Tim Brooke-Taylor obituary
Tim Brooke-Taylor, who has died aged 79 of coronavirus, was one of those Oxbridge graduates who brought surreal, anarchic humour first to the stage, then television, where he was one of the trio adding slapstick to the mix in The Goodies.
Typical of the humour of The Goodies was a medieval vasectomy sketch with Brooke-Taylor standing in a park, back to the camera and trousers around his ankles, while a knight on a charger rushes him with a lance aimed at the appropriate area. He once reflected: “There are moments when I’m standing in the middle of some high street dressed as a rabbit and I say to myself, ‘I’ve not only got a degree, but I’m an honorary doctor of laws. Doctor Tim Brooke-Taylor. What am I doing hopping down this high street in floppy ears and a furry tail?’”
With his fellow Cambridge graduates Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, Brooke-Taylor created The Goodies, which ran on the BBC for 10 years from 1970 to 1980. All three wrote the scripts at the start, while in later years they were provided by Garden and Oddie. ITV revived the show with a 1981 Christmas special and a six-part series the following year. Cartoon-style humour came from the three contrasting characters portrayed on screen – the pompous Brooke-Taylor, the professorial Garden and the untidy but raffish Oddie.
The programme was most striking for its sight gags – such as Brooke-Taylor, dressed as an Edwardian nanny, falling into a river – with significant location filming and special effects. “Our pre-production meetings with the art designers and production designers were almost more important than the writing of the scripts,” he revealed.
A cat toppling over the Post Office Tower in London was the centrepiece of the Kitten Kong episode, which won the Silver Rose at the 1972 Montreux television festival. Three years later, the same award went to a Goodies show paying homage to the silent film greats that included Brooke-Taylor grappling with a lion.
Nevertheless, radio was the medium where Brooke-Taylor made his most enduring contribution to comedy. He was a panellist and occasional writer throughout all nine series of BBC Radio’s anarchic, revue-style sketch show I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again (1964-73), a cocktail of silly voices, awful puns and smutty humour. Alongside Garden and Oddie, as well as others including John Cleese, Jo Kendall and David Hatch, Brooke-Taylor was most memorable as the screeching Lady Constance de Coverlet, an ageing dowager reputed for her size, variously heard in the guise of Anne of Cleavage or an elephant in a parody of the TV adventure Daktari.
The show was spun off into the even longer-running I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, a parody of panel games, with those taking part given “silly things to do” and Brooke-Taylor ever-present from its launch in 1972 until his death. It became one of BBC Radio 4’s most popular programmes and the original presenter, Humphrey Lyttelton, described him as “prone to argue with the chairman, slightly vulnerable, perspires a lot, a favourite with the crowd”.
Tim was born in Buxton, Derbyshire, to Rachel (nee Pawson), a former games teacher at Cheltenham Ladies’ college who played lacrosse at international level, and Edward Brooke-Taylor, a solicitor and veteran of the first world war, who won the Military Cross for gallantry and was then a home guard commander during the second world war.
Following the death of his father when he was 12, Tim attended Winchester college, then spent a year teaching at schools in Hertfordshire and Derbyshire before gaining a law degree from Pembroke College, Cambridge. He joined the university’s Footlights drama club in 1960, performing alongside his fellow students Oddie, Cleese and Graham Chapman. He was Footlights president when A Clump of Plinths, its 1963 revue for the Edinburgh festival, transferred to the West End, retitled Cambridge Circus, then in 1964 to Broadway.
Just as Alan Bennett, Jonathan Miller and Dudley Moore found a path into television satire following the success of their revue Beyond the Fringe, an Oxford-Cambridge collaboration, Brooke-Taylor headed for BBC radio, joining I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again.
No BBC television opportunities were immediately presented to him, so in 1965 he joined ITV’s topical consumer affairs show On the Braden Beat, parodying a rightwing business executive in satirical sketches. He then joined the scriptwriting team – along with Oddie and most of the future Monty Python members – on David Frost’s BBC satirical show The Frost Report (1966-67), then was both a writer and performer in two comedy series starring Marty Feldman – At Last the 1948 Show (1967) and Marty (1968-69).
Broaden Your Mind (1968-69) was a sketch show that proved to be the precursor to The Goodies. Brooke-Taylor and Garden created it, and were joined in the second series by Oddie. Brooke-Taylor, John Junkin and Barry Cryer also wrote and starred in the BBC Radio 2 sketch show Hello Cheeky (1973-79), but their 1976 TV version was less successful.
Sitcoms extended Brooke-Taylor’s career beyond such programmes. After taking a supporting role as the neighbour Toby Burgess in His and Hers (1970-72), he teamed up with Junkin to script and star as two flatmates on the look out for women in the 1971 pilot The Rough With the Smooth, followed by a 1975 series.
In Me and My Girl (1984-88), he played Derek Yates, supporting his widowed best friend and ad agency partner Simon Harrap (Richard O’Sullivan) in bringing up a teenage daughter. He then starred in You Must Be the Husband (1987-88) as Tom Hammond, coming to terms with the success his wife, Alice (Diane Keen), finds in writing a racy romantic novel.
Bolstered by Oddie’s musical skills, the Goodies had a string of chart singles, including the Top 10 hits The Inbetweenies/Father Christmas Do Not Touch Me (1974) and The Funky Gibbon/Sick Man Blues (1975), both double A-sides. They also voiced the superhero cartoon TV series Bananaman (1983-88).
Brooke-Taylor was appointed OBE in 2011. He is survived by his wife, Christine (nee Wheadon), whom he married in 1968, and their sons, Ben and Edward.
• Timothy Julian Brooke-Taylor, actor and writer, born 17 July 1940; died 12 April 2020