graeme’s lute poems devolve, in the space of six minutes, from corny (‘Roll up, roll up, to Camelot, in nineteen seventy three-e-ee, and tour the middle ages for only 50p!’) to passé (‘And so they came from far and wide and paid without dispute, to let us show them Camelot; now I must clean me lute.’) to consciously staged (‘Be gone, foul stranger! Hurry, ere I drive you hence with blows. You cannot stay, for you’re not wearing mediaeval clothes!’) to consciously feeble (‘Sally forth at once, my friend, an end to all your naggin’, for I have spied a damsel fair attack’d by a draggin.’) and finally are put paid to altogether by an exasperated interjection courtesy of Bill:
The Super Chaps have always excelled at this sort of gag. Throughout Camelot they run riot with mangled period speech (‘This missive writ on this, the twelfth day of Aprilly, in the year of our lord nineteen seventy-thrilly…’), combined audio/visual puns (‘torture chamber’[pot], Tim ‘hanging around’), and sheer, exuberant flights of association (Bill construing a beak in the nose-guard on a suit of armour and thus launching into a Woody Woodpecker impersonation). It’s all the most delightful, perfectly scripted nonsense!
Where the episode falls down slightly is in its guest star—not because Alfie Bass fluffs the performance in any great way, playing the smarmy town planner who tries to bamboozle and hornswoggle his way to possession of the castle, but because the lampoon of grasping officialdom is inherently not all that funny. It’s something of a one-note joke, padded with references to the Town Planning Act. Ho-hum. Other aspects that fail to impress are Tim’s deliberately corny mediaeval stand-up comedy routine and, predictably, a brace of blackface minstrel scenes. (Again, the reflex hammer falls!)
Where Camelot soars, conversely, is through its musical sequences. First comes the castle tour (to the gravelly rock classic Taking You Back), where we’re given a mis-staged Rapunzel re-enactment, witch hunting/dunking/burning, and a gloriously realised boxing-ring take on ‘cock fighting’, along with such distinctly Goodies-esque non-sequitur oddities as a dancing [man in a] bear [suit] and a pig on wheels (suggestive of nothing so much as the lads having put to use whatever they came across in the props store). Tim later reckons the day’s takings at ‘38 quid’, mentioned of course purely as set-up for Bill’s having sold the castle for £40,000 but nonetheless implying that they’ve given the 3½-minute tour a further 37 times!
Next cab off the rank, musically speaking, is the dragon-fighting sequence, which at less than a minute plays out to one of those recurring, quirk-funk instrumentals that are usually employed in The Goodies for establishing location or concept. Its use here for battling the [council planning men in a] dragon [suit] is a cleverly understated way of showing how false was the threat; how paltry the ruse!
Finally, we have the extended mediaeval duel/tournament (again to Taking You Back). At just over five minutes this constitutes an exemplar of physical/visual comedy, incorporating archery gags, hapless sword-fighting and the use of spike-ball flails as conkers… plus a majestic jousting sequence pitting horse against trandem!
The lads fail at just about everything, yet win through due to the cartoonish deployment of a secret weapon—a giant magnet! It’s a performance the Pythons could only ever dream of…
Jacob Edwards, 1 December 2023