What’s Good for the Goose – Tigon British Film Productions (1969)

‘Whatever the Swinging Sixties are going to be remembered for it won’t be films,’ Alan Parker argued on his Turnip Head’s Guide to British Cinema. ‘The moment you saw a red London bus go through the shot you knew you were in for a rotten time.’

Safe to say then he wouldn’t have been a huge fan of What’s Good for the Goose, a film that opens to the chimes of Big Ben and a shot featuring a red bus. He wouldn’t be alone in thinking it rotten. There were plenty of detractors on its release including the star of the film Norman Wisdom and since then it has failed to win over many fans.

Matthew Sweet, in his book Shepperton Babylon, judged Wisdom’s attempt to reinvent himself to be a disaster. ‘Watching him in his tight little white Y-fronts in a comfortless hotel, psyching himself to have sex with Sally Geeson, is like attending the funeral of his career.’

What's Good for the Goose 1969

So why was I keen to see it when it screened on Talking Pictures last week?

Well, there are a number of intriguing ingredients involved in the film. First up, the aforementioned Norman Wisdom, the man once tipped by Charlie Chaplin to be the comedian who would follow in his footsteps.

Then there’s Tony Tenser, who acted as an exec-producer on the project. A master of publicity stunts, he was also heavily involved in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, Michael Reeves’s Witchfinder General and Hannie Caulder, a Spanish-filmed western starring Raquel Welch, the latter two movies released by his production company Tigon.

Mostly though, I was curious about the participation of The Pretty Things. This lot were the bad boys of the British R&B boom of the early 1960s. They had very close links to The Rolling Stones, and charted a number of times in their early days.

In 1973, Bowie covered a couple of their tracks, Rosalyn and Don’t Bring Me Down for his Pin Ups album and referenced their name in several of his songs starting with Oh! You Pretty Things. Van Morrison loved them. Dave Gilmour loved them. Joey Ramone loved them, once calling them ‘The biggest influence on us. They invented garage bands.’

Like many of their contemporaries, as the ’60s began to heat up, the Pretties tuned in, turned on and dropped out, embracing a psych sound along the way.

On their 1967 Emotions LP they hired a guy called Reg Tilsley to help out with some orchestration. Tilsley persuaded them to try their hand at cutting some tracks for library music company De Wolfe. They agreed to the idea, adopting the pseudonym The Electric Banana – a name presumably taken from a line in Donovan’s Mellow Yellow about the electrical banana that was apparently gonna be a sudden craze.

This music was recorded in between stints at Abbey Road where they were laying down their opus S.F. Sorrow, which is credited as being the first ever rock opera.

S.F. Sorrow failed to sell in the numbers that it deserved to – single Defecting Grey should have been a massive hit and is one of my favourite psychedelic singles – and maybe this lack of success encouraged them to continue with the library music idea and also make some easy money when offered the chance to play themselves in Goose.

Here they are with It’ll Never Be Me from the film:

The script of Goose was co-written by young Israeli director Menahem Golan and Wisdom, who here he takes on the lead role of Timothy Bartlett. A timid bowler-hat wearing banker (no rhyming slang intended), he’s stuck in a rut of breakfast with the kids, peck on the cheek of his wife Margaret (wearing her curlers), work, return home for a meal and another peck on the cheek of his wife (still in curlers) before bed.

Sent to a banking conference in Southport, his car is practically hijacked along the way by two hippyish dolly birds, brunette Nikki and strawberry blonde Meg. Timothy is in his fifties and wears his bowler and dickey bow as he drives while the pair look like they’re in their late teens and wearing the groovy Carnaby Street style garb of the day.

On arrival, the girls skedaddle off to enjoy the delights of Swinging Southport while Timothy makes his way to the most boring conference ever devised, with pompous and stuffy older men like himself. Listening to one particular zeds inducing speech, he finds himself thinking fondly of the girls and is clearly smitten by Nikki.

Later he heads into town, obviously hoping to bump into the girls. He does so when he enters a pop art coloured discotheque called the Screaming Apple where the town’s hipsters sit on swings, topless barman serve drinks and surprise, surprise, The Pretty Things are onstage. And what do you know, Nikki appears rather keen on him.

The Pretty Things - Electric Banana

By the next time he pays a visit to the Apple – where, of course, the Pretties are again playing live – Timothy has undergone a hippy makeover of paisley pattern shirt, psychedelic cravat and mustard coloured bell-bottoms.

At which point a more appropriate title for What’s Good for the Goose might have been No Fool Like an Old Fool.

Well I say fool but who could blame him skiving off from his dreary conference to frolic around with Nikki at Southport’s Pleasureland and on the beach – where we even catch a little nudity. Yes, I have now seen Norman Wisdom’s buttocks – and let me tell you ‘pretty things’ was not a phrase that sprang to mind as I did so.

At times, the film does come over like a precursor to those awful 1970s British sexploitation comedies, a subgenre that lacked very much in the way of sex and even less in the way of comedy.

The humour in Goose is generally predictable but on a number of occasions Wisdom’s knockabout physical comedy did bring a smile to my face. As did his transformation into a middle-aged hippy but he’s woefully miscast and his agent really should have had a word.

It’s easy to see why the movie bombed critically and commercially on release. Now though, it possesses a fascinating period charm with the music of The Pretty Things being the best thing about it. If Wonderwall was a movie for real heads then this was one for weekend hippies gullible enough to smoke (non electric) banana peels in an attempt to get high.

After Goose, Norman Wisdom retreated to British TV and shows like Norman and A Little Bit of Wisdom while Tony Tenser took up with a much younger woman and decided to move to Southport in his later years.

In 2013, The Pretty Things celebrated their fiftieth anniversary with dates in Britain and Europe and they’re still on the go.

The most bizarre and high-profile future of any of the main talents involved though would be director Menahem Golan. He will always be best remembered as one of the two men behind Cannon Films, working with everyone from Chuck Norris and Bo Derek to Jean-Luc Godard and Peter Bogdanovich. Notably, he earned a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination in 1978 for his Operation Thunderbolt but also picked up three separate Golden Raspberry Awards nominations in the space of four years in the mid 1980s.

Ninja III: The Domination, a hokey as hell martial arts/horror movie he co-produced in 1984, airs on Film 4 tonight at 11.10.

For more on The Pretty Things: http://www.theprettythings.com/