Life’s a laugh even if it kills you

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Laughter is good for us? Try telling that to the late Alex Mitchell.

The poor Sussex bricklayer literally laughed himself to death while watching an episode of The Goodies in 1975.

Couldn’t stop, his widow claimed. It was just too much. He clutched his sides and roared in delight before expiring in one final bellow.

The offending episode? It was called Kung-Fu Kapers, part of the fifth series. During it, Bill Oddie demonstrated the ancient Lancastrian martial art of “Ecky-Thump” while assailing a kilted Tim Brooke-Taylor with a black pudding. Brooke-Taylor, naturally, defended himself with a set of bagpipes. Clearly, you had to be there.

Which is precisely the point. Mitchell was there and now he’s not. The Goodies killed him. And if reports are to be believed, they also went close to rubbing out a number of other viewers during a 74-episode reign between 1970-82.

Episodes called Give Police a Chance, Hospital for Hire and Gender Education are all still considered lethal in the wrong hands.

Scatty Safari, a parody of Rolf Harris, should never be watched in one sitting.

Yet quite astonishingly, Sky is replaying the series on Sunday evenings without so much as a public health warning. Not even an R18 classification or a late-night slot.

This week’s episode, Superstar, might not be quite as dangerous to viewers’ health but you can never be sure. One glimpse of that three-seated bicycle – the “trandem” – could be all it takes.

It was easier in the old days when the Broadcasting Corporation of New Zealand never really understood comedy.

It decided The Goodies was a children’s show and scheduled it for after-school viewing. The spoofs of the police, the National Health Service and anti-porn campaigner Mary Whitehouse – renamed Desiree Carthorse for the Gender Education episode – went completely over our heads.

But that isn’t the case on Sunday evenings now, when The Goodies screen at 7pm on Sky’s Comedy Central channel.

To make things even riskier for viewers, the pay channel are following it up with The Young Ones, Harry Enfield Presents and I’m Alan Partridge in a two-hour laugh-fest called, in best Benny Hill style, Show Us Your Brits.

Young Ones fans should remember this week’s episode Oil without too much prompting, thanks to flashbacks of Vyvyan discovering crude in the new flat’s basement, Neil accidentally plunging a pick-axe through Vyvyan’s head, and Buddy Holly being found dangling upside down from his parachute harness, having survived the previous 23 years on a diet of beetles.

But how we’re then supposed to survive 30 minutes of Harry Enfield characters such as The Double-take brothers, Tim Nice-but-Dim, and Wayne and Waynetta Slob, is anyone’s guess.