Worst to Best
The Goodies
Season Eight

After a year's break, The Goodies returned to television for a series of six episodes that aired from January-February 1980. When it concluded, the BBC allocated their budget to making The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy for television, with no guarantees of any more Goodies series in the future.
     


by
THE ANORAK
FEBRUARY 2016


As word spread that the Goodies would possibly be available, London Weekend Television offered them a three-year deal to make episodes for ITV. Reputedly more lucrative than the arrangement they'd got for all eight of their BBC seasons, the trio accepted the deal and defected to the rival channel. Join me as I rank the final BBC season from worst to best...

6 Saturday Night Grease

The only season eight episode to be released on DVD to date is also the worst. The Goodies came in on the back of the 60s satire boom, and kept their family friendly-yet-edgy brand of humour relevant throughout much of the '70s. Yet by the time of season eight it was the beginning of the 1980s, and non-mainstream comedy, of which The Goodies was arguably a part, was taking a seismic shift towards what is pejoratively known as "political correctness". Comedy was becoming spikier and more explicit, and when in 1982 BBC2 was airing The Young Ones, The Goodies finished out their days in a Saturday tea time slot on ITV. Now safe and unthreatening, the humour of the series in the new decade was MOR, and with them still doing a blackface gag at this late stage of the show, they were rapidly becoming relics.
     What's perhaps disappointing about season eight is that the programme suddenly relies so heavily on film parodies for its humour, and, as most of those films, as here, are over 18 months old, it does make it obvious that the scripts hadn't been updated since strike action at the BBC curtailed them being filmed. While rewriting them would have been too drastic a decision (unlike many other previous parodies, here the spoofs are central to the plots) the scripts were actually commissioned by the BBC in August 1978, and not made until late 1979. In many previous years the studio material would be filmed close to transmission date, sometimes even up to just a week beforehand... here, while being a couple of months ahead wasn't unusual, what was unusual was that they were performing material they'd signed off on over a year earlier. A series that could be topical and even ahead of its time was suddenly looking old hat and out of touch, which wasn't the fault of the Goodies themselves, but viewers weren't to know that. Saturday Night Grease is full of broad laughs, with the Goodies forcing themselves into ridiculous costumes and situations in the hope of getting cheap laughs. It's a low point for their BBC output, and a clear pointer towards their career at LWT.

5 Animals

I imagine many of you reading were, like myself, just a small child when The Goodies was first airing. As a result, this episode, with its one joke – being cruel to animals is funny – struck me as hilarious at the time. 36 years after it first aired, the joke doesn't feel that funny anymore, certainly not to the heights of repetition here, and some of the more twee elements, such as a "The Doggies" payoff, make you wonder how Graeme and Bill's comic instincts abandoned them so badly. A mock Attenborough documentary goes on for nearly five minutes and gets only polite laughs from the studio audience, while they discard real presenters playing it straight in favour of Mel Smith as a newreader for "Not The News at Ten", a reference to their new contemporary. Often The Goodies would give references to their peers Monty Python (and indeed do so in this episode and in U Friend Or UFO?), but here they take the unusual turn of ushering in the new guard.
The episode is available digitally from The BBC Store

4 U-Friend Or UFO?

Shot at night, and in the location of a mountaintop café, there's a different feel to this episode than many others. As with Saturday Night Grease, it dates itself hugely and shows a lack of real comic acumen by so closely spoofing contemporary culture (in this case Close Encounters Of The Third Kind/Star Wars/Superman), though does so with a bit more flair. The oddest moment occurs with a send up of forgotten US sitcom The Flying Nun. Not only had it finished airing before The Goodies even started, but it's hard to know why they tried to spoof something that was already comedic in nature. Like season six's 2001 & A Bit, the episode ends with a nuclear explosion which, while a striking image, seems more a result of them lacking a real ending rather than something growing organically from the script.

3 War Babies

War Babies was the final episode of The Goodies for the BBC, and it's perhaps an unfortunate irony that the last words heard in the episode are "So long, suckers." While not recapturing their peak years, War Babies is a nice enough note to go out on, a series of twisted surrealism that features all three leads as adult-sized babies in World War II, Tim eventually converted into a clockwork Churchill double playing football against a German tank. Such flights of fancy develop and grow throughout the episode, and Tim giving an impassioned monologue to Land Of Hope And Glory – one of the series' most overused gags – is given a new lease of life when he tries to do it as a baby who can only gurgle.

2 A Kick Up The Arts

More sophisticated than its title would make it appear, A Kick Up The Arts manages to turn back the clock to the more easy going, laid-back style of the Goodies' early 70s humour. The first half of the episode features inspired takes on gambling, with the second giving way to Olympic events that mix high culture with sports, such as J.B. Priestley doing a long jump over his selected works, or diving while reciting Shakespeare. Seven episodes of The Goodies featured sports as a prominent element, and oddly it never really quite "took" as a successful target for the programme, possibly because sporting fixtures were too mundane for a series as vibrant and surreal. A Kick Up The Arts is probably the best of them, one that manages to marry the series' sense of the absurd with the political side of sporting events.

1 Politics

One striking thing about the series from season six onwards is how aged Graeme becomes. Gone are the black rimmed glasses in favour of a more middle-aged pair, and his hair becomes greyer and sparser, his suits less "failed hipster" and more "dad jackets". Most significantly of all, from this season onwards, he has just regular sideburns, and his not his trademark mutton chops. The youngest of the Goodies, he hadn't even reached forty by the time the series ended, yet often looks the senior figure of the group, perhaps not helped by him having the least showy character, comedically.
     Yet Politics is an episode that illustrates that, no matter how old they were getting in 1980, the series was still capable of having some bite. The whole series played out under the reigns of just four Prime Ministers: Edward Heath (seasons one - four); Harold Wilson (season five); James Callaghan (seasons six - seven) and Margaret Thatcher (seasons eight - nine). Thatcher was by far the most divisive, and while their take on her isn't as savage as some comedy shows that followed, they still show teeth by having a section on "culling the unemployed". Tim impersonating her does mine a familiar seam of "Tim in drag", yet it's done pointedly, and Bill's bolshy character is also upped several notches, at one point telling the Queen on the phone "Oh, belt up, you old gas bag!" The ending is something of a damp squib, a version of It's A Knockout played for nuclear Armageddon turning out only to be metaphorical, not literal as it would normally be for the programme. Despite this, Politics shows that even at this late stage in their career, The Goodies could still stay relevant, if they were willing to try.