If Graeme Garden had taken up his expected vocation and become a practising doctor, the 72-year-old might have had his feet up by now. The Aberdeen-born Prestonian pondered this down the phone-line from his Oxfordshire home.
“Yes, I’d be a retired doctor doing am-dram. I might have been a reasonably good doctor, competent, but I’m not sure I’d have been a very happy one.
‘I didn’t fancy being around sick people but then I entered showbusiness...’
“I didn’t fancy being around all those sick people, but then entered showbusiness, where you just meet a different class of sick people.”
So was the former Goodies star’s early script writing on Doctor in the House the closest he got to the real thing?
“Apart from when I was a student and they let me lay hands on patients. I did slightly more serious stuff later though, educational series with Dr Rob Buckman and John Cleese.”
Graeme’s at Preston Guild Hall on Sunday , March 8, joining chairman Jack Dee, fellow ex-Goodie Tim Brooke-Taylor, Barry Cryer and Jeremy Hardy for hit BBC Radio 4 ‘antidote to panel games’ I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue.
He moved to Preston aged four, his father taking on a role at the PRI after service in the Medical Corps, and his parents staying on.
“Dad was doing orthopaedic work and one reason he stayed was the Preston bypass, the first motorway, thinking there would be quite a lot of challenging trauma work.
“I went away to boarding school when I was eight, coming back for holidays, but the family were there right until my Mum died two or three years ago.
“We lived just outside Broughton, and I went to the church school. Funnily enough I was watching some Morris dancers the other day in the Cotswolds and one came up, wearing a cheese on his head, and said, ‘Do you remember me?’
“He said we were at Broughton School together. It’s a small world.”
What’s the single-most repeated remark he gets when he’s spotted in public?
“Occasionally I get The Goodies theme tune shouted at me, or ‘You’ll have had your tea’ or something about Mornington Crescent.”
The latter two were borne out of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, with which he’s been associated throughout its 43-year run.
“We meet a lot of people who say, ‘I’m very grateful to my parents for making me listen’. Eventually the penny drops. People get into it as they get older.
“It’s an old show and we’re old people, but it’s by no means an old audience.”
It’s now 50 years since he became president of the Cambridge Footlights, around the time he met Tim Brooke-Taylor and Monty Python star Eric Idle.
“Someone tweeted the other day, ‘Have you ever been to Preston?’ to Eric, who tweeted back: ‘Yes, and my good friend Graeme Garden came from there’. So I tweeted: ‘And I’ll be back this Sunday’.
“In fact, Eric came up to stay with me a couple of times, for the odd New Year party.”
Graeme’s break came when writing for I’m Sorry, I’ll Read That Again, getting his first ‘cheque for writing silly stuff’ long before he found TV fame.
When did he last watch an episode of The Goodies?
“We watched a lot when Tim and I were doing a stage show at Edinburgh Fringe and another with Bill (Oddie) in Australia, where there’s a very keen fan-base.”
Was there an element of rivalry with your old Monty Python friends?
“Good-natured rivalry. We were all chums and worked together on various things over the years.”
Have Graeme’s three children followed him into comedy or medicine?
“My daughter briefly became an ambulance paramedic in the East End, but is now a teacher and vice-principal of a technical college.
“My eldest son is a musician, he was with The Scissor Sisters, and toured with Alison Moyet lately on her European tour, while my youngest is a lead concept artist on a huge video game.”
Forty years ago, Funky Gibbon gave The Goodies a top five hit, and I put it to Graeme that, on a version I saw on The Bay City Rollers’ TV show recently, he seems more reserved and embarrassed than Bill and Tim.
“I was holding back. I didn’t want to show them up with my fancy dance moves.”
Tickets (£25) are still available for the visit of I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue to Preston Guild Hall this Sunday, March 8, starting at 7.30pm.