Tim Brooke-Taylor, beloved British comedian of stage and screen for more than 50 years, died today from the coronavirus. He was 79.
Born in Buxton, he found his calling as well as his comedy community as part of the Cambridge University Footlights Club. Brooke-Taylor not only served as Footlights president in 1963, but also proved instrumental in integrating women into the club for the first time.
The Footlights revue that year, “A Clump of Plinths,” was such a hit at the Edinburgh Fringe that it went on to runs on London’s West End and New York City’s Broadway in the following year as “Cambridge Circus.” Among the cast members TBT led: John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden and Jonathan Lynn. You know Cleese and Chapman as members of legendary Monty Python. TBT would go on to star with Oddie and Garden for more than a decade on the BBC as The Goodies. And Lynn would become a movie director, behind the camera for Clue, My Cousin Vinny and more.
Robin Ince, who hosted two events with Brooke-Taylor in January, and found him full of life and vigor then, writing: “The gentleness of his demeanour meant that people have sometimes overlooked the sharpness of his mind which was vividly on display throughout the weekend.”
You can hear their discussion from this year’s Slapstick Festival (where TBT was a fixture over the past decade) in the second half of this podcast here:
Cleese wrote: “Tim was a huge part of my early comedy life. We performed together in The West End, on Broadway, and in over 100 “I’m Sorry I’ll Read that Again”s. And then two series of “At Last, It’s The 1948 Show.” He was a great performer and companion. I have just lost the will to be silly”
A few months ago, TBT joined Aimi MacDonald to reminisce about At Last, It’s The 1948 Show.
At the end, TBT describes one sketch as “it’s the most unprofessional sketch, but probably the funniest of the whole lot.” He’s talking about Plain Clothes Police Women, in which he’s playing the straight man, debriefing Cleese, Chapman and Marty Feldman.
Feldman would get his own series, Marty, and here’s a sketch with him and TBT.
Simultaneous to all of that, the gang all got together to support Brooke-Taylor and Garden in making Broaden Your Mind.
Guest cast members included Michael Palin and Terry Jones, along with Jo Kendall, Roland MacLeod and Nicholas McArdle, with Garden joining in the second season. The writers’ room also included Cleese, Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Feldman, Barry Cryer, Barry Took, Jim Franklin, Simon Brett and Chris Stuart-Clark.
Then came The Goodies, which aired from 1970-1982. Equal parts slapstick and satire, it played on different levels to different age groups. Which might explain how “Funky Gibbon” could become a Top 10 single in Britain.
American audiences might never have been clued in to Brooke-Taylor’s brilliance. They definitely have seen it onscreen before, even if he wasn’t credited. That’s him as the computer scientist in 1971’s Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, thinking he’d figured out how to program the location of Wonka’s golden tickets.
Eagle-eyed viewers of Monty Python may have spotted his name in TV credits from time to time. Brooke-Taylor credits Idle for putting him in the credits.
Idle, today on Brooke-Taylor: “I’m very saddened to hear of the loss of our old friend and fellow Pembroke alum Tim Brooke-Taylor. He and Bill Oddie auditioned me for the Pembroke Smoker in 1963, starting my career. I always thought him a wonderful man, funny, kind and generous. Merde. This fucking virus.”
If only he’d gotten the “Clown Virus” instead. As depicted in an episode of The Goonies.
Brooke-Taylor also could be heard by Britons since 1972 as a regular on the radio panel series, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue.
In 2011, he received the high honor of the OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) for his artistic and creative contributions to the UK.
In 2014, he sang “Girlfriend in a Coma” to the tune of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” as a bit on the BBC.
Rest in Peace, Tim. You shall be missed.