34. The Stone Age

The Stone Age

29 December 1973

A remarkable escapade to round out the year. ‘The Stone Age’ is the Goodies’ first bottle episode and showcases the lads’ ability to hold an audience sans musical sequences and outdoor stunts. While the concept is as off-the-wall as ever—Graeme falls into a prehistoric cave system and the Super Chaps find themselves trapped inside a Tyrannosaurus Rex—the execution relies almost entirely on the script’s cleverness and Tim, Bill and Graeme’s delivery.

Given the Goodies’ penchant for slapstick, and the sheer, madcap exuberance with which they usually flung their stunt dummies about, one could be forgiven for expecting a studio-bound episode to be in some manner drab or diminished. Far from it! In the confines of office, cave and dinosaur, the Goodies count their core comedic blessings and in fact far outshine their more extravagant, beanstalk-climbing selves.

The episode flies by. Admittedly the halftime mock commercial-break falls early (twelve and a half minutes in), but there’s no denying it would anyway have come as a surprise, sneaking up on viewers held entranced by the lads’ insouciant establishing of concept. Hobbies, archaeology, potholing, dinosaur. The commercials themselves are a bit weak[1] (and as ever were first to be cut when the ABC edited down to 25 minutes to accommodate Danger Mouse or the like). Not to worry. We’re soon back inside the dinosaur, going stir crazy, getting on each other’s nerves, brainstorming cartoon-logic ways of escaping. The second half of the episode zips along as quickly as the first. Suddenly it’s over and the office is being waved about by a dodgy dinosaur prop.[2] What a ride!

So, how did it work? What went right to make ‘The Stone Age’ an instant, cheap-as-chips classic following on from the beanstalk’s big-budget disappointment? Mostly it’s because the words prove to be important: not just badinage and throwaway one-liners but set-up (both contextually and in terms of providing breathing room) for the visual jokes and bits of comic business. The scene that best exemplifies ‘The Stone Age’ and its script-driven humour is Graeme’s impromptu descent into the caves:

Unlike in ‘The Goodies and the Beanstalk’, the physical joke is given context, bookended by discursive misdirection and verbal humour. #Goodies50

Picture: Graeme stands on a rug in the office, explaining his theory to Tim. Graeme falls through the floor. Bill and Tim stare down into the hole.

Dialogue from the episode:
Graeme: Now look, this is a cross-section of the earth underneath London: the Palaeolithic Age; the Megalithic Age—
Tim: [holding up a budgie cage] The budgic-age.
Graeme: The Budgic— The Neolithic Age; the Piccadilly Line and the Blackwall Tunnel. All these layers contain fossils and remnants of a bygone age. 
Bill: Ohh, fancy.
Graeme: But what is really interesting is that my studies of these ancient plans have led me to the theory that there may very well be subterranean tunnels leading to primitive cave dwellings beneath this very room. Heyahhhh!
Bill: He’s, ah, he’s no fool, you know.
Tim: Hey, Graeme? You were right! Good grief, I can’t see the bottom.
Bill: I can’t see any of him.

Tim employs the ‘rule of three’ when implanting the ‘budgic age’ into Graeme’s list of strata, then Graeme takes the interruption as a starting point for his own ‘rule of three’ gag, ending with the Piccadilly Line and the Blackwall Tunnel. The verbal humour itself is then seen to have been misdirection… when Graeme falls through the floor!

But even that is just the beginning:

The speech delay allows for a conversation that, like so much of The Goodies, works on several levels simultaneously. Sublimely, Tim takes Graeme’s answer at face value—even as it confirms that he shouldn’t! #Goodies50

Picture: Bill prepares to drop the budgie cage down the hole; Tim is ready to time its descent. Graeme looks up from within the hole. Two giant tusks rest beside him.

Dialogue from the episode:
Bill: How deep do you think that is, ey?
Tim: I don’t know, but we can test how deep it is by dropping something down and seeing how long it takes to reach the bottom.
Bill: Right, here we go. [drops the budgie cage]
Graeme: [off-screen, after a long pause] Oww!
Bill: At least he’s all right then, ey?
Tim: Oy, Graeme. Can you hear us? Now, let’s see. It should take six seconds for the sound to reach him.
Tim: [off-screen from Graeme’s perspective, voice echoing] Oy, Graeme. Can you hear us?
Graeme: Yes, perfectly.
Tim: And it should take six seconds for his reply to reach us. [to Bill:] Is that right?
Graeme: [off-screen, voice echoing] Yes, perfectly.

The ongoing exchange is classic Goodies, and far superior to any faffing about with dive-bombing geese![3]

Of course, ‘The Stone Age’ isn’t all cleverness and wit. There’s unreferenced background detail and inference (Graeme’s bone chair and skull computer; the fact that the late potholer Cheese-and-Chutney Pollock, has contrived to leave his skull at the bottom of his own pack!), bickering that cuts to the core of the characters (not to mention Tim and Bill’s respective football passions), quintessential Goodies-esque disregard for each other (Graeme using Bill’s hair to clean his hands; Tim and Graeme conspiring to leave Bill behind when he loses his way and gets stuck in the dinosaur’s eyeball), and as ever a shared silliness just waiting to burst free:

Unlike the highly staged ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire?’ of ‘The Goodies and the Beanstalk’, the singing here seems spontaneous and unconstrained. A joyous expression of inner character! #Goodies50

Picture: Bill and Tim dancing to ‘Dem Bones’. Graeme’s mis-assembled skeleton of primitive man.

Dialogue from the episode:
Graeme: By putting together these old bones, I hope to reassemble the skeleton of primative man. Now, the footbone’s connected to the ankle bone. The ankle bone’s connected to the, shin bone.
Tim & Bill: [joining in] The shin bone connected to the, knee bone. The knee bone connected to the, thigh bone. The thigh bone connected to the, hip bone. The hip bone connected to the, back bone. The back bone connected to the, shoulder bone. Hear the word of the Lo-or-ord! Dem bones, dem bones, dem bones—
Graeme: All right, all right! Here it is: the skeleton of primitive man himself!

Nonetheless, the order of the day is, generally speaking, word-driven prefiguring and verbal legerdemain.

What at first appears merely dialogue for its own humorous sake (referencing the quiz show ‘Mastermind’) turns out to be set-up for a big-prop plot-twist! #Goodies50

Picture: Tim and Bill (with Graeme obscured) stand inside a cave with a suspicious resemblance to a dinosaur’s jaws and teeth. The jaws shut!

Dialogue from the episode:
Tim: Ah, Graeme. Forgive my amateur intrusion but I did do O-Level Archaeology, and damn nearly passed it. And I reckon these are the bones of giant land mammals of the Lower Pleistocene Age. Whilst over here we may detect from the mineral deposits— [climbs into what transpires to be the T-Rex’s mouth!] ...and from the sound waves, that these stalactites and stalagmites date from the Pliocene Age.
Graeme: Very good! That’s absolutely correct. Three marks.
Bill: Nope, sorry. I challenge that. I’m afraid I think this man is an ignoramus. Now I consider, though you may not realise it, that what we are climbing into here are the jawbones of a Tyrannosaurus Rex... 
Tim: Wrong! Totally wrong.
Bill: In that case, Magnus Magnesium, would you mind telling me why that stalactite there has a gold filling?

Another Goodies-styled variation on ‘rule of three’ jokes. Bill picks up on the sabre-tooth-tiger anachronism while waving about a rather-more-improbable cheese-and-chutney sandwich! The extent of his pause is perfectly weighted to balance the unlikelihood. #Goodies50

Picture: Graeme and Bill stand inside the dinosaur’s stomach. Bill holds a sandwich.

Dialogue from the episode:
Graeme: Fascinating! It’s lain here undisturbed since the Cretaceous Era. Look at this: the remains of its last meal!
Bill: [sorting through the bones] Oh yes! Very tasty, too. Look at this: couple of pterodactyls for starters; sabre-toothed tiger; one buffalo off the bone; and one cheese-and-chutney sandwich. Wait a minute. I thought you said this had lain here since the Cretaceous Era?
Graeme: I did.
Bill: Well, there weren’t any sabre-toothed tigers then, you fool! Listen. The sub-family of sabre-toothed tigers originated during the Oligocene Period; that was thirty to thirty-five— [extended pause while they consider the sandwich] Cheese-and-chutney sandwich?
Graeme: Odd.

The lads were by this stage past-masters at remixed ‘rule of three’ jokes. (Think back to Series 1’s ‘Radio Goodies’: “Belfast, Manchester, Edinburgh, Hong Kong… Oh, come on! It can’t have been to Edinburgh.”) Their sense of humour is homey and inclusive, inviting viewers into the fold. And while fans of the programme were always tasked with a suspended dollop of disbelief—accentuated on this occasion by the episode’s having been made on the cheap—Geoffrey Patterson’s sets prove surprisingly fit for purpose!

The Goodies designed the T-Rex throat and stomach for humorous potential (especially the epiglottis and uvula), yet they don’t compare unfavourably to, say, the inside of Tom Baker’s brain in Doctor Who’s ‘The Invisible Enemy’ (1977). #Goodies50 #DoctorWho

Picture: The interior sets in question.

All told, ‘The Stone Age’ not only overcame its limitations but proved that such limitations were, to an extent, an essential ingredient in cobbling together the laughs.[4]

Jacob Edwards, 29 December 2023


50 years ago today, the Goodies went potholing and found themselves trapped inside a T-Rex. Tonight I shall try to steer clear of cheese-and-chutney sandwiches... #Goodies50

Picture: The Goodies inside the T-Rex’s stomach: Graeme in his tweed suit; Bill in his many-pocketed red coat, stuffed with supplies; Tim in his boxer shorts and yellow Goodies t-shirt.

Happy 50th anniversary to ‘The Stone Age’, the first Goodies bottle episode and a classic of confinement comedy. #Goodies50 #SuperChapsThree

That’s 34 episodes down in my Goodies retrospective: https://www.jacobedwards.id.au/34-the-stone-age/

Next up: The Goodies in the Nick

Picture: The T-Rex has burst free of the cave system and now waves the Goodies’ office about. THE END.

[1] Notable this week only insofar as they establish that Ralph Harrises could exist in the plural—a notion that would pay dividends in Series 5’s ‘Scatty Safari’.

[2] Sneaking in just before Doctor Who’s ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’ (12 Jan – 16 Feb 1974). Visually the T-Rex is just about as convincing.

[3] Needless to say, Tim never pursues his calculations and so doesn’t have to face the fact that Graeme has fallen a whopping 176 metres!

[4] “Rule 1: Don’t do it. Rule Number 2: If you’re silly enough to try…”

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Next: The Goodies in the Nick