Tim Brooke-Taylor: Comedy star equally at home with the witty and the zany


Tim Brooke-Taylor helped to change the face of British comedy as part of zany comic trio The Goodies, while his clever puns and wordplay had audiences rolling in the aisles on Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue.

Brooke-Taylor, who has died from coronavirus aged 79, was among a group of Oxbridge graduates who introduced a new strain of surrealism and silliness to television comedy.

He learned his craft in the Cambridge Footlights, where he performed alongside John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie. His friendship with Garden and Oddie would later see the three write and perform in The Goodies, a cult comedy show that ran on the BBC from 1970 to 1982.

A mixture of sketches and situation comedy, the show involved the three protagonists cycling around on a “trandem” carrying out good deeds. Brooke-Taylor played an establishment figure replete with Union Jack waistcoat who would often interrupt the action with a patriotic speech.

Among the cartoon-style slapstick and buffoonery there were clever parodies, as well as satire. One classic episode, in which a kitten knocked over the Post Office Tower, won the Silver Rose at the 1972 Montreux television festival, a feat repeated three years later with an episode celebrating silent film, in which Brooke-Taylor wrestled a lion.

The show was a huge success and spawned hit singles, including “The Funky Gibbon”, which the trio performed on Top of the Pops. In the Eighties they returned to provide voices for BBC cartoon series Bananaman (1983-86).

The Goodies never received the acclaim of Monty Python’s Flying Circus – it was apparently deemed too “silly” by BBC executives – and the show’s legacy has suffered from being rarely repeated. “I’m very proud of The Goodies,” Brooke-Taylor said in 2017. “And, in a way, I am frustrated that we don’t still see it because it was fairly anti-establishment yet cleverly silly.”

With fellow Goodies Graeme Garden, right, and Bill Oddie in 1981 (ITV/Rex)
With fellow Goodies Graeme Garden, right, and Bill Oddie in 1981 (ITV/Rex)

Brooke-Taylor made an equally important contribution to British comedy as a panellist on BBC Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue. He joined the “antidote to panel games” from its launch in 1972 and was a regular fixture until his death, with his wit, clever puns and japery helping to make the show another cult success.

Those taking part were given “silly things to do” such as redefine words (Brooke-Taylor’s contributions included “Parsnip – Dad’s vasectomy”) and play Mornington Crescent, an absurd board game based around Tube stations seemingly without rules.

Despite appearing on the show for nearly 50 years he was never complacent. “Every time we do a recording, I find myself thinking: ‘Please God, just let me be funny just one more time,’” he said in 2012.

Born in Buxton, Derbyshire, in 1940, Timothy Julian Brooke-Taylor was the youngest of three children of Edward Brooke-Taylor, a solicitor and decorated First World War veteran, and Rachel (nee Pawson), a former games teacher and international lacrosse player.

Following the death of his father when he was 12, Brooke-Taylor was packed off to Winchester College. He went on to read law at Pembroke College, Cambridge, with the intention of joining the family firm.

But in a twist of fate he found himself sharing digs with John Cleese. Within a few weeks he had met Bill Oddie, and the three of them joined Graeme Garden and future Python Graham Chapman in the university’s Footlights drama club.

The cast of ‘At Last the 1948 Show’, clockwise from top left: John Cleese, Aimi MacDonald, Graham Chapman, Marty Feldman and Brooke-Taylor (ANL/Rex)
The cast of ‘At Last the 1948 Show’, clockwise from top left: John Cleese, Aimi MacDonald, Graham Chapman, Marty Feldman and Brooke-Taylor (ANL/Rex)

Brooke-Taylor was Footlights president in 1963 when their student revue, A Clump of Plinths, triumphed at the Edinburgh Fringe. It transferred to the West End under the new title Cambridge Circus, and in 1964 went on to Broadway.

A career in comedy beckoned, and upon graduating Brooke-Taylor got a job in BBC radio with I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, a sketch show full of silly voices and smutty humour that was the precursor to I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue. His big break on television came as a writer and performer for At Last the 1948 Show, which saw him reunited with Cleese and Chapman in a cast that also included Marty Feldman and Aimi MacDonald.

It was there that he co-wrote the celebrated Four Yorkshiremen sketch, considered a high watermark for British comedy, in which four well-dressed northern men smoke cigars and drink wine while reminiscing over their humble origins, each account getting more ridiculous as they trump each other with cries of “Luxury!” and “You were lucky!”.

The sketch was revived by Monty Python and is often miscredited. “I could have been a member of Monty Python, but I’m not a very good solo writer,” Brooke-Taylor once said.

He branched out with a small role in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971), and once spent 15 days directing Orson Welles in the film 12 + 1 (1969) after the great star fell out with the film’s director.

He greeted the award of an OBE in 2011 with typical modesty (PA)
He greeted the award of an OBE in 2011 with typical modesty (PA)

Apart from The Goodies, his main TV work in the 1970s and 1980s was in sitcoms. He and John Junkin wrote and starred in The Rough with the Smooth (1975), about the misadventures of two flat-sharing bachelors. He also had roles in Me and My Girl (1984-88) and You Must Be the Husband (1987-88).

He was awarded an OBE in 2011, which he said with typical modesty made him “grateful that somebody thinks the things I’ve done haven’t been too bad”.

He is survived by his wife Christine, whom he married in 1968, and their sons Ben and Edward.

Tim Brooke-Taylor, comedian and actor, born 17 July 1940; died 12 April 2020

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