I’ve been threatening to publish my conversation with Graeme Garden in full for some time now, and with The Goodies about to appear in Australia any day now for the Big Laugh Comedy Festival (and with variations of the interview about to hit the stands in issues of FilmInk and Men’s Style Australia) I thought it was high time I made good with my promise.
In addition, here are a few MP3 files of permutations of the interview that have been broadcast. I’m afraid that at the time of editing, I didn’t have recourse to Goodies soundbites, so I used a lot from I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again . Unfortunately, John Cleese’s voice is instantly recogniseable, with Graeme Garden’s, none too obvious.
Demetrius Romeo: Graeme, tell me. What brought The Goodies back together?
GRAEME GARDEN: Well, the Big Laugh Festival, I guess. This gentleman John Pinder got in touch with us and said he’d been asking around for people, asking people who they would like to resurrect from the old days, I think, was perhaps how he put it, I don’t know. Our name came up on his list and he got in touch with us and said, “would you three guys like to come over to Australia and have some fun?” and I guess we said “yes!”
Demetrius Romeo: Fanstastic! Now, Graeme, is this the first reunion proper for The Goodies in a while?
GRAEME GARDEN: In a long time, yes. We’ve been together and done a couple of shows – one at the National Film Theatre here, and one in the West End Cinema – where we’ve had an audience and shown clips and chatted about the show and making it and things, and answered a few questions. The last time we did that was to launch the first DVD which sold very well in Australia, I know. And so it would be taking that kind of a show together one step further. I don’t think we can offer an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza, and certainly nothing as physical as we used to do on the screen. My hip needs replacing, for one thing! But what we would hope to do is to offer some ideas of where we started out together, how we started out, what we were doing – shows before The Goodies we collaborated on – and maybe illustrate that with some of the material we used to do on radio and things like that. We’re researching that at the moment to try and find suitable stuff that we used to have fun doing, and will be fun to do again.
Demetrius Romeo: In the commentary of the DVD you released there is some talk of some of the things in some of the episodes that were with you from your earliest days…
GRAEME GARDEN: There were, yes. I think the bit you’re talking about was a bit called ‘Pet’s Corner’ which I used to do as a student. In fact, it was about the first thing I did in the Cambridge Footlights, which was to be a kind of animal expert on TV, presenting all these animals that he was a bit afraid of, which he kept accidentally killing. That sort of leaked into one or two of The Goodies’ episodes. There were sort of vampire bats and little furry things that used to crawl all over me. So there was some of that sort of stuff that certainly stood the test of time, or we plundered later on.
Demetrius Romeo: The three of you all met at the Cambridge Footlights. What are your first memories of Bill Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor at Cambridge?
GRAEME GARDEN: My memories were that they were very funny and quite professional about the shows and things that they were doing. Far too much so for me, so I didn’t join the Footlights to begin with. I joined another organisation called the Cambridge University Light Entertainment Society, known as ‘CULES’ – which was fat better than joining the Cambridge University National Trust Society, which a lot of people did. CULES used to go around doing the sort of material that the Footlights did, but not quite so clever, and do concert parties at hospitals, things like that. But quite a few members of the Footlights were in CULES, so I met them and they said, “come along to the Footlights and join in”. Tim was the President of the Footlights when I joined, so I had to audition in front of him.
Demetrius Romeo: What was your audition piece for the Footlights?
GRAEME GARDEN: My audition was a bit like Pet’s Corner. I think I was drawing pictures or sketching silly things because they were all very clever at singing and doing word play and all that clever stuff, so I thought, “well, I’ll do something that nobody else is doing and they won’t know how to judge it. They’ll think, ‘oh well, it must be all right because we’re not doing it, and we can’t do that’.” So I drew pictures and did little odd things like that and they allowed me in. So I was quite in awe of them.
Demetrius Romeo: Working with the bigger group, how did the three of you come to break off and form a trio?
GRAEME GARDEN: We’d all been doing radio together with John Cleese and we didn’t break off in a group together, in a sense. We worked together in various other shows. Bill and I did a show together. Tim did one with John and with Marty [Feldman and Graham Chapman], At Last the 1948 Show. Eric Idle did one with [Terry] Jones and [Michael] Palin [and Terry Gilliam] which was called Do Not Adjust Your Set. And then, out of that lot, it ended up with the Pythons in one group and Tim and Bill and I in the other, not because we all sort of sought each other out particularly, it just sort of fell that way.
Demetrius Romeo: I’ve read that the proposal for The Goodies, ‘three guys who do anything, anywhere, any time’, when that proposal was put forward, the fellow in charge of light entertainment at the BBC said, “we receive that sort of proposal all the time, but we believe in what you gentlemen can do; go ahead with it.” Is that the case?
GRAEME GARDEN: Yeah, that actually happened. It was a guy called Michael Mills who was the Head of Comedy. We had done a series called Broaden Your Mind which was a sort of spoof – an ‘encyclopedia of the air’, if you like – and they wanted another series of that. We said, “well, we don’t want to do sketches” – which is what that was – “because Python are doing that, lots of people like The Two Ronnies are doing that, we want to do it a bit different. We want to do it as a half-hour story line, and the idea is The Goodies,” As you say, the guy said, “that’s an idea I get on my desk every week but I think you might be able to do it.” And we got the contracts through for a show he called Narrow Your Mind! But yes, it’s quite true. That was the good old days when the people at the top wouldn’t rely on focus groups and management training and stuff like that, they’d go with their own gut instincts. I’m happy to say that he did and we ended up with a series.
Demetrius Romeo: You included some clips from Broaden Your Mind as extras on that first DVD, and it really is sketch based stuff, whereas The Goodies seems to draw from a tradition where you’re actually playing showbiz versions of yourselves, in a way.
GRAEME GARDEN: That’s a fair comment. I mean, it’s not really a very accurate picture of ourselves; Tim would be horrified if you thought he was really like the character he played. Bill is just like that in real life, of course, and I am science-based, but not quite as loony as it looks.
Demetrius Romeo: You undertook a medical degree at university.
GRAEME GARDEN: Yes I did.
Demetrius Romeo: Was that your first choice?
GRAEME GARDEN: It was, really. I came from a medical family, so most of the adults I had met were either teachers at school or were doctors, and I thought I’d rather be a doctor, really. And then when I got to university I discovered there lots of other things you could do as well, so by the time I actually qualified as a doctor, I got some offers to do some television work, so I thought, “I can’t really turn that down; I’ll give it a try.”
Demetrius Romeo: Have you ever had to fall back on your medical training and actually practice as a doctor?
GRAEME GARDEN: No, I’ve not practiced as a doctor. I’ve made quite a few medical-based videos and things like that. In fact I did a series of – I think we made about fifty – videos with John Cleese, funnily enough, explaining various illnesses to patients who might have been newly diagnosed, to help them take in what they’d heard from the doctor but probably hadn’t quite been able to remember because it came as a bit of a shock.
Demetrius Romeo: And you also worked on the early Doctor series.
GRAEME GARDEN: Yeah, indeed. The old Doctor in the House series. Bill and I wrote loads of those, looking back.
Demetrius Romeo: You mentioned that the fact that the three of you ended up in The Goodies and your contemporaries ended up in Monty Python, but there was no real plan; it was just how it happened. There seems to be a playful rivalry between the two camps. For example at the end of the episode The Goodies and the Beanstalk, John Cleese is the genie who appears at the end, declares his surroundings a ‘kid’s programm’ and disappears again.
GRAEME GARDEN: Yes.
Demetrius Romeo: Was there ever frustration that The Goodies was perceived as a more ‘kids-oriented’ show?
GRAEME GARDEN: I think there might have been. I’m just trying to remember what the dates were ’round about then. It was possibly when the BBC weren’t quite sure where to place us, and had started putting us out rather early in the evening and sort of treating us like a kids show, which had not been the way it had originally been devised. I think there might have been a little bit of rankling as far as we were concerned, that people were looking on it as a kids’ show because of the time it was going out. Eventually we settled on – or they settled on – putting it out at nine o’clock at night which was about right for us. It was opposite the BBC News on BBC 1. We were on BBC 2. Nobody had done it before, but now it’s become a sort of ‘traditional’ comedy slot, the nine o’clock slot, just late enough to be an adult program but early enough for kids to be allowed to stay up if they really want to see it.
Demetrius Romeo: Whereas, in Australia, you did go out at six o’clock for a long time, and I believe that there are some episodes that only exist in their censored-for-six-pm Australian version. Were you aware of that?
GRAEME GARDEN: The cut versions? Yeah, I’ve got a list of the cuts that were made which recently came my way. Very interesting to see what Australians were not allowed to see.
Demetrius Romeo: What were some of the things that we were forbidden from seeing in a real Goodies episode?
GRAEME GARDEN: I’m ashamed to say that most of them appear to be bosom jokes, but I don’t know why Australia was particularly sensitive about that aspect. I think some things were cut for time, but there were certainly… it’s only because the Australians were so hot on the censorship that a lot of the programs have survived because the only copies we could track down were in the Censor’s office in Australia when it came to finding the old archive material.
Demetrius Romeo: Has that influenced what you have been able to release on DVD? I notice that the first one was a ‘best of’, rather than a complete season beginning with the first series.
GRAEME GARDEN: Yeah, I think it would be difficult to start with the first series because a lot of those shows are not available in colour anymore; they’re sort of strange pirate copies in black and white, and not great quality to work on. But we thought, there were eighty-odd shows, yes, it would be interesting to release them series by series, but probably the best shows were going out around series four or five. Five, probably. So w thought it best to make an impact with a nice representative clutch of good programs rather than what might be interesting to historians, but not necessarily to the general public. We’ve got another DVD coming out with another ‘best’ eight, or whatever it is, on them. If they’re a huge success then, yes, we might go back and do it series by series. But considering there’s been none available for about twenty years, we thought we might kick of with the good ones.
Demetrius Romeo: Fair enough; ‘the Goodies of The Goodies’, I guess.
GRAEME GARDEN: Yes, ‘The Besties!’
Demetrius Romeo: How did you come to chose the ones that made the grade for the first and second DVDS?
GRAEME GARDEN: That’s interesting, because we hadn’t seen them, as you can imagine, for a very long time, so we wrote down the ones we remembered. There were some that were obvious ones that were obvious choices, the ‘The Kitten’ [Kitten Kong] that everyone always talks about, The Goodies and the Beanstalk, that was a special that we did. And then some of the classic ones. We didn’t want to put all our favourites, or all possibly the best ones on the first DVD because we wanted to bring out two, and we thought, “better not short change people if they buy the second one.” And also, we have a huge fanbase in Australia, funnily enough. The fanclub is run from there. And they were helpful too, because we took on their suggestions, the ones that they rate. There’s a guy called Brett Allender who’s done a breakdown of all the programs and given them all ratings. So there was a lot of input from the one community in the world who remembers them in any detail, and that’s the Australian public.
Demetrius Romeo: I wasn’t aware that we were ‘up there’ amongst the fans.
GRAEME GARDEN: You’re not ‘up there among the fans’, you are the fans! You and a few London cab drivers who ask me when it’s coming back.
Demetrius Romeo: Surely you’d get a lot of people recognizing you in the streets still!
GRAEME GARDEN: Well, I look a bit different than I did twenty years ago, but still we do, yeah, we get a few people who come up and ask us for things. We’re all still working and appear on TV in various guises. Tim and I did a quiz program last year that was good fun. Tim and I do a lot of radio together. We’ve been doing a show together for thirty years.
Demetrius Romeo: Is that I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue?
GRAEME GARDEN: It certainly is.
Demetrius Romeo: Coming back to the DVDs, when you were digging out archival stuff to include with it, was providing a commentary a fun trip down memory lane, or was there stuff that surprised you or shocked you, or that you wish you didn’t have to reveal?
GRAEME GARDEN: On the first one, we did a commentary on the Lighthouse Keeping show [Lighthouse Keeping Loonies], which, literally, we had not seen for twenty years. So it was full of surprises. Quite a bit of it, we waffled on, but for some of it we just sat there because we just couldn’t remember anything about it. You know, it was like, “good heavens, did we do that?” So there were a few surprises. Some things are a bit disappoinging; they’re not as good as you think they are. Other things, you’d forgotten how funny they were or they appear to us, anyway. We suddenly found we were making each other laugh on screen, which of course we would never have owned up to in real life. And just the other day we did some commentaries for the next DVD, and one of those is a show South Africa that we did about apartheid, that was quite hard-hitting, and that the BBC tried to stop us broadcasting. It’s quite shocking stuff, to be quite honest. Certainly, it’s very dodgy as far as ‘PC’ is concerned in this day and age. But it was made at a time when the BBC’s most popular show was The Black & White Minstrel Show on a Saturday night, which had white men in black face minstrel make-up, singing to white girls, and nobody at the time thought that that was a bizarre thing to be doing, so we pointed that out in the show as well. That was quite hard-hitting, and, as I say, is still quite shocking. Partly, it has a go at the ‘catch-all’ attitudes that people had to race at the time, which were probably less shocking then than they are now. But it was interesting, yes. It always is to go back and have a look at these things.
The other thing about the DVDs is that they have been digitally enhanced and they look better now than when they were first broadcast. They’ve never looked as good as they do now, even when they went out originally. And so we were quite impressed with that, apart from anything else.
Demetrius Romeo: There was a nice little feature on the DVD that showed the ‘before’ an ‘after’.
GRAEME GARDEN: That’s right. But the ‘before’ shot is actually how it looked when it was broadcast. It hasn’t deteriorated over the years. It always looked that ropey.
Demetrius Romeo: One thing I do notice about the original Goodies shows is that part of the humour you created couldn’t be created in that way anymore because part of it comes from the fact that you had to use props and models, whereas today, so much of it would be CGI.
GRAEME GARDEN: Mm. Yeah.
Demetrius Romeo: Do you think that people coming through with the same sort of ideas could ever get a show with that sort of charm and humour working?
GRAEME GARDEN: I don’t know that they could. You’re quite right, because some of the fun was that you could see that if somebody fell off a cliff, it was just a dummy, and when they hit the ground, it was replaced by somebody else, and you laughed if it looked reasonably good because you thought, ‘well, they got away with that, that’s very funny!’ Now, as you say, it would be incredibly elaborate with flying cameras and god-knows-what, and CGI stuff. I don’t know if it would be more expensive, but I think you’re right about the charm of it, that you would lose that home-made feel that it had.
There are people who still do that sort of comedy – people like Harry Hill, who has fun with very sill props. If you wanted to fool the audience you could do it much better with CGI, but he chooses not to. And that’s still quite amusing.
The other thing, I think, that would stop it being made today is the insurance, because every show that you do now, you have to fill out elaborate forms about health and safety and you have a risk assessment for every single shot. If you have a shot of somebody walking down the street, somebody has to fill in a sheet with the risks involved: “may step off curb and twist ankle; may be hit by passing car,” and all that sort of stuff. Every single shot of The Goodies would have had a risk assessment that would have made it impossible to do. I’ve just been doing the voice-over for an animated series where I just provide the voice for a character and we were solemnly handed a sheet of risk assessments for that: “may trip over cable”.
Demetrius Romeo: That’s incredible.
GRAEME GARDEN: It is bizarre. I just think the bureaucracy would stifle it. I don’t know how they get away with doing stuff anymore.
Demetrius Romeo: You brought up animation; there is one product I would love to see on DVD. Will we ever see Banana Man on DVD?
GRAEME GARDEN: Yes. It’s just been released. Probably not in Australia yet, but in the UK it was released – or rather, is released – about now.
Demetrius Romeo: Do the three of you provide commentary for that?
GRAEME GARDEN: No, no. We were nothing to do with that. No, we were just hired for the voices, and it was what’s called a ‘buy out’, so we have no participation in the DVD or anything like that, financially or any other way, just because animations of that sort of thing at that ime, were just horrendously difficult to work out how to pay people apart from just paying them a flat fee for just for doing it. So I don’t know anything about it except that it has just been released on DVD, so it should be coming your way. If we can smuggle a couple of discs down with us, we will do so.
Demetrius Romeo: Do it! Sell it at a profit. Make some money out of it.
GRAEME GARDEN: You may think that, I couldn’t possibly comment!
Demetrius Romeo: And I won’t broadcast that, so your secret’s safe with me.
Now, as time has passed, do you have any regrets? Do you have any dirt you want to dish up after ten years of eight seasons of the show?
GRAEME GARDEN: We covered, essentially, the 70s, really. It was the social commentary of the 70s. Regrets? Not really. I’m sorry that we didn’t do a movie of it ever. That would have been fun. We did try, and we got a couple of projects sort of almost going, but for one reason or another, they never came to anything. But I think a movie of it might have been a good thing to do. But then again, it might not.
Demetrius Romeo: Yes, well, not many British sitcoms or comedies made the grade as films; if you look at the track record…
GRAEME GARDEN: Absolutely true. That’s quite right. Although I suppose our ‘influences’, if you like, were somewhere between Buster Keaton and Tom & Jerry, which are cinematic, at least, historically. We might have had a little more going for it, in that we weren’t a sitcom where you had to open it out from three people sitting no a sofa; we were already thinking in terms of big locations and stunts and things like that for television. But as you say, it’s that switch from thirteen minutes to ninety that finds a lot of them out, doesn’t it.
Demetrius Romeo: Although, a lot of what you did, particularly with the bits that begin as flights of fancy that are realised for the screen, were fantastic send-ups, take-offs or homage to cinema and cartoons, vintage and otherwise. You had it all in there.
GRAEME GARDEN: Yeah, well on the second DVD we’ve got the show where we did our own movie in one of the episodes which conjures up all sorts of recreations of old slapstick routines. We actually have Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton and people appearing on screen. So that was our homage to the cinema then. We did a commentary for that the other day, and that stands up pretty well, and even the effects, even though you can tell that they’re not CGI, they’re intriguingly impressive enough to make you wonder how we did them.
Demetrius Romeo: I always go back to the dog singing – in The Goodies & the Beanstalk and Kitten Kong – I know that it’s chewing toffee and that the film’s been edited, but today you wouldn’t go to so much trouble. You’d do it with a computer, rather than someone working really hard to capture that effect.
GRAEME GARDEN: That was Jim Franklin who directed and produced the series who did the singing dogs. He was a film editor who’d done a lot of work for David Frost and people like that. When we did the first series of The Goodies, knowing that we were going to be using a lot of film and film trickery, we persuaded the BBC to let us have Jim Franklin for the series. He later went on to direct the whole thing. But he was brilliant, and as you say, like a good film editor, he was dogged and would sit down – ‘dogged’ is a good word for it – and would sit down and go through that stuff frame by frame and created the singing dog, like Aardman Animation or something like that. Somebody who’s got the patience and the vision to see what he wants and how to get it, and to spend the time doing it.
Demetrius Romeo: Another beautiful moment is in The Goodies and the Beanstalk, when the three of you do your Marx Brothers impressions – the three of you as an ensemble just having fun, doing comedy about comedy.
GRAEME GARDEN: That was just a bit of self-indulgence, really. But it was good fun to do and it just looks so silly, doesn’t it.
Demetrius Romeo: Yes, but it looks as though you’re having fun, and if you’re making each other laugh, you’re pretty much assured of making us laugh.
GRAEME GARDEN: Well, we usually made Bill laugh, on screen and on camera. But it’s the principal that we use on the radio as well. We’ve been doing I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue for some thirty years now, and our audience always amazed us because they’re all age groups and from all walks of life, and all we’re doing is trying to make each other laugh because it’s an allegedly ad lib’d kind of a show. We make sure we don’t know what everybody else is going to be doing – we might have an idea of what we’re going to be doing ourselves, but we try and surprise each other and make each other laugh. That’s a pretty good principal to work off, really.
Demetrius Romeo: Well, I hope it’s the same principle that pervades your Australian tour.
GRAEME GARDEN: I hope so. We’re looking forward to it, and we’re looking for bits and pieces that will hopefully tell the audience what sort of stuff we used to do, which we used to enjoy doing, and which we still do. We’re looking forward to having a good time, and I hope the audience makes us laugh a lot.
Demetrius Romeo: Fanstastic! Graeme Garden, thank you for your time.
GRAEME GARDEN: It’s been a pleasure.