I’ve spent the last ten minutes or so trying to find out if it was true that Tim Brooke-Taylor had died, aged 79, and it’s true: this morning, at home, of coronavirus. So that makes today a double-header, with the loss of the legendary Stirling Moss.
I don’t feel the same loss with Moss, partly because motor-racing has never really been my thing, but mainly because, for all his lifelong fame, Stirling Moss belonged to my Dad and his generation. Dad’s preference was for motorbike racing, but he would also watch the Grand Prixs.
But Tim Brooke-Taylor was of my time and my generation. Obviously, the world knows him for his role in The Goodies, and I spent many years watching their programmes with great joy and laughter, though they haven’t worn anything like as well as Monty Python, having always had more of a pantomime aspect and, with only three writers as opposed to six, less variety in what they did.
Instead, I remember Tim Brooke-Taylor for two long-standing BBC Radio comedy series. The first of these was the righteously celebrated I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again, in which all three future Goodies appeared, along with John Cleese, David Hatch and Jo Kendall: quick-fire, absurdist comedy, excrutiating (in all senses) puns and an anarchic desire to reduce everything to the unexpected. I still adore the sketch where a spoof of Brer Rabbit was disrupted by Animal Equity demnding equal parts for overlooked animals so that it turned out to the story of Brer Bandicoot (“It was a lovely day. The grass was waving. (yoo-hoo!), the sun was raging (ooh, I am cross!)”
And who could ever forget Tim as Lady Constance de Coverlet, whose entrances got the same level of audience applause as did Bluebottle in The Goon Show.
But the other one, which I admit to enjoying even more because I got to hear all of it, from the start, instead of discovering it when it was already travelling at top speed, was the now mostly forgotten Hello Cheeky, which paired Broke-Taylor with the unlikely combination of John Junkin and Barry Cryer.
Hello Cheeky was, like ISIRTA, a sketch show, if you can call it a sketch when so many items didn’t even run a minute long. It just crammed the jokes in at what was a breakneck speed for 1973 and after, so fast that if you didn’t laugh at one, two more that had you howling before you notice, and if you didn’t laugh at one it was probably only because you were laughing so hard at the three before it that you simply didn’t hear it.
Anything went on Hello Cheeky. I used to be able to recite a large section of a spoof on Agatha Christie, featuring Hercule Parrot, and I can still remember dozens of lines from random sections. It started: “My name is Scarf, Inspector Scarf. I thought I’d get a gag in early. This case started when I was sitting at my desk in the Yard. Next year they’ve promised me an office. There was a knock on the barbed wire and my sergeant entered with bleeding knuckles…”
Ah me. Though he went onto lots of things that didn’t interest me, like humdrum sitcoms that hadn’t a hundredth of the wit of a line from Hello Cheeky, he still did these, and I thank him for the raucous laughter he could reduce me to so easily, even on The Goodies, which may well bore me know but which I devoured then. Be at ease: the mark you made will not be forgotten.