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.
|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?