Buxton-born writer and actor Tim Brooke-Taylor to appear at Ashbourne Festival
- Credit: Archant
He almost joined the family’s Derbyshire law firm, instead Tim Brooke-Taylor has spent the past 50 years tickling our funny bones. Viv Micklefield meets the Buxton born writer and actor ahead of his appearance at this month’s Ashbourne Festival
‘When I talk to people about Buxton, I begin to sound like someone out of an Enid Blyton book,’ says Tim Brooke-Taylor immediately slipping into the role of genial raconteur, ‘Because I think it’s a great town. Not too big and not too small, and as a young person living there I could walk or bike around it so easily.’
These memories of halcyon days spent in his birthplace are seemingly heartfelt, particularly, as Tim recalls the return visits made during school holidays, when boarding school and Latin lessons in Winchester were swapped for more familiar haunts.
‘I’d come back to Derbyshire and my dog Sparky who, funnily enough, became quite famous. He was a border terrier and would follow me around everywhere. One time, I came back and we went to Woolworths and they said “Oh there you are Sparky”. Apparently, he’d been coming in all on his own. We’d also heard a story that he’d get on the bus and go to Bakewell and back, so when Sparky unexpectedly disappeared the local newspaper reported it.
‘Thirteen months later, I was at a funfair in Manchester and suddenly saw Sparky and he saw me, although his collar now said Lucky. So, the next headline in the newspaper read, “Sparky found”; he really was a celebrity in his own right.’
And, of course, went on to become the nom de plume of his co-newshound for TV’s Animal Antics a few years ago. Similarly, as Tim reveals, although his parents have passed on the family name is not forgotten.
‘The Brooke-Taylors once had a legal mafia in Derbyshire,’ he chuckles. ‘My grandfather was a solicitor in Bakewell and my father and cousins were there too. Father then moved to Buxton to form Bennett Brooke-Taylor and Wright, which my late brother also joined, and you can still see a sign for Brooke-Taylors in The Quadrant.
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‘There was a place kept there for me too and people sometimes ask if my family minded that I didn’t join them in the law firm, but I used to say that they were all frustrated actors.’
Indeed, things might have turned out so differently for Tim during his student days at Pembroke College Cambridge, had he not made a promise to the Derbyshire Education Committee to join the Footlights Club. Not only was this where he first met Bill Oddie and Graeme Garden, as its president Tim embraced a golden era that produced many of Britain’s comedy giants.
‘My two closest friends, at that time, were actually John Cleese and Graham Chapman and when we all left university we shared a flat together; I also auditioned with Eric Idle. Our Footlights Revue of 1963 went into the West End, followed by Australia and eventually to Broadway. The radio show I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again was, basically, our original student act.’
But it was as part of The Goodies, along with fellow writers and performers Oddie and Garden that his fan base became firmly established. Running to nine series, the 76 episodes on the BBC and later ITV, followed a spoof agency prepared to do ‘anything, anytime, anywhere’. Racing around on their trusty three-man trandem, a popular combo of surreal sit-com and slapstick sketches saw the trio getting into endless scrapes, including being chased by a giant kitten, and abducted by alien rabbits.
And few of a certain age will forget their hit single, The Funky Gibbon, during an era when unemployment topped one million and inflation rocketed towards 25 per cent (although 1975 also saw Derby County FC become Division One champions for the second time in four seasons – more of whom later).
‘I’m very proud of The Goodies,’ admits Tim. ‘And, in a way, am frustrated that we don’t still see it because it was fairly anti-establishment yet cleverly silly. I keep saying how lucky we were. I’ve since done plays with some brilliant actors who I’ve never heard of again, which seems so unfair.’
Does he, I wonder, find different things funny now compared with his younger self?
‘That’s a very good question. There are certain things I loved as a child – musical comedy for example and I still do now. The big breakthrough in comedy for me was Beyond the Fringe as Peter Cook was a hero of mine and changed everything. But at the same time, nothing could be funnier than watching Morecambe and Wise.
‘I still find myself liking a lot of comedy now and I love Mrs Brown’s Boys because that’s all about working as a team and playing with the audience.’
Characteristically modest about his own success, Tim demonstrates an enduring comic panache having appeared as a regular panellist on the long-running radio show I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, since its launch in 1972. These days, the show’s host is Jack Dee, and speaking of a recent recording that also featured Andy Hamilton and Jo Brand, Tim says: ‘For me, it’s brilliant working with comedians of another generation.’
None of his own family, however, have pursued a comedy career. They’ve been, he says, ‘very sensible’ whilst reporting that his five grandchildren do make him laugh. ‘Even more so because they sometimes use naughty words. I have to leave the room because I just start giggling.’
And, it seems, they share his love of football. ‘I’m a lifelong fan and a director of Derby County. Only recently we all went to Pride Park and our grandchildren had their Rams shirts on.
‘When I bring my stage show to Derbyshire, it’s very different (from elsewhere) as I can use a lot of shorthand because everyone knows exactly what I’m talking about. I don’t have to describe Buxton for instance or Ashbourne which is where I failed my driving test. Ashbourne is a town with a lot of hills and my hill starts were not good, especially as I was in a three-gear Renault which was terribly difficult to drive.
‘I’m pleased to say we’ve got some absolutely classic clips to share with the audience that, rather sadly, make me laugh every time. There’s one from At Last the 1948 Show, filmed in the 60s, when they (Cleese, Chapman and Marty Feldman) changed the script. Having thrown this at me, we all start laughing which is terribly unprofessional. I like to think people still find it funny.’
Tim’s current tour schedule and media work aside, there’s still time to play golf ‘very badly’. And although living with his wife Christine in Berkshire, he remains close to his roots as patron of two Derbyshire charities: the Tiny Tim Trust (tinytimtrust.org.uk) which supports children with special needs, and the Chaddesden based Big Adventures Theatre Company (www.bigadventurestheatre.com).
Not bad going for someone who’s now well into his seventh decade, has collected an OBE for services to light entertainment and continues to help us to get a laugh out of life.
Tim Brooke-Taylor is appearing at the Ashbourne Festival in conversation with Chris Serle on Wednesday 21st June, 7.30pm at St John’s Church. For ticket information visit ashbournefestival.org
Big Adventures Theatre Company celebrates its 20th anniversary season with a brand new musical, The Last Revolution, based on the ill-fated Pentrich Rising of 1817. Performances take place at Markeaton Park from Friday 23rd to Sunday 25th June in association with Derby LIVE and Unite the Union. For details visit www.derbylive.co.uk/whats-on/the-last-revolution