The death of a family member due to the coronavirus undoubtedly brings its implications home to anybody affected – but the death of a “household name” who has brought joy to millions over decades… perhaps that brings us all together.
This morning, comedian Tim Brooke-Taylor died of the coronavirus at the admittedly grand old age of 79 and I confess, it hit me like a brick wall.
Tim had been a member of the UK’s comedy establishment since the 1960s, when he appeared on the radio in I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again with future Monty Python John Cleese and both the other future Goodies, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie.
Moving to TV in 1970 he, together with Graeme and Bill, created one of the most popular and successful sit-coms of them all, The Goodies – playing a “conservative, vain, sexually-repressed, upper-class Royalist coward” (as Wikipedia puts it). The series was enormously popular – but then strangely fell out of favour as certain critics dubbed it the children’s version of Python.
The show is responsible for the only incident I know of a person being found to have died laughing at a television comedy. On March 24, 1975, Alex Mitchell sat down to watch the episode Kung Fu Capers, in which a kilt-clad Scotsman with his bagpipes battles a master of the Lancastrian martial art “Eckythump”, who was armed with a black pudding. After 25 minutes of non-stop laughter, Mr Mitchell died of heart failure.
His widow later sent The Goodies a letter, thanking them for making his final moments of life so pleasant.
Some might say his greatest contribution to comedy was as co-writer and performer of the Four Yorkshiremen sketch, with John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Marty Feldman, originally for At Last the 1948 Show! on ITV. The sketch went on to become a fixture of Monty Python‘s live shows, generally performed by Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin.
But it is as a panellist on Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue that Tim should, perhaps, be best-remembered – adorable but slightly inept, with demonstrations of this ranging from his inability to string together an “ad-lib poem” to his undeserved reputation as the world’s worst player of Mornington Crescent, according to long-term team-mate Willie Rushton.
Now the last train to Mornington Crescent has pulled away, and Tim has gone to join Willie (who passed away in 1996) and former chairman Humphrey Lyttleton (2008); and we have another reason to hate the coronavirus and our government’s pathetic response to it.
Unlike so many of our own nearest and dearest, the person might be gone, but the recordings survive. I’ll be spending some time listening to Tim’s greatest comedy hits over the next few days – and I’ll try to drop a few of them here for you too.