Obituary: Tim Brooke-Taylor, life of funnyman who co-wrote The Four Yorkshiremen

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Tim Brooke-Taylor

Tim Brooke-Taylor was at the heart of British comedy for more than six decades - with his words, wit and quickfire japery making millions of people laugh.

His comedic roots lay in the Cambridge Footlights, where his contemporaries included John Cleese and the two men he later collaborated with on the TV show The Goodies - Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie.

He began his broadcasting career on BBC radio, quickly developing a reputation as a performer and scriptwriter.

Probably best known as one of the members of the anarchic Goodies, he was also a long-standing panellist on Radio 4's, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue.

Timothy Julian Brooke-Taylor was born in Buxton, Derbyshire, on 17 Jul 1940. His 59-year-old father was a solicitor and local coroner, who had been wounded in the World War One and was serving in the Home Guard when Tim, his third child was born.

"I was a mistake, as far as I can gather," Brooke-Taylor later recalled.

His father died when he was just 13 and his mother, who was in her 40s at the time, got a job as a school matron.

After attending prep school, the young Brooke-Taylor was packed off to Winchester before going up to Pembroke College, Cambridge, to read law.

Image source, Rex Features
Image caption,
Brooke-Taylor, in glasses, with the cast of the Cambridge Footlights Review

The intention had been that he would enter the family firm but fate intervened when he found himself sharing digs with a fellow student, John Cleese.

Membership of the Cambridge Footlights Club brought him into contact with Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie as well as future Python Graham Chapman.

None of them had any thought of taking up careers in showbusiness, seeing Footlights as a way of having some fun before facing the world of work.

A Dali encounter

Brooke-Taylor was Footlights president when, in 1963, their revue - originally entitled A Clump of Plinths - went down a storm at the Edinburgh Festival.

It opened in the West End later that year before embarking on a tour of Australia and New Zealand, finally ending up on Broadway in 1964.

Brooke-Taylor later recalled being taken to a New York nightclub where he encountered the artist, Salvador Dali.

Image caption,
I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again paved the way for Monty Python and The Goodies

"I started talking to him about art," he told the Daily Telegraph's Neil Tweedie in 2012, admitting that he soon found himself completely out of his depth.

Any thoughts of a career in law swiftly vanished when he began working on a BBC radio show, I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again, which first aired in 1964.

Based on the Footlights review and with its roots in early radio comedy shows, such as ITMA and Beyond Our Ken, it paved the way for a host of shows including Monty Python's Flying Circus and The Goodies.

Brooke-Taylor both wrote and performed in the sketches, his tour de force being the horrendous Lady Constance de Coverlet, whose piercing screech of "Did somebody call?" became one of the highlights of the show.

Rubbish tip

He also made an appearance on TV as a regular in the programme, On the Braden Beat, where he played a right-wing businessman giving the audience the benefit of what he thinks is his reasonable point of view. He would later incorporate it into his character in The Goodies.

Brooke-Taylor was reunited with Cleese and Chapman on ITV's At Last The 1948 Show, another collection of sketches and quick-fire repartee.

The first episode featured The Four Yorkshiremen sketch, co-written by Brooke-Taylor, which would later be revived by the Monty Python team.

Image caption,
Hello Cheeky ran for six years on BBC Radio 2

The four sat round sipping expensive wine remembering when they lived in "a paper bag on a rubbish tip" or worked "23 hours a day down at mill for a penny every four years."

Brooke-Taylor went on to write and perform with Marty Feldman on his comedy show Marty. There was also a brief spell working with Orson Welles on a film entitled One Man Band, but it was never released.

"He'd seen something on the telly and wanted to work with me for some reason. I spent about 12 days directing him because he didn't trust the actual director."

The first episode of The Goodies was aired in 1970 with Brooke-Taylor appearing alongside Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, in a series that ran for 12 years, the first 10 of them on BBC Two before being bought up by London Weekend Television for ITV.

Patriotic words

A mixture of sketches, situation comedy and slapstick made use of primitive special effects such as speeded-up filming.

The often surreal show saw the three protagonists cycling around on a "trandem", trying to do good deeds. Memorable episodes include Kitten Kong, featuring a giant feline toppling the Post Office Tower.

A special episode of this show won the Silver Rose at Montreux in 1972.

Image caption,
His Union Flag waistcoat became a fixture in The Goodies

Brooke-Taylor specialised in a character wearing a Union Flag waistcoat, who would often pause the action to deliver patriotic words to a background of Land of Hope and Glory.

"You've got to have a right wing neo-con loony." Brooke-Taylor said in a 2005 radio interview. "And with a name like mine I don't think I can be the revolutionary."

The series spawned an unlikely hit record, Funky Gibbon, which the three performed on Top of the Pops.

In 1971 he had a short role in the film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, where he played a computer scientist.

Cameo roles

A year later he joined the panel of Radio 4's antidote to panel games, I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, where he would become a regular fixture over the ensuing four decades.

He also starred with John Junkin and Barry Cryer in Hello Cheeky, a sketch show which started out on BBC Radio 2 before eventually moving to Yorkshire Television.

Together with Graeme Garden he provided voices for the BBC cartoon series Bananaman.

Image caption,
He was a regular on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue

Brooke-Taylor popped up in a number of cameo roles over the years in shows including One Foot in the Grave, Heartbeat and Agatha Christie's Marple.

In 2013 he appeared in Animal Antics, a spoof news programme in which he was usually upstaged by a man dressed as a dog and his final TV appearance as an actor was in BBC One medical drama Doctors in 2015.

In 2011, he and his fellow Goodies star Garden were both appointed as OBEs for services to entertainment. Oddie, the third member of the trio, had been honoured eight years previously for his services to wildlife conservation.

After visiting Buckingham Palace to receive the honour from the Prince of Wales, Brooke-Taylor admitted "one had to bite one's tongue", having often poked fun at the ease with which honours were handed out in the 1970s.

Tim Brooke-Taylor was one of a group of writers and performers who changed the face of British TV and radio comedy, making programmes that have become classics of their time.

Essentially a gentle and sensitive man he once admitted leaving his own living room when the weekly results were announced on Strictly Come Dancing, as he couldn't bear seeing anyone thrown off the show.