Earlier this week saw the dreadful news that one of the 20th century’s most fantastic actors, broadcaster and comedian passed away in Tim Brooke-Taylor, part of a unique generation of Cambridge University comic graduates that were such a focal part of our television screens and radio broadcasts throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s. He may well be best known for his pivotal role in the creation of The Goodies, but he also offered many forms of entertainment through several BBC shows including I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again, Marty, and, through numerous contributions on I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue.
Knighted as an Officer of the British Empire in 2011 for his services to light entertainment in addition to his election of Lord Rector of the University of St Andrews, perhaps the famous story of his installation of the latter post in 1979 displays his persona best. It is said that his instillation consisted of arriving via helicopter, riding a motorbike, hauled in an open carriage whilst wearing Drag costume and a mother-in-law joke offered in Latin...
With slapstick considered Brooke-Taylor’s forte, he is often considered as the silent member of Monty Python. After taking the Cambridge University Footlights Club to new levels both domestically at the Edinburgh Fringe and London’s West End, and internationally to Broadway and New Zealand alongside now well-known faces such as John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, it was the latter two who so famously wrote and created The Goodies that occupied our TV screens throughout the 1960s.
After University success, the group rebranded to the Cambridge Circus and the members were later picked up for various BBC Radio shows such as I’m Sorry, I’ll Read It Again, where one of Brooke-Taylor’s many characters consisted of Lady Constance, masquerading as Anne of Cleavage. As well as radio, success also came via television where the satirical At Last The 1948 Show was performed alongside John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Aimi MacDonald and Marty Feldman. The majority of these went on to create the one-off How To Irritate People alongside future Monty Python collaborators Connie Booth and Michael Palin.
Further successes came from Marty and Broaden Your Mind in 1968 before Brooke-Taylor’s most memorable and long-lasting creation The Goodies was first broadcast in November 1970 alongside fellow Cambridge graduates Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie. With the trio always without money and operating under the tagline “We Do Anything, Anytime”, the show was famous not just for its slapstick nature and well-written content, but for its low budget yet effective photography that enhanced it’s slapstick nature.
The show’s success was clear for all to see after it’s ten-year stint on the BBC and even then, being picked up for a Christmas special and a further seven-episode series on ITV. All character names and attitudes were based on the real life trio with Bill-Taylor holding an honorary law doctorship in real life and therefore depicting a lawyer in the show. However the politically conservative nature of the character may not have been particularly reflective in real life – but as he told The Sydney Morning Herald in 2004, “I had the double-barrelled name so I was always going to play the Tory."
Of course, Brooke-Taylor will always be remembered for his comic style and long-lasting services to entertainment, but as is so often the case in passing, the true characteristics of the man take centre stage. As so many have paid tribute to his life, including colleagues over the years through various formats, what has perhaps become most apparent was his sheer kind-hearted nature and the inspiration he provided not just to his field, but how to handle stardom and fame.
Current host of long-running BBC4 programme I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, Jack Dee, heaped praise on Brooke-Taylor’s ability of playing the ‘injured innocent’, often setting himself up as the butt of the joke and highlighting his nature of being a team player to allow team mates and other panellists to take the plaudits. In Dee’s words, “Tim brought a unique quality to ‘Clue’. He was a proper team player, very generous as a performer, never egotistical and always more than delighted to set himself up as the butt of the joke. For me, his great comedy gift was playing the injured innocent and he did it with brilliance and a characteristic lightness of touch.”
It is always a struggle to put such admiration of a person into words, but the vast amount of appreciation all over the web of stories of inspiration and appreciation go a small way to showing the truth. Highlighted are the sheer qualities for one who displayed absolute intellect in the form of comedy and entertainment, as well as the humility of how to carry oneself and treat others.
Rest In Peace Tim.