We interrupt our Christmas carol service to bring you an important announcement. The world will end at 12 o’clock.
Christmas Eve. What better time to contemplate ending it all? If the Goodies of 1977 had written an irreverent take on 2020, would it have turned out very differently to Earthanasia? Governments of the world collectively coming together – albeit in an act of implicit complicity rather than explicitly – and agreeing to destroy the world. In tandem with taking jabs at a media eager to milk every last drop of hype from the situation.
Graeme: I’m going to enjoy this Christmas if it’s the last thing I do.
Naturally, this makes Christmas a big downer. Not that Graeme and Bill are embracing the most considerate, compassionate, sharing vision of the festive period even before the announcement. Bill, in the spirit of “tearaway youth”, speeds into the office on a skateboard – a gift to himself – bowdlerising the Christmas tree in the process. Graeme responds with “a little gift to myself” in the form of a skateboard destruction kit. Which consists, in order, of a hammer, a handgun and a detonator. Twitcher Bloddie then tops off the introduction by blowing away a robin.
BBC Announcer: World leaders have been meeting in Washington over the past week to consider the ever-worsening problems of inflation, overpopulation, racism, pollution… you name it, they’ve considered it. They’ve come to the conclusion there is no point in going on.
Such seasonal mischief is abruptly truncated as the BBC spoils everyone’s fun. The official list of media-promoted ills of humanity (variously engineered, invented, exacerbated and expressly driven) makes for, on the face of it, a fairly compelling case. Which is, of course, what they want you to think (we deserve what’s coming, as expressed by Prince Phillip wishing to come back as a virus in order to wipe out great swathes of us vermin; here, the Queen conveys a message of sympathy to everyone… before we learn that the Royals have been seen leaving Sandringham… in a rocket. Which sounds about right). Indeed, after the initial shock – Graeme: Well, that’s a bit of a blow – Bill is convinced this is an extremely good idea (“The world is a mess…” and it would be best to “put it out of its misery”). Then practicality takes over: Graybags calls the insurance company (“It might be worth claiming”).
BBC Announcer: It is their unanimous decision that, in a final act of unprecedented military cooperation, the world will be blown up. BBC Radio will be covering the event.
Earthanasia is essentially a redux – in form, if not absolutely in theme – of their earlier Season Five classic The End. There, the trio – and their office – are encased in concrete. Possibly The Goodies’ version of mudflood. That one makes capital from the extent and extremes of their ongoing situation; here, the compressed narrative of “thirty minutes until the end of the world” leads to something of the opposite – What are you going to do before you die? – but with a number of shared themes arising. Admittedly, mostly those of sex and death. And a routine in which Graeme points out how much time Bill is wasting talking about what he will do rather than doing it (“I want to go on an odyssey – get it?”)
Faced with the prospect of a reset by the powers-that-be (“This is not a hoax”), it makes perfect sense that Bill should be the most direct and resolute about having a good time while it lasts (he never actually succeeds in getting away for a lusty twenty-five minutes). This enables some well-honed plays on their established characters, including the necessary reference to Doris Newbold and Graeme explaining that “I’m not a creature of the flesh like you. I’m a loony scientist”. Before reeling of his list of his greatest accomplishments that include “Eddie Waring impressions”. It’s easy to find Oddie a touch undisciplined and grating at times in The Goodies – it seems he was commonly cited as the most popular at the time – but much as this may be his natural disposition, it’s entirely essential to the comic tension between the trio: the analyst, the anarchist and the authoritarian. Albeit, obviously, Tim is the wettest conceivable authoritarian, by way of his royal-boosting, flag-waving delicacy.
Tim: I want to die with my shiny shoes!
We’re ten minutes into the episode before he makes an appearance – wearing a “The end of the world is night” placard with “Tim’s nuts are nicest” as it’s secondary edict – and the conversation by this point is revolving around how best to tell him. Which Bill does brutally (“You might have broken it to him gently”). Consequently, much of Earthanasia revolves around Tim and tacking his psychological issues. It’s perhaps not the most inspired direction they could have gone in, which means this one is never quite as resplendent as The End, which runs the gamut. Nevertheless, it’s still up there with the series’ greatest achievements.
Tim: Confess your sins!
There’s much seamless riffing on jokes/ideas we’ve seen before, but which feel fresh in context; as proof the end is coming, Graeme shows Tim a copy of the Radio Times with entirely blank pages after Christmas Eve. Tim, in the episode’s briefest of getting down to brass tacks, urges his friends to seek atonement: “We’ve got to think about our sins!” Bill has briefly exited at this point, but Graeme proceeds to do so, Garden rendering a hilarious bout of self-amusement as he cogitates over all the immensely satisfying wrongs he has done.
Tim: Pare away my externals?
Tim’s meanwhile, are expectedly innocuous (“He tucks his shirt inside his underpants… In the bath, little bubbles… They come up between your knees?”) And slightly unnerving (“It’s an a-string” – Tim has a belly button hang up). The mockery of psychology allows Graeme to don his customary professorial pose to amusing effect (“Then there’s aversion therapy... I don’t know, I’ve been put off that”). He implores Tim to “Reach out and touch Bill”; Bill resorts in less than kind. He also regresses Tim, with Bill posing as Brooke-Taylor’s mother… and turns out to be a good likeness (“It’s not my fault I didn’t grow up big tough and hairy like me ma”).
Graeme: It worked! I released his inhibitions through anger and violence. My work is at an end. I can die a happy man.
The best part of this, though, and the highlight of the episode, is Graeme shattering Tim’s illusions about the Muppets: “Muppets are just dollies”. Graeme then offers note-perfect renditions of Kermit (“Look, Kermit the Frog is a green sock”), Miss Piggy and Fozzie Bear before delivering a rendition of “Halfway up the stairs…” Tim’s response – launching an oven at Graybags – elicits the classic retort “You shouldn’t have hit me with that! You’ve ruined the cake!”
Graeme: As we pluck we shall sing.
Graeme’s success leads to several reversals in the closing stages, as Tim becomes uninhibited while Bill reveals his true self, bald (hitherto disguised due to a long-haired Peruvian gerbil) and beardless (even more alarming than Tim’s a-string). I’m not sure the reversal works as well as it might, since neither can quite pull the other’s authentic “class”. But Graeme’s on hand – as Santa – to suggest they pluck the turkey and exchange presents with just minutes to go. Tim gives Bill the socks off his feet – “My gift to you is my socks. They’re not to be sniffed at”; “No socks, please. We’re British” – and they generally come up blank when it comes to goodwill (“Can’t we think of anything nice to say to each other before we go?”)
Graeme: Your little faces!
There are several other great gags. The BBC announcement that “Eager shoppers are fighting over bargains in the Harrod’s closing down sale” is absurdly perfect, while the final reveal that the world isn’t going to end at midnight… because Graeme “put the clock forward about half a minute” makes for a marvellous false dawn.
Garden, recounting the episode and related in Andrew Pixley’s The Goodies DVD File, noted “We were expecting something like Sherlock Holmes – that people would jam the telephone switchboards saying ‘Don’t finish the Goodies – they must come back, but nobody really tended to notice very much… I suppose we should take heart that nobody jammed the switchboard saying ‘Thank God that’s over’!” It wasn’t quite over, although it’s probably correct to see this as their last peak moment. As expected, Tim becomes a teapot at one point during the proceedings. In real life, he passed away this year at the age of 79, having succumbed to a PCR test. Merry Christmas everyone, and enjoy the Earthanasia.