He wrote a report to the student’s parents, saying words to the effect: “Tim might get a job as an actor, if he fails his A levels. Or, as he’d probably prefer, he may find work as a musical comedian.”
The performer looks back at those remarks fondly. “I’d done nothing in terms of performance at that time. So I think that teacher must have been very shrewd. He must have seen something in me.”
TBT, as he is affectionately known, is coming to Shropshire to tell his life story. And there is plenty to tell.
His star qualities emerged early, leading to a long an illustrious career. The man who made his name on The Goodies and has been a panellist on Sorry I Haven’t A Clue for more than 40 years started to fly when he won a place at Cambridge University.
The Goodies made TBT a household name and he’ll talk about his career at the Festival Drayton Centre, which is hosting an evening with Tim Brooke-Taylor entitled Oh Goody! On February 9 at 7.30pm.
He will be in conversation with the writer and broadcaster Chris Serle and their discussion will focus on Bill Oddie, John Cleese, Richard Wilson and a host of other memorable moments.
The grandson of English striker Francis Pawson and the son of an international lacrosse player, TBT found himself at Pembroke College. He was among a starry peer group that featured John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden and Jonathan Lynn. They honed their talents in the prestigious Cambridge University Footlights Club, of which TBT became President in 1963.
And the Footlights’ revue, A Clump of Plinths, was so successful during its Edinburgh Festival Run that it was renamed Cambridge Circus and transferred to the West End before moving onto New Zealand and Broadway.
Those experiences helped propel TBT, who is now 77, into the world of comedy show writing.
“I used to go to lectures with John Cleese. We used to giggle at the thought of performing professionally. John was always very helpful. I remember one occasion failing to attend a particular lecture. John had been and he told me that the lecturer had given a talk on something that we should have done earlier in the term. We realised it was going to be a question on our exam and John helped me with that.”
The two had a great rapport and worked together on formative ideas. “The best sketch we ever did was a court room sketch in our student review. He was the lawyer and I was the person being questioned. There were some great lines in that.”
The TV channel ATV gave TBT work as a researcher. And a little afterwards, he was grandly appointed an Editor on the David Frost programme. Cleese also appeared. “Although it might have appeared I wasn’t doing much, the David Frost programme was great.”
TBT worked with other good writers and Frost encouraged him to do more.”
He made a programme called Broaden Your Mind with Graeme Garden and Bill Oddie, which featured a string of comedy sketches. And that led to BBC2’s The Goodies, which was first shown in November 1970.
It was a huge hit, running for more than a decade on the BBC and London Weekend Television, spawning spin-off books and successful records.
“The Goodies was the big one in a way because it ran for quite a time. Bill was singing songs on it and we were all having fun. But the problem with sketch shows was that you reach a climax and punch line then you have to start all over again. We got round that by Graeme coming on and saying: ‘This is getting silly, let’s do something different.’
“It went out at 10.30pm at night at first, it wasn’t a kids programme. But over time that changed and it became a family programme eventually.
“Getting used to that success was a gradual transition. I’m a pessimist at heart. I didn’t expect it to succeed or go on. I was able to do things other than that and also do radio shows so that I kept busy away from the show.”
Though TBT has been performing for six decades, he still finds it a challenge.
“I find it nerve-wracking. I imagine this voice from above saying ‘you were never funny’. My luck was meeting like-minded people at university. We’d never thought of going into the business. But because we got on well it worked out. Working with very good friends was great.
While some of his contemporaries have enjoyed successful solo careers, TBT has always been more at home working as part of a team.
“I think I very much like working with other people, I like bouncing off others. I write a little but rarely on my own. If you are with somebody else it gives you another confidence to take the risk. I’m very grateful for the people I’ve worked with. Both Graeme and Bill are very good writers. They could really write.”
The Goodies eventually transferred from the BBC to ITV – and the reason for that might not have been apparent at the time.
An interesting life
TBT explains: “The BBC were delaying and ITV came after us and offered us more money. Bill and Graeme were going through divorces so it was an easy decision. It eventually came to an end because they never really knew where to place it in the schedule. They were putting it out at 5pm on a Sunday but the best time had been at 9pm on BBC2.”
TBT enjoyed many highlights – at one stage, he featured in Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
“It’s been an interesting life and that’s what I’ll be talking about. Hopefully the audience will enjoy it.
“When we were The Goodies, all of us made fun of OBEs and the honours system. But now I find myself an OBE. Back then, we used to say they were given to people who didn’t deserve them. But I suppose I’ve changed my view and become very grateful that somebody thinks the things I’ve done haven’t been too bad.”