Oh Goody, it’s Graeme Garden!
When Graeme Garden’s sister moved from Lincolnshire to Enstone, she was shocked to find strangers in the street smiling and stopping to say hello.
“Well, it’s the rich people in and around Chippy who hit the headlines”, Graeme told ECN in our November interview. “But essentially it’s a very friendly place to live. Anyone living in the town knows it’s like any community, whose members have all levels of disposable income, and who all rely on each other. Please let’s not have any divisive talk!”
Graeme tested the town’s level-headedness while acting as Master of Ceremonies for the Chippy Festival.
“I was approached by a journalist who said she was from the Guardian – I assumed the Banbury Guardian but no, it was the national one”, Graeme says. “The phrase ‘Chipping Norton Set’ had, for various reasons, just started appearing in the media and she asked what Chippy people felt about it. I said I had no idea, but I’d ask them. So next time I got on the stage I asked if people liked the idea of the CN Set or hated it. Judging by the response I got I could go to the journalist and say the town’s attitude was complete indifference!”
Perhaps best known for his starring role alongside Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie in the smash-hit seventies TV comedy series The Goodies, Graeme is still actively involved in one of BBC Radio’s longest-running and most treasured shows I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue.
The panel show has over 2 million listeners on Radio 4, and its recording sessions typically fill 1500-seat theatres within a week of being advertised. It has been voted the second funniest radio programme ever, after The Goon Show.
It’s not so widely known that the show is Graeme Garden’s brainchild. He devised the idea of the unscripted show in 1972 as a parody of radio and TV panel games. Consisting of two teams “given silly things to do” by a chairman, it attracts a host of celebrity guests including Jo Brand, Stephen Fry and Rob Brydon, with Jack Dee as current Chair and Tim Brooke-Taylor and Barry Cryer alongside Graeme as regular panellists.
Graeme is also co-creator of The Unbelievable Truth – along with Jon Naismith – a more recent BBC Radio panel game involving truth and lies.
A Place to Call Home
A long-standing resident of Chipping Norton, Graeme is content with his place in the Cotswolds. “As far as I’m concerned, everything except the Chipping Norton Set is positive about this town, and we should celebrate that.”
“We record I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Cluein theatres all over the country, and Chippy is pretty central”, Graeme says. “And besides that, it’s such a lovely area to live in. We arrived here 30 years ago before the M40 reached Banbury and Birmingham. There was a relatively quiet and inexpensive area around Chippy, the ideal place for a move out of London. Not so quiet or inexpensive now though!”
When asked his favourite place to relax in the area, Graeme nominated his own home. Which is hardly surprising, given that home is a 200-year-old Cotswold cottage with a beautiful garden tended by his wife Emma.
“I enjoy the garden but not so much the gardening . . . my wife Emma must take the credit for our plot!” he says. “We’re so lucky we have so many brilliant eating places in the area. The restaurants we find ourselves in most often are The Crown at Church Enstone, and The Mason’s Arms at Swerford.”
He takes pleasure in active engagement with the local community, having featured in theChipLitFest – An Audience with Graeme Garden – as well as MC-ing the Chippy Festival, and opening his quota of local fetes. He was drawn into presenting the prizes at a recent Giant Vegetable Show by his good friend and neighbour, the late Ern Bartlett, described by Graeme as “a real character”.
As patron of the Oxfordshire branch ofEnrych, Graeme champions the charity dedicated to providing leisure and learning for the physically disabled, a subject dear to his heart.
His taste for avant-garde comedy has also found an outlet in local pantomime. “I’ve written three pantos for The Theatre, two of which have been revived”, he says. “In fact, there was also a production of Chippy’s version of Puss in Boots by the Soho Society in the Soho Theatre. Costumes were provided by the Wardrobe Mistress from Raymond’s Revue Bar!”
The Full Monty
Graeme is well placed to comment on the controversy surrounding The Chipping Norton set. He came from a background of relative privilege, attending Public School – the same one as Jeremy Clarkson, though a little earlier – and then Cambridge University, where he was involved in The Footlights alongside soon-to-be Pythons John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Eric Idle; also ground-breaking Australians Clive James and Germaine Greer.
“It was when I got to university and met people from a wide range of backgrounds that I realised my education had been turning me into a snob”, Graeme says. “I don’t think that shaped my comedy – because that is so slapstick-based – but it changed my outlook on life. My three children have had a state education, and our youngest, Tom, went to Chippy School.”
It was at university, too, where he met his fellow Goodies Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie.
While the Monty Python team went on to create their unique brand of humour, Graeme, Tim and Bill put their heads together and came up with The Goodies – an all-new and totally off-the-wall blend of slapstick and satire. The first series went out on 8 November 1970, with Tim as the wimp, Bill as the hairy one, and Graeme as the mad scientist. Hugely popular, the original BBC series ran for 10 years, becoming a staple of family viewing.
Graeme still loves slapstick, spending a fair bit of time working for the Bristol Slapstick Festival. And he regularly attends comedy festivals Down Under, where The Goodies have a legion of fervent fans.
“I love visiting Australia”, he says. “The Goodies is much better known there than here, as it has never been properly repeated by the BBC, whereas in Australia it was broadcast every night of the week through the 70s and 80s, and it still gets trotted out from time to time. Our first generation Aussie fans are now educating their own children with Goodies DVDs!”
Now in his seventies, Graeme admits to taking his foot off the pedal a little. But he still enjoys international travel – “the next trip will be to Malmo in Sweden to see my son Tom” – and has been enjoying a spot of fly fishing on Salford Lakes, “a very tranquil and refreshing place”.
A Satisfied Mind
Looking back on his life, he has no regrets. “Regrets are double edged, and whatever you wish had been different would have had negative effects too”, he says.
He’s pretty happy with the state of contemporary comedy, and maintains a keen interest in the ever-evolving scene. “Cringe humour seems to be fading a bit, and a cruel streak that had crept into a lot of comedy also seems to have had its day. We’re getting much more warm humour now, which is great. There are loads of comics around now who I appreciate, and I’m lucky enough to have worked with a lot of them.”
When asked if he has any advice for young hopefuls starting out at the Cotswold Comedy Club, Graeme demonstrates his trademark dryness.
“Wait until I retire”, he insists. “I don’t need the competition.”
All Photographs supplied by Graeme Garden, apart from The Goodies, courtesy ofbarrettsonthisday.anorak.co.uk