Wednesday, 6 April 2016

British anarchic humour


Kitten Kong The Goodies Graeme Tim Twinkle
Liza's recent post on her fab new Fair Isle beret led to people talking about The Goodies. I love The Goodies. In fact, I enjoy slightly surreal or anarchic humour generally. It seems to be something we're quite fond of in Britain – as an island, we're not so big on surrealism in fine art, but we love it in our comedy.


Papa Robot started me early; I can't actually remember when I first heard The Goon Show, but he had loads on tape and would play them regularly. In case you're not familiar with the Goons, this was a popular radio programme in the 1950s, written mostly by Spike Milligan and mainly performed by Milligan, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and, in the early days, Michael Bentine.

Secombe only played one major character, the hapless Neddie Seagoon, while all the remaining major characters were supplied by the others. While the characters were always the same in essence – Bluebottle was an overgrown boy scout, Eccles his dimwit friend, scoundrel Bloodnok, Henry Crun the superannuated inventor and Minnie Bannister his equally doddery paramour, Grytpype-Thynne a smoothly rakish ne'er-do-well and Moriarty his disreputable friend – there was no continuity between episodes. This freed Milligan up to drop Ned into the most bizarre situations with absolutely no need to get him out again. In fact, Bluebottle probably died more times than Dracula over the course of a couple of hundred broadcasts, and Milligan never had to worry about how to bring him back.

Among my favourite episodes are 'Wings Over Dagenham' (in which Neddie invents the aeroplane, prompting Grytpype to show up and charge him for installing air for it to fly in, while Moriarty laments that this will mean the end of the horse-drawn zeppelin), 'The Dreaded Batter Pudding Hurler of Bexhill-on-Sea' (in which Minnie Bannister is menaced by someone flinging batter puddings at her - at one point Seagoon accuses Winston Churchill of being the culprit) and 'Tales of Men's Shirts' (in which it's 1942 and the Germans invent a potion that makes British officers' shirt tales explode when they sit down to write their war memoirs).

Oddly, I never really paid much attention to Monty Python till I was at university; it's more my husband's thing than mine. I think it's too lacking in any narrative for me. My very favourite thing in Python is 'The Crimson Permanent Assurance', the bijou filmette at the start of their film The Meaning of Life, in which a group of elderly accountants turn their office block into a pirate ship and plunder large corporations. It's fair to say that it has a Goonish quality – driveable buildings do pop up in some Goon Shows.
Kitten Kong The Goodies
Whole lotta cat...

And so to the 1970s and The Goodies. More coherent, less anarchic than Monty Python, like The Goon Show it doesn't have episode-to-episode continuity. The Goodies - Tim Brooke-Taylor, Bill Oddie and Graeme Garden (crrrrrumpet!) are permanently skint and so will try anything to earn a living: gold mining out west (they strike cream), climbing a giant beanstalk, becoming Bad Scouts and threatening people for 'bob a job' and so on. Pretty much everyone's favourite episode, however, is Kitten Kong. Bill takes up caring for animals for their owners, and when fluffy white kitten Twinkle fails to thrive, Graeme gives her some medicine to build her up. Cue a giant fluffy white kitten going Godzilla on London...

The tradition of anarchic comedy hasn't died out. John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme on Radio 4 is absolutely brilliant. One of Mr Robot's very favourite sketches is 'New Friend'. There's no link to my favourite online, sadly: 'Thank you, thank you Captain Dinosaur', a dinosaur hymn to their creator, and the wonderful comet he's sending them. Last year I finally got to repay Papa Robot for that long-ago introduction to the Goons by sending him some Finnemore CDs.

Do you have a favourite surreal/anarchic comedy programme on telly or radio?

28 comments :

  1. My Dad was also a huge Goons fan and we always watched The Goodies. I never really got Monty Python, I remember being just about the only person at college who couldn't quote it word for word! I did like the films but not the tv series. I remember Jasper Carrott being very popular when I was at college too, especially the mole sketch.

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    1. ONLY ONE WAY TO GET RID OF A MOLE!..

      Legendary sketch, that one.

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  2. this looks interesting though Ive never heard of it Ill have to look it up

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  3. Like Gisela, my Dad was a huge Goons fan and absolutely worshiped Spike Mulligan. I loved The Young Ones as a teenager but my brother and I were only able to watch it when Dad wasn't around and he thought it was dreadful. x

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    1. Aaah, I forgot The Young Ones! How could I forget them? I loved that show.

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    1. No, she's just a giant fluffy white kitten who stomps around London. In the end, the Goodies disguise themselves as giant mice in order to get the antidote to her!

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  5. My Dad had a few Goon Show tapes, I remember listening to The Siege Of Fort Night again and again and again… I loved Bluebottle!

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    1. Deaded! You rotten swine, you!

      Bluebottle is aces. He might well be my favourite too, though the whole thing does need bumbling innocent Neddie to revolve around.

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  6. I adore all those comedies. I love Python and can often be found singing the words "it's fun to charter an accountant.." any time that I have to do financials. I recently rewatched The Goodies and it never gets old. They were wonderful and I concur about GG. ;) Xx

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    1. That song is great.

      The first time I went back to Mr Robot's room at uni, he put a comedy tape (showing my age there!) on to break the ice, but unfortunately the first song was Python's 'Sit on my face and tell me that you love me'. Not quite the thing to set a new girlfriend at complete ease!

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    2. Mim, I am in bits laughing. I can only imagine all the red faces all round. :) Xx

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  7. I was brought up on a healthy dose of the Goon show as my dad had some BBC recordings, its such bonkers fun that I think it appeals as much to adults as it did to us kids! Since discovering Radio 4 Extra (or Radio 7 as it once was) I have been re introduced to these recordings and so many other wonderful golden oldies which make my hours at work much more fun!

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    1. Radio 4 Extra is wonderful, isn't it? I hope the Beeb keeps digging into the archives, as they have brought back some real gems. (Oh, how I wish there were new Paul Temples to enjoy.)

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  8. I never knew that sort of comedy was called 'anarchic.'
    I really like Terry Gilliam's films, especially "The Imaginarium of Dr Parnassus" which takes a surreal but rather dark bent.
    I want to know if Kitten Kong breathes fire like Godzilla too.

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    1. Well, I think of it as anarchic. I don't know if there's a proper term for it.

      Gilliam is a genius, isn't he? I think 12 Monkeys is probably my favourite one of his. Hmm, that or Brazil? Now I'm thinking about it, perhaps I like Brazil better...

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  9. Thanks for the mention, Mim. The Goodies, Tiswas and Kenny Everett shaped my childhood humour, which was later honed by The Young Ones. The Goodies had a crazy yet gentle childishness to their humour - Tiswas was all out mayhem and held two fingers up to the more genteel and restrained Swap Shop on the other side. And as for Kenny - it was very naughty, close to the edge humour, but he had such a charm that made him completely loveable - I was so sad when he died.

    Rolling on a few years, I loved The 11 o'Clock Show with the Ali G slot. I couldn't believe what he could get away with in those interviews. The tree protesters episode still brings tears to my years. Then on Radio 4 there were Dead Ringers with Jon Culshaw phoning up people and pretending to be Dr Who - truly superb. It was a huge step up from making phone call pranks when a kid.

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    1. Oh yes, Dead Ringers! Did you hear the one where their 'Doctor' rang Tom Baker, and Baker played along? Best impersonation sketch ever.

      I honestly don't know how Kenny got away with calling a character Cupid Stunt. I guess it's in the 'Round the Horne' tradition of 'If you get the joke, you're not going to admit to it.'

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  10. Even in Belgium, some of us have heard of the Goon Show and Spike Milligan, and I was allowed to stay up late to watch Monty Python at the time, as my dad was quite a fan. Oh, and The Young Ones were legendary, of course. xxx

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    1. My mum hated The Young Ones, which of course made them all the more watchable...

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  11. Hello Mim.
    Here's something I can't leave a large comment on, since (sadly), The Goodies hasn't reached these parts of Europe - or, at a least I'm not aware it ever got aired. "Pytons", on the other hand.. oh, they have REACHED us. :)
    Not only dd they reached these areas, but they have had a major influence, since our humor is quite similar to yours (did you know that?).. we, too love a bit of anarchy..

    M.

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    1. Excellent! I haven't seen any Serbian telly, but it's nice to know there's a shared love of bonkers comedy.

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  12. There are some MP sketches that I adore and I completely appreciate what they did for the genre of comedy, but of the two of us, Tony is more into Monty Python than I am, and in my experience, chaps generally favour them more than us ladies. Have you found this to be true on your side of the pond, MP's homeland, as well?

    Have a splendid Sunday,
    ♥ Jessica

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    1. Yes, it definitely tends to be more popular with men. I can be a tad blokey sometimes!

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  13. Andy really likes The Goons, I've never heard any ... My thing when I was a teen was Monty Python, though I hated the animation with a passion. Now I am cooler toward it but I still like The Young Ones x

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    1. Hehehe, the animation was originally the only bit I liked.

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  14. My dad loved the Goons and used to do the voices. I still have all his old records. I used to live Vic Reeves Big Night Out. Totally daft, but I loved Wavy Davy and all the characters. What's on the end of the stick, Vic? You wouldn't let it lie! Hope you know what I'm blithering on about?! Xxx

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