Worst to Best
The Goodies

The entire BBC run of The Goodies has just been released on a massive boxset, The Complete BBC Collection, featuring almost 70 episodes, as well as special features, books and CDs. To celebrate, The Anorak Zone is taking a fresh look back at this much-loved comedy series...


The DVD boxset with all the BBC episodes is available via Amazon. The Goodies has previously been covered on this site during 2015-16, where each individual series ("season") was ranked by itself. To celebrate the boxset, with many of the episodes never having been released before, The Anorak Zone will replace the old articles by ranking the entire series, all 76 episodes, from worst to best. Although many entries are revisited, there are some fresh takes on certain episodes...

76 Holidays
(Series 9,
Episode 5)

The Goodies did five cost-saving episodes on a small number of sets to save money to spend on rest of the respective series – 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 series eight. The fact that an earlier version of Holidays would have formed part of series 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 LWT series was released on its own separate DVD set, not included as part of the BBC material, being screened on ITV. The two disc set 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.

75 Robot (9.1)

There's a hair's breadth between this and Holidays as the worst episode of the LWT series, 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.

74 Animals (9.6)

Not to be confused with the series 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!'

73 Change Of
Life (9.4)

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 series, 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 the Goodies and slate any of the series, 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.

72 Snow White 2
(Christmas Special)

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 series 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 series 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 LWT entry, 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.

71 Free To Live (2.10)

The Goodies were products of their time, and many elements of the series will perhaps not only make viewers in 2018 uncomfortable, but even the stars themselves have spoken about their embarrassment over questionable content. While Free To Live seems to have its heart in the right place, it's hugely dated now, a one-joke piece that sends up women in the name of equality. The Goodies have spoken about how they see their roles, despite sharing their real names, as "characters", and Bill's being closest to their own beliefs. With this in mind, then it's creditable that Bill is the one pushing for female rights in this episode, even though, troublingly, it's one of three series two episodes that uses the word "rape" as part of its comedic arsenal.
     In November 2014 Channel 4 aired a series looking back at television of the period, with Oddie as one of the contributors. Although the opening episode of It Was Alright In The 1970s saw Bill wincing through selected clips of Benny Hill, The Goodies wasn't called up for investigation... the overriding feeling being that, while The Goodies can sometimes be regarded as incredibly sexist today, it was probably genuinely tame and progressive for the standards of its time.
     Lastly, the episode title here is as it appears on the DVD release, even though it's more commonly known amongst fans as Women's Lib. It was only from series three onwards that the camera scripts started to carry specific episode titles, and they were generally known as things like "Show 2" for the first two series. Consequently many of the first 20 episodes, series two in particular, went by different names for the 40+ years that they awaited release on DVD.

70 Saturday Night
Grease (8.2)

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 series 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 series 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.

69 Daylight Robbery
On The Orient
Express (6.3)

It's perhaps inevitable that after such a successful and vibrant year in 1975, things would seem underwhelming in the follow-up series. At least half the episodes in series six are a little flat and lifeless; the most striking thing about the series is that it installs the highly memorable "donkey" clip in the opening credits.
     Daylight Robbery on the Orient Express begins with a very good joke that the Goodies are setting up their fake tour service, with Graeme presiding over a stationary train coach while Bill runs outside with trees and landmarks to convince the customers inside that it's moving. However, while a fine joke, it's one that's repeated endlessly until it's run into the ground. Of particular note is a scene in a carriage between Graeme and Tim, dressed as a geisha girl, which is the longest sustained length in the show without the studio audience laughing, both leads going through their lines both to barely audible, polite laughs and dead silence.
     On the plus side, there is genuine invention in the episode; the concept of a Cannes festival called "Le Boring" is oddly amusing, and it's a series so racy that they even imply a bestiality gag. Yet while The Goodies always had its child fans, some series six episodes sound like children are actually in the audience; the overriding feeling is that you've tuned into a particularly old-fashioned episode of Crackerjack.

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