Tim Brooke-Taylor – In Conversation

The Cambridge Footlights has become globally renowned for giving a platform to some of Britain’s best loved writers and performers. Yet throughout the early sixties the infamous society nurtured an unprecedented amount of comedy talent. Footlights alumni including: Peter Cook, David Frost, John Cleese and Graham Chapman came to define British comedy for generations and spawned a TV culture which still remains to this day. Writer and comedian Tim Brooke-Taylor became president of The Footlights in 1944 when he embarked upon an international tour with the famous revue alongside Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden, Eric Idle, John Cleese and Graham Chapman. This resulted in the group securing their own BBC Radio series I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again in 1964 which helped to spark a comedy revolution.

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Footlights alumni and friend David Frost had just landed the first of many television triumphs in the shape of the satirical juggernaut That Was The Week That Was and was looking to follow up such success with a brand new sketch show which combined the irreverent tone of university revue with the vaudeville nature of full on variety. With the main cast featuring theatrical stalwarts Ronnie Corbett and Ronnie Barker (who incidentally had never worked together), alongside TV newcomer John Cleese, the series provided a fantastic testing ground for young writers and it was here that Tim honed his comedic writing voice. Surrounded by the cream of UK writing talent including Barry Cryer, Dennis Norden, Anthony Jay, Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden and almost the entire team who would go on to create Python, The Frost Report focused on a particular subject each week. Despite coming from different backgrounds, The Frost Report team comprised of like minded individuals who took an irreverent outlook on the establishment which was an influential contributor to the success and legacy of the show.


Despite showcasing his writing dexterity on The Frost Report, Tim had yet to display his talents as a performer which he had honed during his time with The Cambridge Footlights. But all this was about to change when he was cast alongside John Cleese, Marty Feldman and Amy McDonald for At Last The 1948 Show. Responsible for classic sketches including The Four Yorkshireman, At Last The 1948 Show toiled with the very concept of logic in the class obsessed society of the 1960’s. Tim has since grown tired of forever reinforcing ownership over The Four Yorkshiremen sketch and feeling the need to correct the fallacy that it’s from Monty Python. Yet this doesn’t bother him as much as it once did. Tragically due to the BBC’s unsacredity policy of the time, recordings of the show were carelessly wiped and only a few episodes remain. Yet earlier this year Tim was invited to BFI Southbank for a special screening of recently rediscovered episodes which meant a great deal to him.


His next comedy vehicle was for the still relatively new station BBC2 in the irreverent sketch show entitled Broaden Your Mind alongside Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie. This was the first time that the future Goodies had shared the screen together and the chemistry between them was instantly on point. Consisting of thirteen half hour episodes, Broaden Your Mind proved another opportunity for the cream of UK writing talent to come together to create a surreal sketch show centering on a cast made of Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie. Yet as soon as the phenomenon of Python fully took hold, the comedy landscape changed and the three actors were looking to create a platform which contained the unashamedly silliness of their contemporaries. 


While Python rewrote the comedy rule book in terms of the structure of the sketch show, The Goodies instead created an overarching storyline which interlinked the sketches. First broadcast on the 8th November 1970, the series loosely followed the bizarre lives of heightened versions of Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden alongside Tim as they enjoyed adventures on their infamous tandem. When thinking up the title of the show, a whole host of names were in the reckoning yet promptly the three men settled on The Goodies. The only reservation that Tim had surrounding the name was that there was a chance that it would conjure up images of Goody-Two-Shoes and Goody Goodies. Neither of which represented what the series was about and created the illusion that it was very twee and tame. Yet when the format was explained and Tim realised that in each episode, the three of them would overcome the odds and defeat an enemy, the title seemed to make sense. Thus The Goodies stuck and became the recognised shorthand for a weekly half hour of anarchic stupidity.


For as long as he can remember, Tim has had two life goals: one being to play football for a sell out crowd at Wembley and the other to appear on Top Of The Pops. Unfortunately as of yet, the opportunity to play at Wembley has escaped him but on the 24th March 1975 he achieved his second lifelong ambition when The Goodies appeared on Top Of The Pops performing their top five hit The Funky Gibbon. This was a dream come true for born performers Tim and Bill but for academic Graeme Garden, it was just about as far away from his comfort zone as one could possibly get. Despite this, the trio created a grand total of: four studio albums, five compilation albums, twelve UK singles and one EP. That’s quite a substantial musical repertoire for a group of comedy actors.


Beyond The Goodies, since 1972 Tim has been involved in another comedy institution. First broadcast on Boxing Day 1972, I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue has been delighting audiences up and down the land for almost half a century. Yet he still vividly recalls being in a bar with the late Humphrey Lyttleton as they both promised to never record another episode. Of course in this case, promises are there to be broken as Clue spawned legions of die hard fans who still love to hear Tim and co doing what they do best. In 2008 the show tragically lost its versatile chairman Humphrey Lyttleton at the age of 86, covering the show in a cloud of doubt. However, when the dry-witted Jack Dee was appointed as ‘Humph’s’ replacement, the show continued to entertain audiences up and down the British Isles. Today Clue is as popular as ever, with live episodes filmed on location around the country and at the time of the interview Tim was looking forward to recording an episode in Portsmouth alongside his old friend Barry Cryer. It’s clear that what originally started as a filler in the radio schedules has now become a radio juggernaut and Tim couldn’t be more proud.


Returning to TV in 2000, Tim secured a role in David Renwick’s seminal sitcom One Foot In The Grave. Playing the part of the Meldrews’ new next door neighbour Derek who had made a cameo in the 1997 episode Endgame, now producers had the desire to make him a recurring character. Derek was just as cantankerous and grumpy as Victor and yet the two men found each other completely unbearable. This role became a poisoned chalice for Tim when he discovered that this series was to be the last for One Foot In The Grave but he still got the opportunity to appear in such an iconic series and for this he will be eternally grateful.


Long since achieving legendary status amongst both public and peers, Tim Brooke-Taylor is still in high demand across a whole host of mediums as a true survivor of British comedy. Whether it’s his quick witted responses on I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue or his conversational tours of Britain, it’s obvious that Tim is still in love with the fine art of comedy and long may he keep the country laughing.