Remembering Tim Brooke-Taylor
Clowns have often come in threes. Rimmer, Lister and Cat; Fathers Ted, Dougal and Jack; Officers Boyle, Peralto and Santiago. One is the “Whiteface” – the creepy elder one, one is “Redface”/”Augustus” – the crazy one, and the last is the Character.
Timothy Julian Brooke-Taylor was always the character from his birth in 1940s Buxton in Derby. Starting into Economics and Politics, it wasn’t until he moved across into Cambridge Footlights that he met up with John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden and Jonathan Lynn, finally becoming President of the Club.
Stepping up from Footlights, he appeared in I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again – a show based on badly acted pantomimes with many impressions that lead to the development of shows like Spitting Image, Dead Ringers and The Now Show.
From the radio, he moved onto At Last The 1948 Show – helping to push up Sir David Frost, The Pythons (who he nearly joined), The Two Ronnies and many more. During this, he helped to come up with the often-repeated Class Sketch (above) [made famous in The Frost Report ] and a small sketch originally known as “The Four Northern Men”
I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again re-appeared on television in sketches for How to Irritate People, Marty and Broaden Your Mind; and from the collaborations formed here, the BBC commissioned “The Goodies”.
If you can imagine being pre-booked to appear in coloured dungarees on every programme on TV, you can understand how powerful the Goodies became. Every bit as famous as the Beatles, The Spice Girls or Billie Eilish; but with an anarchic tic and a strange nervousness around cameras.
Graeme, Bill and Tim’s sketches all worked around slapstick, surrealism and wordplay – like Vic Reeve’s Big Night Out – so having them onto shows left Auntie Beeb wondering what exactly was happening with these three college boys who had taken over the TV.
In The Goodies, Graeme was the Whiteface, Bill was the Redface and Tim was the Character – an effete patriot who stood up for the Queen, wore a Union Jack and cowered away from anything like hard work or naughty bits.
Like many clowns, this was simply the character he had played the most – and Tim had often appeared as a cowardly civil servant type.
From Watership Down, Apartheid, The Magic Roundabout, JCB Diggers, Martial Arts and King Kong, the sketches came. Every possible avenue of interaction was mined for humour, and played with a budget that made Doctor Who seem rich.
Along with Kitten Kong and Kung Fu Kapers, The Goodies became to 60/70s audiences what F.R.I.E.N.D.S was in the 90s and Tiger King is today. The “must watch” show. Kitten Kong even won the Silver Rose of Montreux, a first for a TV show to win a film award.
And then, it stopped. No-one is quite sure why, but many fingers point to the BBC getting increasingly nervous about a lot of the sketches. On a channel that still didn’t like to refer to “toilet parts”, jokes about Apartheid did NOT go down well.
Tim got himself a job as the Computer Scientist in the original Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, before re-joining Graeme in 1972 to start I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue on the radio.
ISIHAC is one of the precursors to Mock The Week / Whose Line Is It Anyway? / Never Mind the Buzzcocks – a panel game that really didn’t take itself too seriously, and took the audience even less seriously. The outrageous Mornington Crescent – where a game with no rules was explained as if there were many – lead to many jokes at the audience expense.
For 40 years, Tim and the others presented weak after week jokes in The Goodies style, without the BBC fully acknowledging the huge cultural impact the three of them had made. The Pythons, The Ronnies and David Frost were elevated champions while the likes of The Goodies, Kenny Everett and Marty Feldman were swept back as not being quite “viewer-friendly” enough.
A “viewer-unfriendly” incident of Tim’s was perhaps the night that he demanded entry for an undesirable to enter Cambridge Footlights – it was sacrosanct for women not to be allowed, even if they were called Germaine Greer.
The Big Ben Project, which I reviewed here, was the first of the project to bring the Goodies back – and it is unlikely to go ahead now. The Legacy of Tim Brooke-Taylor still lives on as the BBC are finally releasing The Goodies videos, and releasing I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue through Spotify and Audible.
Tim received his Order of the British Empire for services to Light Entertainment on 11th June 2011 and served his Country peacefully until 12th April 2020.
And so as the loose-bowelled pigeon of time swoops low over the unsuspecting tourist of destiny, and the flatulent skunk of fate wanders into the air-conditioning system of eternity, let us leave with TB-T singing The Smiths “Girlfriend in a Coma” to the tune of “Tiptoe Through The Tulips.”