33. The Goodies and the Beanstalk

The Goodies and the Beanstalk

24 December 1973

Thus we come to the halfway point—and in my opinion the incontrovertible weak link—of Series 4: the distended and rather tiresome Christmas special ‘The Goodies and the Beanstalk’. Sorry, chaps. I call it as I see it. This one’s a dud.

The Goodies are on record as having been mothered by budgetary-squeezed necessity into inventive leaps of comedy. Hence such bottle-episode classics as ‘The Stone Age’ (next up in our retrospective!), ‘Lighthouse Keeping Loonies’, ‘The End’, and Series 7’s infinitely superior Christmas special ‘Earthanasia’. Their usual practice under the BBC’s frugal auspices was to weigh each gag carefully for cost/reward value; to prune their scripts of all but the funniest staged humour and to bolster these ‘big’ laughs with genuine wit and sublimely delivered, more subtle comedic business. That, in most episodes, was the formula.

Not so in ‘The Goodies and the Beanstalk’.

Here the lads have been given carte blanche—more money, more screen time—and they’ve used it to knock themselves out (not in a good way). The balance, simply put, is all wrong. So much of the humour is visual. There are precious few laughs in the dialogue (indeed, there’s very little dialogue of any sort), and the action sequences, though big on scale, prove short on originality. Instead, there’s a brazen self-indulgence at play, and a cloying insistence on self-referencing and evoking past glories.[1] Even the music seems a little subdued, offering the strident, strum-along hillbilly rock of ‘Come Back’ (when the beanstalk breaks loose), but then the straight, forlorn pseudo-tearjerker ‘Poor’ (for the tramp scenes) and the surprisingly zestless ‘Battle Instrumental’ (for the lads’ war against the geese).

Of course, not all of it is bad. There are some nice flourishes; some genuine highlights. But for the most part this is a trial. To elucidate sequentially:

0:00-0:50   Opening Credits

A mostly inoffensive change-up featuring the in-joke/jibe:

A cheeky dig in the opening credits. As lore would have it, Bill and Graeme wrote the actual scripts for all the Goodies episodes and were never all that enamoured with Tim receiving a writing credit...! #Goodies50
Image: The traditional credit picture with the lads on their trandem, following in the paw prints of Twinkle the giant kitten; words: ‘Written by Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie with Tim Brooke-Taylor’. The ‘Beanstalk’ credit picture with a plain blue background and the words: ‘Written by Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie With Tim Brooke-Taylor’s Biro’.

0:51-8:10   Tramp Sequence

Marty Swift puts on a good show as the dancing policeman. Graeme also has some funny moments, such as when he poses as a one-legged beggar and is offered… a spare leg (and then punched in the face with a spare arm)! Or when he employs his customary ‘make life comfortable’ inventiveness (cf. ‘Snooze’) to conjure a whole blanket from an old newspaper, turn his tramp gear (inside out) into a dressing gown, and appropriate a flower and rubbish bin respectively as a reading light and champagne bucket. But this stage-setting drags on far longer than it would in a regular episode.

8:11-15:47  Unleashing of the Beanstalk

Bill trades the Goodies’ trandem for a can of beans. Tim empties it over his head:

Self-referential but not too heinous (Heanzous?) a joke. #Goodies50 #BeanzMeanzHeanz
Image: Graeme watches on as Tim pours a tin of baked beans over Bill.

The beanstalk grows and escapes, and the lads chase it around the world. The comedic pick of this sequence is newsreader Corbet Woodall being swept along and deposited, desk and all, in someone’s lounge room to continue reading (‘normal service will be resumed as soon as possible’).

Newsreader Corbet Woodall supplies one of the episode’s highlights when pushed by the beanstalk, desk and all, from his newsroom, down the street and into a couple’s living room... whereupon he resumes reading! #Goodies50 #CorbetWoodall
Image: As described

Though the beanstalk itself is well filmed, its pursuit plays out like an inferior version of the spacehopper fun-run from ‘Charity Bounce’. Again, the sequence is far longer than necessary.

15:48-21.45           It’s a Knockout

In which the lads attempt to wake a sleeping princess, with the same ineffectualness as when waking the urchin in the previous year’s ‘Travelling Instant Five-Minute Christmas’). We also learn that one five-second Eddie Waring impersonation from Graeme (countless times, elsewhere) is worth far more than having Eddie Waring himself appear!

It’s a Knockout sees the lads playing their joker (Prime Minister Heath). It also confirms that a Graeme Garden Eddie Waring impersonation is funnier than the real thing. Former World Cup referee Arthur Ellis earns a chuckle with a whistle shaped like a starter’s gun. #Goodies50
Picture: Eddie Waring presenting ‘It’s a Knockout’. The Goodies in Great Britain mountaineering garb holding a giant joker playing card (with Edward Heath’s face). Arthur Ellis holding a starter’s pistol to his mouth.

21:46-27:54           Entering the Land of Giants

Filler, mostly. The lads mess around with musical echoes and being roped together. Bill discovers some golden eggs. Graeme and Tim attempt to catapult themselves into the castle.

27:55-34:43           Encountering the ‘Giant’

Guest star Alfie Bass makes his clomping appearance, fresh from ‘Camelot’. We have some actual dialogue here, which is nice! And the giant sets afford scope for laughs.

Nine years before the Goodies climbed their beanstalk to the giant’s castle, Season Two of Doctor Who saw a much-shrunken Tardis crew land somewhere not too far from Cricklewood. Being in black and white, they took their plight more seriously...! #Goodies50 #DoctorWho
Picture: Bill watches on as Graeme reads a gigantic cookbook. Graeme struggles with an enormous door while Bill and Tim attempt to hide in a coffee mug. The First Doctor and Susan stand next to a gargantuan plug hole. Ian watches on while Susan stands atop a notepad.

But then we’re given the showpiece ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ which re-treads the same ground/floorboards as walked by the singing dogs of ‘Kitten Kong’. It’s beautifully put together but offers nothing original.

34:44-41:54           Flight from the Castle

An extravagance too many. The giant geese again hark back to ‘Travelling Instant Five-Minute Christmas’, with bombing sequences copied and pasted from ‘Way Outward Bound’. We get a few kicks from the giant boot, but otherwise this is just an extended, rather tedious squandering of budget.

41:55-43:30           The End

Nothing to speak of here save a cameo from John Cleese, riposting on behalf of Monty Python and closing with the two-word in-joke accusation, “Kids’ programme!”

In short, ‘The Goodies and the Beanstalk’ overstays its welcome. Edited down to two-thirds the length, the episode might conceivably pass muster—but even then it would be one of the series’ weaker offerings.

On the positive side, its chewing through of so much of Series 4’s budget is doubtlessly what gave us next week’s delight: ‘The Stone Age’. Thus the goose that laid a golden egg…

Jacob Edwards, 24 December 2023

Tweets:

50 years ago today, the Goodies unleashed a giant beanstalk upon the world. Tonight, I shall revisit their Christmas Eve pursuit of golden eggs and pantomime excess. #Goodies50
Picture: The Goodies, dressed as tramps, are astonished when a giant beanstalk erupts from the ground and knocks them over.

Bill throws off his tramp’s attire and revisits the ‘simple country’ garb of Series 2’s ‘Farm Fresh Food’ (+ Series 3-4 purple trousers!) when riding the trandem to market. #Goodies50
Image: Bill on the back seat of the trandem, reins in hand, riding to market dressed in farmer’s white frock and straw hat. Tim, Graeme and Bill, dressed similarly, pushing the trandem to Uncle Tom’s farm.
Pitching the golden eggs as the product of alchemy is a nice touch. What’s even better, in an episode too enamoured with set pieces, is Bill’s impromptu warning point at the chicken that’s just flapped up, startling him! #Goodies50
Image: While directing Tim and Graeme towards the golden eggs, Bill takes time out to point a warning finger at a chicken that’s just flapped up, startling him.

The lads have themselves an eerie, goose-present moment taking off Alfred Hitchcock and ‘The Birds’. After that, however, the action comes too thick, too fast, and too derivative of their own work. #Goodies50 #AlfredHitchcock #TheBirds
Image: The Goodies walk cautiously through a desolate mountaintop (quarry) landscape heavily populated with geese. In silhouette, Alfred Hitchcock releases a goose to attack them.
Happy 50th anniversary to ‘The Goodies and the Beanstalk’, a not-so-special Christmas Special ranked highly by pantomime lovers but not so much by me! #Goodies50 #SuperChapsThree
That’s 33 episodes down in my Goodies retrospective: https://www.jacobedwards.id.au/33-the-goodies-and-the-beanstalk/
Next up: The Stone Age
Image: A giant goose goose-stepping across the quarry. The Goodies standing with ‘giant’ Alfie Bass.

[1] One especially odd example is the specificity of the giant’s claim not only to have wanted to be a zookeeper (as traditional) but to have actually been one… at the London Zoo, in charge of the Snowdon Aviary (cf. ‘Scotland’).

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