The Comedy Vault – The Goodies.

The Goodies (BBC2, 1970-1980, ITV, 1981-1982)

This is one of the longest-running TV sitcoms of its era, and there really has almost been nothing else like it since. The trio that make up The Goodies had previously worked on other comedy shows going back to the mid-60s, including Broaden Your Mind. But it was decided that they should stay together and try doing a new show of their own.

These super chaps three would became affectionately known to viewers as Timmy, Billy, and, er, Graemey. When they weren’t falling off their bike, they were at their HQ and made themselves available to help anyone at any time, whatever the challenge was. It really is difficult to describe most of what happened in the episodes, but this must be the closest that a sitcom has ever come to resembling a cartoon, and you really didn’t know what was going to happen next.

Eventually, this did well enough for there to be an impressive amount of high-profile celebrities who wanted to take part, however embarrassed they might end up looking, and the guest list became something that even Morecambe and Wise would’ve been proud of. This led to the trio doing other things together outside of this sitcom, including books and comics being released, and they also went on to have five hit singles.

Episodes also featured plenty of spoof adverts, which is a thing that always gets my approval. They also continued to work on other projects, including Bill’s CITV show Saturday Banana (did I ever tell you about the Saturday Banana indecent? Maybe I should do that one day). After about a decade of this, it seems that they were eager for a new challenge, so like many other talents before them, they jumped to ITV.

But by this point the idea had started to run out of energy somewhat, and the first series on ITV (and ninth in total) was also the last. Since then they have gone on to work on more projects, who remembers Superted and Beat The Nation now? There were 76 episodes of The Goodies, and about a decade after the end, there was a repeat run on satellite channel UK Gold, although some episodes had been lost in the archive by the point, while some that remained were rather tatty.

There was some frustration at the lack of repeats on BBC2 though, a whole generation had now never seen this. Why don’t those old fuddy-duddy pompous executives give the people what they want? Eventually a few episodes were shown, and a much-heralded DVD release followed. The Goodies is a show that has been documented and celebrated more than most, and holds a unique place in British comedy history.

Game Show Memories – Brainbox Challenge.

Brainbox Challenge (BBC2, 2008)

Over the years, BBC2 have tried out a huge amount of game shows in daytime and early-evening slots. Just about all of them, with the exception of the long-running Eggheads, have ended up doing fairly badly. This is an example of another one that ended up coming and going fairly quickly, although I do remember coming across this one day and thinking that this was an interesting idea (although for me anything is better than Eggheads).

The host of Brainbox Challenge was Clive Anderson. Around this time there were a lot of “brain training” games, where people had to solve various puzzles involving letters, numbers, shapes, and so on. This idea was expanded on for this show, which was a little like the Mental Agility round in The Krypton Factor too. The aim is for a contestant to play various challenges and test their skills against an opponent, and every time they succeed, they go up the money ladder.

Before the next game, they are shown who their new opponent would be, in a similar style to Playing For Time. A little information was revealed about them, but not necessarily what their best skills were. They can leave at this point, and take the money that they have won, or they could play them, knowing that if they were to lose, they would drop back to their previous safe level.

The scoring system was similar to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, with questions being played for increasing amounts of money, and dropping back to your last safe level when you are defeated. Five games are played in every edition, and whoever the current champion is at the end gets the opportunity to play the bonus round, where a sequence of shapes have to be memorised and then recalled for extra money.

The maximum amount on offer is £13,000, if they reach the top of the money ladder, and get every answer right in the bonus rounds too. Brainbox Challenge (not to be confused with Brain Box, one of those short-lived call-and-lose live shows that was also around at this time) only ran for four weeks, and ending up doing so badly in the evening slot, that the final week was shown at 1pm, which was rather disappointing.

Viewers could also play some of the games themselves on the website (but not for money). I personally would’ve liked to see more editions, but it wasn’t to be. And curiously, there was a game show with a similar idea on the CBBC Channel around the same time called Brain-Jitsu, which seemed to be a little better received, and presented this style of challenge in a much more exciting and creative way.

The Comedy Vault – Malcolm In The Middle.

Malcolm In The Middle (Fox, 2000-2006)

This is another American sitcom that I must admit I haven’t watched a huge amount over the years, but I am definitely aware that this is considered to be one of the most popular (and indeed funniest) of its era. The main character is Malcolm (not to be confused with that weird puppet thing on that game show that I reviewed recently).

He is “in the middle” because he lives with his parents Hal and Lois, and two of his brothers, Reece is older than him, and Dewey is younger (his other older brother Francis is away). Malcolm is a rather bright boy, with an IQ that is well above-average, but he doesn’t always find school to be an easy experience. His only real friend is Stevie, who helps him along the way.

But despite is supposed cleverness, when he is at home, he squabbles with his brothers just as much as any other family does. His parents often have trouble keeping everything under control, including his short-tempered mother who works at a department store. Malcolm sometimes can’t help but wonder what life is all about, and reflects on his situations in pieces straight to camera.

As the series progressed, more attention is made to the aging of the children than there is in most sitcoms. Malcolm entered his teenage years, Francis got married, and Lois eventually gave birth once again, bringing a fifth son into the family. Malcolm didn’t consider his parents to be fairly odd though, because that was another show. This was definitely a step above the “everybody in my family is crazy”-type sitcoms that there have been so many of.

There were 151 episodes of Malcolm In The Middle in seven series, and they have all been released on DVD. This was first shown in this country on Sky One, but really took off when episodes were shown on BBC2, often shown after The Simpsons, to create a rather satisfying double-bill. In more recent years, there have been repeat runs on various other channels.

The theme music “Boss Of Me” was provided by They Might Be Giants, and this also became a hit single, making this the first time that they had been on the UK chart for over a decade. There was also a memorable parody in Family Guy, even accounting for the fact that they have now parodied just about every other show on TV, this one still managed to stand out. I’m talking to you!

More TV Memories – Comic Relief.

Comic Relief (BBC1/BBC2, 1986-present)

It wasn’t really until the mid-80s when singles were realised to support charities that would become chart-toppers and sell in ludicrous amounts, along with endless telethons too. After the groundbreaking success of Live Aid, it was realised that these were ways to raise amounts of money like never before. So the decision was made to host a special show where the biggest comic talent around could perform.

The first edition of Comic Relief was actually a pre-recorded stage show at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London, and some of the highlights were then shown on TV. This all seemed to go down rather well, and when the first Comic Relief single topped the chart for a long time itself not long after, it was realised that this idea could have a big future.

Two years later, this was turned into a live telethon show, that took up the majority of the night. And of course, there was the opportunity to buy a red nose, a tradition that has continued ever since, and people across the country were encouraged to do some rather silly things to help raise some money as well. The earliest editions seemed to consist of plenty of fun sketches, featuring some unlikely combinations taking part.

The hosts included the likes of Lenny Henry and Griff Rhys Jones, who rather entertainingly were barely able to hold everything together, and would end up overrunning by about three hours. By the early-90s, this was an event that took place every other year. The variety of red nose designs on offer increased, and the “we don’t know what’ll happen next” air continued to hover over the TV show. There were also further treats like The Great Big Stupid Celebrity Sketch Show (that was the actual title).

There were often special editions of popular sitcoms like Men Behaving Badly and The Vicar Of Dibley too. By the 2000s though, something had changed, and things started to become a little more settled, with several non-comedians hosting, constantly going on about how much we needed to donate right now. The air of unpredictability had gone, and the comedy acts who did perform died rather badly on stage (Mitchell and Webb being one example).

This was rather disappointing, as many felt that there was now little difference between this and Children In Need. Seriously, who cares who the winner of Celebrity Fame Academy is? There have been some innovations in more recent years, including an edition that came live from the O2, where nobody could see or hear anything. Comic Relief is still going and undoubtedly has helped many people around the world, but doesn’t seem to be that much of an event nowadays really.

The Comedy Vault – Goodness Gracious Me.

Goodness Gracious Me (BBC2, 1998-2001, 2014-2015)

This is the sketch show that was one of the more successful comedy shows of its era. Goodness Gracious Me was the show that took a look at life with an Asian twist. The first editions were actually on BBC Radio 4 in 1996, although I didn’t hear them first-time round, but like with many other shows, they have constantly been repeated on BBC7/BBC Radio 4 Extra.

This was well received, and led to the transfer to TV in 1998. And once again, this is a comedy show where I saw the majority of the editions for the first time on UK Play, or PlayUK, or whatever it was called that week (why isn’t this great channel still going?). Their range of regular characters managed to strike a chord with plenty of viewers from various backgrounds.

These included the gossip reporter, the man who thought that everything was Indian, a Bollywood film star, and a rather rude kangaroo. If you were a viewer, you would know why people were starting to say “cheque, please”. Some of the sketches were performed in the studio with a rather basic set design, but the ideas always managed to get across. And whilst maybe not hitting the heights of The Fast Show, this still turned out to be a decent-sized success.

Among the cast members was Dave Lamb, who is better known nowadays for being the rather booming voiceover on a lot of shows, where he has managed to take sarcasm to extraordinarily new levels. By the time of the second series, Goodness Gracious Me was popular enough to be winning awards, and for there to be a stage tour featuring a lot of the now rather familiar characters.

There was also a special theme night, and among the shows was a look behind the scenes (and by this point I think that some editions were repeated on BBC1 in a late-night slot too). Following the third and final series, there was a one-off special featuring sketches made on location in India. And after this, some of the cast stayed together to work on comedy chat show The Kumars At No. 42. The majority of the episodes have been released on DVD.

In more recent years, Goodness Gracious Me was occasionally revived, firstly with a special that was part of BBC2’s 50th anniversary celebrations, meaning that for the first time in about 15 years, the cast got together to go through some of the best-remembered characters again. Further specials were as part of a season about India, and another celebrated 20 years of the TV version.

More TV Memories – Alexei Sayle.

Alexei Sayle’s Stuff (BBC2, 1988-1991)/The All-New Alexei Sayle Show (BBC2, 1994-1995)/Alexei Sayle’s Merry-Go-Round (BBC2, 1998)

Alexei Sayle is another one of those comedians who was part of the alternative comedy scene. Some of his earliest TV appearances were taking part in late-night Tiswas spin-off OTT. Although he quickly realised that this style wasn’t really for him, and he soon turned up in the much more comfortable area of The Young Ones. He even went on to have a hit single.

By the late-80s, he was well-known enough to launch the first in his trilogy of sketch shows. First was Alexei Sayle’s Stuff. As well as the sketches, he took the opportunity to rant on about various things, whatever they were, and wherever he was. What was notable was that the writers included Andrew Marshall and David Renwick, who would go on to further success individually.

But this meant that there were rather a lot of bizarre moments, in a rather similar style to End Of Part One, the sketch show that they created about a decade earlier. And among the support cast was Angus Deayton, who was going to become a big name in comedy too. The combination of all this was rather fast-paced, and you couldn’t take your eyes away. I think that unlike the later series, this has been released on DVD.

Next was The All-New Alexei Sayle Show, which was to some extent more of the same, but this was with different writers and a new support cast. Along with the usual rambling routines, there were a few regular sketches, including Australian soap parody Psycho Ward 11, and science-fiction parody Drunk In Time. Another highlight was the useless comedian Bobby Chariot, who struggled with a lot of things.

Also around this time, he was in the little-seen but rather bizarre sitcom Paris. There was one more spin on this idea with Alexei Sayle’s Merry-Go-Round. By this point, he had been in the business for about two decades, and he had perfected his routine, there were more observations in unlikely locations, along with the return of Bobby Chariot.

After this, despite having no further TV sketch shows, he has continued to contribute to comedy, more now on the radio. In recent years, he has hosted Alexei Sayle’s Imaginary Sandwich Bar, where now older and wiser, he looked back on what he has learned about life and the world, and Strangers On A Train, where he interviewed various people who he was travelling with to learn their stories.

More TV Memories – Kevin Turvey.

Kevin Turvey Investigates (BBC2, 1981)/The Man Behind The Green Door (BBC2, 1982)

During the alternative comedy boom of the early-80s, among the sketch shows was A Kick Up The Eighties, where a group of up-and-coming comic talents got together to perform various sketches, some being more satirical than others. This was somewhat overshadowed by the similar Not The Nine O’Clock News though, and isn’t as well remembered today.

One of the sketches in A Kick Up The Eighties were the self-contained contributions from Kevin Turvey, an anorak-wearing self-styled investigative journalist from Redditch who had some rather odd observations on life, and every week aimed to get to the truth of various subjects. He was an example of someone who thought that he knew everything, when actually, he knew nothing.

This turned out to be a character who was played by Rik Mayall, in some of his earliest TV appearances, about a year before the launch of sitcom The Young Ones, the show that really did make his name. The Turvey character must’ve made some impact with viewers though, because in November 1981, he appeared on the cover of music weekly NME.

Now my sister, who really was a fan of Mayall throughout his career, once showed me a book that contained a picture of this cover, and she seemed to be sure that this was a fake. But from what I can work out, the cover is actually real, and he really was featured, which was a sign that he attracting the interest of their readers, and was a talent worth watching.

About a year on from this, it was decided to expand the idea of this character further, and he featured in the one-off special The Man Behind The Green Door. We discovered more about his look on life, and his rather miserable existence (also appearing were Adrian Edmondson and Robbie Coltrane). I first really came across this character though much later, when I was given a VHS, which was all of his A Kick Up The Eighties appearances compiled together (and retitled Kevin Turvey Investigates).

I must admit that I wasn’t familiar with this show at the time, but I was encouraged to watch in the “go on, have a look, it’s that funny bloke off the telly isn’t it, you’ll probably like it” style. I do remember being rather baffled by all of this really, he simply sat on stage and rambled on. There is a story that some viewers thought that he was real, although I don’t know if anybody really did fall for this.

The Man Behind The Green Door was eventually released on VHS too, but I don’t think there has been a DVD release. After this, Mayall left the Turvey character behind to concentrate on further successes, including The Young Ones and many others, but it was this amusing and creative idea that was a early example of his comic ability, which is still hugely missed from the screen to this day.

The Comedy Vault – The Morecambe And Wise Show.

The Morecambe And Wise Show (BBC2, 1968-1971, BBC1, 1969-1977, ITV, 1978-1983)

Here are a couple of things about me. When I was younger, I wasn’t sure why the comedy double-act Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise were so revered, because some of their Christmas specials were repeated so frequently, I thought they had only ever made about three shows. Also, I don’t know what people will think of this, but as much as I have enjoyed their work, and I am aware that they weren’t entirely similar, I have always preferred The Two Ronnies.

Morecambe and Wise were always more in the funnyman/straightman style. By the time of the launch of their BBC show in the late-60s, they had already been regulars on the TV and radio in various shows for about 15 years, along with starring in three films. There was no doubt that they had worked hard for their success, and they were fairly popular, but it wasn’t really until this series that they entered the top category of entertainers with viewers.

They had settled into their routine by this point, and the combination of their interplay (with lots of references to “short fat hairy legs” and “a wig so good that you could barely see the join”), along with sketches featuring plays that Ernie supposedly wrote, digs at Des O’Connor, and song and dance routines, meant that their Christmas specials where hugely anticipated, and were among the highest-rated TV shows of the whole year.

A huge amount of celebrity guests were eager to take part, and didn’t mind being made fun of, which led to some rather memorable moments, partly because some of them have been repeated about a million times (a rough estimate). And there was rather a lot of surprise when in 1978 they decided to join (or indeed rejoin) ITV, and their new series would be produced by Thames. Even Bruce Forsyth’s similar move around the same time didn’t cause as much of a stir.

These shows never seemed to be as popular though, and didn’t achieve anywhere near the ratings or popular response as their BBC series did. Well it’s still better work than doing the summer season on a wet Tuesday in Skegness I suppose. And when Eric died in 1984, that brought things to a sombre end, after they had brought sunshine to viewers of all ages for so many years. We can only wonder what would’ve happened if they had carried on into at least the mid-80s though.

Their style probably would’ve become outmoded following the rise of the alternative comedy scene, and Thames might’ve even as gone so far as to drop them, just like they did with Benny Hill in the late-80s. But as it turns out, they are still regarded among the British comedy greats, as the endless repeats, compilations, documentaries, and DVD releases would prove, somehow all these years on they still seem rather familiar. Maybe things are still funny the millionth time you see them.

The Comedy Vault – Butterflies.

Butterflies (BBC2, 1978-1983, BBC1, 1979, 1982, 2000)

This is another of those sitcoms that was well received at the time, and has been repeated long after coming to an end. Butterflies is notable for being the work of Carla Lane, who was also behind other successful sitcoms including The Liver Birds and Bread. And this is another sitcom that seemed to be a rather straightforward idea about a family’s life, but went into darker areas than most domestic comedies did.

Butterflies featured the Parkinson family, consisting of husband and wife Ben and Ria, and their late-teenage sons Russell and Adam (great name). Ria has been married for about 20 years, and this has started to become stale. Her husband is a hard-working dentist and amateur butterfly collector. He is professional and sensible, but ultimately also rather dull.

The boys often bicker with each other, and soon start to discover women. Some of the lighter amusing moments came from Ria being rather useless in the kitchen, and her work is usually greeted with crestfallen expressions at her latest culinary mishap. Ria decides that she needs an injection of excitement in her life, it might be time to do something a little different, and soon becomes close to Leonard, who helps out when middle-age begins to creep up on her.

What made Butterflies really work well though was the cast. Wendy Craig was Ria, and Geoffrey Palmer was Ben. And well, you can’t go wrong if he is on board, he is someone who always portrayed the grumpy father figure well. And we also had some of the earliest TV appearances by Nicholas Lyndhurst who was Adam, perfecting his style in time for when he went on to Only Fools And Horses.

Again, this was a sitcom that I saw for the first time when there was a repeat run on BBC1 on Sunday evenings in the early-90s. This seemed to be from during the period when the BBC had no money for anything daft like making shows, so they filled the gap with some decade-old sitcoms (Citizen Smith and The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin were among the others).

There were four series of Butterflies, that have all been released on DVD. And many years after the original run ended, the main cast were persuaded to get back together one final time for a short special that was shown as part of Children In Need. Ria has now become a grandmother, but in some ways her life remains the same, she still has to get along with her family, and wants more.

The Comedy Vault – Time Trumpet.

Time Trumpet (BBC2, 2006)

A while ago, I reviewed 2004: The Stupid Version, a look back at some of the news events of the year that happened, and some that actually didn’t. Because of the rather surreal but still somewhat satirical style, it was no surprise to learn that Armando Iannucci was behind this, who also contributed to the likes of The Day Today and The Friday Night Armistice.

After this was well received, it was decided to do a full series, and to twist the idea even further, the result was little like any other comedy show around. Time Trumpet was supposedly set in the year 2031 (25 years on from when this was actually made), and various people reminisced about famous news events that were in years that actually hadn’t happened yet.

In every edition, Armando would interview various comedians, although they preferred to be known as important cultural commentators, and they included Richard Ayoade and Adam Buxton, who definitely had a lot to say. Also featuring would be various politicians, TV hosts, and so on, but they are all now much older, and they reflected on the time when they were in the news.

Are they all now rather bitter that their moment of fame has practically become a footnote in history? Well of course. There were also various clips that had been manipulated in some way, along with a look at what happened at the Olympics, and some popular TV shows that had some rather odd ideas. But the icing on the cream really did have to be an appearance by Andy Hodgson off the award-winning Bid TV.

He played the host of a shopping channel that only sold bacon all day. That’s a bargain, just grab it. They should’ve given Andy a comedy show of his own on BBC2. There was only one series of Time Trumpet, which has been released on DVD. This didn’t seem to be as well received as 2004: The Stupid Version was by some critics, but this was still an intriguingly odd take on the world.