Tim Brooke-Taylor, a Mainstay of British Comedy, Dies at 79

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The humor on the BBC sketch show “The Goodies,” of which he was a creator and star, was visual, anarchic and very silly. He died of the coronavirus.

The New York Times | Europe

This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.

Tim Brooke-Taylor, who helped define British comedy in the 1970s as a star of the long-running television sketch show, “The Goodies,” died on April 12. He was 79.

His death, from the coronavirus, was announced by the BBC, which did not say where he died. He had been a regular on the BBC Radio 4 parody game show, “I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue,” since 1972.

Mr. Brooke-Taylor got his start as a performer at Cambridge University alongside the future “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” stars John Cleese and Graham Chapman. And “The Goodies,” seen on the BBC from 1970 to 1980 and later briefly on ITV, shared an anarchic, anything-goes sense of humor with “Monty Python,” which made its debut in 1969. But whereas the Pythons mixed silliness with a certain degree of sophistication, “The Goodies” — to the delight of its audience, which largely consisted of children — was mostly just silly.

The sketches on “The Goodies” were tied together by the premise that the members of the troupe traveled around on a bicycle built for three doing good deeds and often confronting surreal menaces, among them a giant cat terrorizing London. The Goodies even had hit records; one, “The Funky Gibbon,” reached the British Top 10 in 1975.

Timothy Julian Brooke-Taylor was born on July 17, 1940, in Buxton, England. His father was a lawyer, and he studied law at Cambridge. But Tim abandoned thoughts of following his father’s career path after joining the Footlights, the university’s dramatic club, where his fellow performers also included his future “Goodies” co-stars, Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie.

“Cambridge Circus,” the Footlights revue in which he appeared, had a successful run on the West End in London and was briefly seen on Broadway in 1964.

In his autobiography, “So, Anyway …” (2014), Mr. Cleese remembered Mr. Brooke-Taylor as the best performer in that show and praised his “talent for funny, precise physical comedy.”

In 1967, Mr. Brooke-Taylor, Mr. Cleese, Mr. Chapman and Marty Feldman created the ITV sketch series “At Last the 1948 Show.” (The title, Mr. Cleese explained, “was intended as a joke about the slowness of program planners making a decision.”) One of Mr. Brooke-Taylor’s most lasting contributions to comedy, as both as a writer and a performer, was a sketch first seen on that show, “The Four Yorkshiremen.”

In that sketch, later a highlight of Monty Python’s live performances, four wealthy and pompous men take turns trying to top one another with increasingly absurd tales of how poor they were growing up. “There were over 150 of us living in a small shoe box in the middle of the road,” Mr. Brooke-Taylor says as the absurdity accelerates, and he had to “work 23 hours a day at mill for a penny every four years.”

After “The Goodies” ended its long run, Mr. Brooke-Taylor was seen on several British sitcoms. He was also heard on “I’m Sorry, I Haven’t a Clue,” on which two teams of comedians were given ridiculous tasks to perform, from its debut in 1972 until his death.

He is survived by his wife, Christine (Wheadon) Brooke-Taylor, and two sons, Ben and Edward.


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