5. The Greenies

The Greenies

6 December 1970

Apart from occasional specials (such as ‘The Goodies and the Beanstalk’), The Goodies carried no onscreen episode titles, nor indeed individual title listings in the Radio Times. Episode five of series one is known alternatively as ‘The Greenies’ or ‘Army Games’, neither of which is particularly effective in calling the story to mind.

‘Greenies’, of course, is in reference to green activists, and to an extent the Goodies do turn into greenies. The episode starts with the lads planning a seaside holiday… only all the likely destinations have become environmental disaster zones:

What’s curious here is that, according to the map they consult, all such ecological catastrophes are the product of gung-ho army manoeuvres. The episode thus side-shifts into a condemnation of illicit weapons testing. Like ‘Give Police a Chance’ this is an ‘issues’ episode; like ‘Caught in the Act’ its execution is less polished than later episodes would be:

  • ‘Pollution’ (series 2), sees the Goodies tackle environmental concerns head-on and truly become Greenies.
  • ‘Clown Virus’ (series 5) provides the excoriation par excellence of secret military operations.

In addition to these wholesale thematic reprisals, a few other snippets of ‘The Greenies’ would find further development:

  • The lads playing cricket with grenades anticipates the cricket game to end all cricket games in ‘2001 & A Bit’ (series 6).
  • The posting of the Brigadier and his men (Graeme: “As you know there’s been a bit of a fuss about us selling arms to the Whites in South Africa, so you’re being sold to the Blacks to even things up.”) suggests that the seeds were already planted for season five’s ‘South Africa’, the Goodies’ most controversial foray into socio-political protest.

‘The Greenies’ is by no means a masterpiece. It lacks the fully developed majesty of these subsequent stories and, despite the extended military cast, seems oddly small in scale. While the associative imagery is overt—childishly irresponsible soldiers playing ‘Army Games’—the script and delivery are somewhat pallid, standing as they now have to against the acerbic brilliance of Blackadder Goes Forth.

Nevertheless, there is much here to like.

One extremely prominent feature of ‘The Greenies’ is its use of signage. The Goodies often added a layer of absurdity through labelling (and anti-labelling), but no episode tops ‘The Greenies’![1] From the hodgepodge of signs the Vicar has gathered in taking on all the village duties,[2] to posted warnings outside the War Office (‘Trespassers will be experimented upon’), to department doors (‘Germ warfare—closed due to illness’) and decoy folders within (‘Top secret—please take one’). The only unmarked area of the army base turns out to be the lavatory!

Bill: “Oh, god! I wonder what disgusting things they do in there!”

Having more substance than ‘Caught in the Act’, ‘The Greenies’ proves more successful also in its humorous garnish. Observe the Goodies’ reaction when the town’s scriptures-quoting Vicar (George Benson) threatens to shoot one of them:

Or the circumventing logic of Bill’s pushing through an ostensibly locked door in search of a drill to use on the lock! Or even just the wholly gratuitous visual gag of the vicarage organ coming with beer on tap…

At this stage in the programme’s development the Goodies do remain prone to odd, lazy bits of risqué: bare breasts in the interlude; Playboy magazines amidst the secret plans; a stripper appearing inexplicably to distract the military experts (and Bill). While such titillations seem now both unnecessary and unwarranted, the majority of the humour remains on target and well executed.

Or as the military boffins would put it:

Jacob Edwards, 6 December 2020

[1] For attention to detail, note how the first playground missile comes down (either deliberately or as friendly fire) on a sandcastle fort designated American by its toothpicked flag!

[2] Each in a different font. The gag of the one-man village is brought to a delicious extreme when the Vicar stages his protest outside the army base and is countered by a full platoon in riot gear.


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