The sole ITV season of The Goodies aired from January-February 1982, and is, to date, the only season wholly available on DVD. The double disc set, including commentaries and other extras, can be ordered from the online Anorak Zone Store.
Bob Spiers, perhaps more well-known as one of the directors behind Fawlty Towers and Absolutely Fabulous, went with the team to ITV, continuing to direct the programme and now acting as sole producer. Join me as I rank the final Goodies season from worst to best...
The Goodies did five cost-saving episodes on a small number of sets to save money to spend on rest of the respective seasons – known today as "bottle episodes". These were often the favourites of the cast, who enjoyed the chance to work with more dialogue and further explore their characters. Sadly, Holidays is by far the weakest of the five, and almost inarguably the worst episode that they ever did. Although the BBC episodes didn't really convince viewers that what they were seeing was "real", with the LWT productions the bright lighting and riotous studio audiences erode all artifice and leave the viewer in no doubt that what you're watching is just a tatty television production for a mainstream audience. Jokes are cheap, the dialogue uninspired, and a range of silly costumes are brought on in increasingly desperate attempts to generate laughs.
Holidays was adapted from an unused script, disbanded due to strike action during season eight. The fact that an earlier version of Holidays would have formed part of season eight shows how low the quality control had slipped in their last days at the BBC, and how, even if they had continued with the corporation, they would likely have continued their downward spiral. The DVD release contains commentaries on two episodes - this one and Change of Life. While the latter is a largely inessential listen, Holidays sees the trio talk about why they left the BBC and their feelings about it both then and now. As one of their most essential commentaries, it has the unfortunate effect of being more entertaining than the actual episode itself.
There's a hair's breadth between this and Holidays as the worst episode of the LWT season, and, as a result, the worst-ever episode of The Goodies. One of the plusses of the LWT episodes is that some of them do bring back the idea of using Bill's songs as incidental music, even if some of the purely incidental jazzy pieces and tracks with female singers do bring to mind an episode of Benny Hill... and I say that as a Benny Hill fan. This is The Goodies with a major shift in their comic arsenal, a period where they would do anything for a laugh, including comedy robots, Graeme dressed up as an android or Bill dressed up as a Swedish au pair called "Helga".
This final element gives us Bill Oddie's biggest-ever corpse on screen, though much of the dialogue and situations are inaudible over the amped audience shrieking and whooping over this fifth-rate script. The audience reactions in The Goodies were always loud, and some later BBC episodes saw the leads look out to them, and play off them, some episodes even welcoming their interaction... yet, bizarrely, they were able to do this and still maintain the artifice of their fictional situation. Robot offers no such respite, an episode that has relentless roars of approval hurled at the lowest common denominator of material.
Not to be confused with the season eight episode of the same name, this unusually preachy episode sees Graeme open up a pet shop and introduce human animals into society, with Bill as a young puppy. For a series that offered giant kittens, cream mines and Northern kung fu, then it ought to be one of limitless situations. But there's perhaps an in-built resistance to the premise of this episode, whereby the question "what if Bill was human, but decided to become a dog?" is instantly met with the response "but that doesn't make any sense at all." Far-fetched, ludicrous plots were a staple of the series... but this is one of the few times where it's so far removed from reality that there's no comedic centre to hang onto.
One element the final series restored is the concept of the three leads being friends, rather than one particularly playing an insane villain for the week, out to kill the others. Yet such redefined parameters, along with the shorter, 25 minute length for ITV push the show back into a rigidly defined, linear narrative. No longer do The Goodies have the power to surprise with inspired zaniness, instead the series treads a predictable path. Animals was the final LWT episode, with Michael Grade pulling the plug while the stars got paid for all of their contracted three years. This meant that they were contractually obligated not to work together, and so concluded The Goodies with their poorest shows. The final shot is a strangely apt aping of Warner Bros. cartoons, and the line ‘That's all folks!'
The concept behind Change Of Life – a meta critique-cum-deconstruction of The Goodies' own past, and how they're getting too old to make it – is, in principle, a rewarding one. Sadly, it's all swamped in broad overplaying, comedy robots and bright lighting, with a brash LWT audience roaring over every line. Bill, while still nowhere near as overweight as he was in the first four seasons, is clearly heavier than in his slimmed down, '75 peak, and the concept of Bill with no shirt on, having his nipples tweaked by Tim, is the opening basis of the humour on display.
Later instances include them all dressing up with mock-plastic surgery to appear "young"... a scene made ludicrous by the fact that they dress, as pictured, in a way that no one ever really would. Such an assertion may seem over-analytical for what is, at heart, just a silly show, but the ITV world of The Goodies saw them as less energised creatures, and not roaming the suburban streets of Cricklewood, but patrolling rundown alleys by the ATV studios. As a result, it feels more depressingly realistic, the surreal elements jarring with a show where the ever-vocal audience act as a constant reminder that this was a typical ITV Saturday night.
LWT contemporaries of The Goodies included Game For A Laugh and Metal Mickey... it's sadly not that difficult to see the comparisons. While it's disheartening to run an article on any Goodies season and slate it, it has to be acknowledged that the LWT stuff simply isn't very good, certainly not in comparison to the rest of their work. The final punchline of this one sees them trying to get their jobs back at the BBC, only to find they've been taken. While a tongue-in-cheek reference to their situation, history shows that it was only too close to the truth: the group effectively cast out from their home over eleven years, and languishing at an ITV that didn't want them when it had them.
Although The Goodies was regarded as underperforming in its ITV timeslot (embarrassingly being watched by less people than the Mind Your Language repeats that replaced it), the figures by today's standards are surprisingly high. Every episode of the ninth season was watched by more than eleven million people, with the ratings consistent... it's a testament to how TV viewing habits have changed that only the season opener, with a customarily high "first night" viewing spike of 13.6 million, managed to break the top 20. Snow White 2 was the lowest-rated of all their ITV shows, achieving just 8.1 million on December 27th 1981.
Unusually for a Goodies Christmas special, it's just a standard length episode, that standard length now being 25 minutes on a channel with, ironically enough, commercials. Unremittingly childish yet with some adult innuendo, it stands up better than the majority of the LWT output, which is faint praise. Though with elements like domineering women and all three Goodies blacked up with bones through their noses, it's a testament to why their days were numbered this far into their run. Times had moved on in the 1980s, but The Goodies hadn't been able to move with it. Once a much-beloved show, on the basis of nearly every entry here, it's not hard to argue that the series had had its day and needed to be rested. Ironically, considering their LWT work cut back on the physical/stunt side of their shows due to their age, often seeming flat as a result, then Snow White 2 features the moment when they came nearest to death... the collapsing house scene went wrong, and fell on them, nearly killing them.
The Goodies had traditionally gone out on BBC2 in the evening, often post-watershed, with edited versions being shown later on BBC1 in a more family-friendly timeslot. Season one had been as late as 10:50pm, though some later episodes had been as early as 8pm due to their wide crossover appeal between generations. What the Goodies protested against was ITV's decision to screen the series in a Saturday teatime slot of 6:45pm, and then, for the second half of the season, to bring this forward to 6:15pm in an attempt to get ahead of those tuning in for Jim'll Fix It on the other side. The irony is that, despite a higher discussion of sex than usual in some episodes, such objections were largely irrelevant with season nine, a series that had become the very "kid's programme" they'd long argued it wasn't. Bigfoot, with its singing animals, sing-a-long bigfoot song and bizarrely childish visual effects is the most juvenile of all, one that can appeal to the smaller audience without ever having to prove itself to adults or offer any real satirical merit. All this said, if watched purely as a children's television programme, and with no other expectations, then Bigfoot can actually be pretty amusing on its own terms.
Perhaps the only LWT episode that can be compared with any of the BBC episodes, Football Crazy offers satirical commentary on the rise of crowd hooliganism in football. There are real signs that this is The Goodies reworking their past; season six's 2001 and a Bit had given us the concepts of ball-free football and allowing viewers to vote for their favourite foul, while mixing ballet with an incongruous sport had been something tackled as far back as season two's Come Dancing. Such criticisms aren't perhaps to be held up to too close a scrutiny; after all, by this time the series had been made for over eleven years, and a certain amount of repetition and self-referencing was inevitable, even unconsciously.
One of the few LWT episodes to have the regulars in opposition, with Tim as policeman and Bill as a hooligan, it produces some rare laughs in this weak season, though the second half with the ballet section does drag somewhat. Later seasons of The Goodies had seen the tensions between Tim and Bill's characters as an increasing focal point, with Graeme becoming more of a sidelined character, so Garden here has a special section where he gets to impersonate three football pundits on a split screen. Football Crazy is also largely unique for the LWT work in that it features guest stars, including Wayne Sleep, Fred Dinenage and Kenneth Wolstenholme. Although the series had, in fairness, been largely starved of major guest stars for a number of years at the BBC, the LWT run is a curiously claustrophobic experience, the feeling of The Goodies being cast out into the wilderness and no one wanting to play. Football Crazy manages to buck this trend, and, perhaps coincidentally, is the best of the run, on a par with one of the weaker BBC offerings.