Comedy Chronicles

It seemed a good idea at the time #4: The Bee Gees' Cucumber Castle

Bee Gees - Cucumber Castle cover

Sometimes one looks at a plan, and then at the finished product, and is left wondering: 'How on earth did they get from this to that?' Then there is the strange and exotic cultural creature that is Cucumber Castle. When you look at the plan for that, and then the finished product, you'll probably be left wondering: 'How on earth did they get from this to that - and, by the way, what the heck is that?'

Cucumber Castle really is a very odd thing. It was envisaged originally as the pilot episode of, believe it or not, a new British comedy series that would rival America's then-hugely successful sketch show Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In. It ended up as a one-off TV movie that was part fairy tale, part music promo, part home video and part comic curiosity that popped up at the start of the 1970s and then floated straight off far into obscurity.

The story of its ill-fated creation is a remarkable little tale that at times resembles Spinal Tap trying to shoot Spamalot. It involves commercial opportunism, professional naivety, musical differences, sibling tensions, a number of sudden misfortunes and a great deal of chaos and confusion.

Robert Stigwood
Robert Stigwood

The story begins with Robert Stigwood. An Australian-born entrepreneur, he had come over to England in the mid-1950s and set up a business, Robert Stigwood Associates, that tried to do everything from finding and managing new rock and pop acts (such as John Leyton, Mike Berry and Billie Davis) and promoting 'package' musical tours to investing in TV, theatre and movie projects (as well as, for a while, backing an opal-mining project in Andamooka). After a decidedly uneven first decade in business, during which he suffered quite a few flops and financial setbacks, Stigwood was managing the likes of Cream, was booking agent for The Who, was the owner of the indie label Reaction Records, and was now considered to be one of the most powerful young impresarios around.

At the start of 1967 he pooled his resources with The Beatles' boss Brian Epstein, becoming joint managing director of the latter's company, NEMS (North End Music Stores). Only a few months later, however, Epstein was dead, The Beatles were determined to be independent (they had prevented Epstein from including them in his merger with Stigwood, whom they strongly disliked and distrusted, warning him: 'If you somehow manage to pull this [deal] off, we can promise you one thing. We will record God Save the Queen for every single record we make from now on and we'll sing it out of tune. That's a promise. So if this guy buys us, that's what he's buying'), NEMS was in a state of disarray and Stigwood appeared to be struggling to produce the investment he had promised.

Newspaper clipping: What happens to the Beatle empire?

By October he had left the company (by mutual consent) to form The Robert Stigwood Organisation (RSO), with the intention of building it up into a major international multi-media operator. One of the first clients to benefit from this move was a young group called The Bee Gees.

Consisting of brothers Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb, along with guitarist Vince Melouney and drummer Colin Petersen, they had sailed to England from their home in Sydney just when Stigwood was in the process of joining NEMS, thus becoming one of the first groups he auditioned in his new position there. Warming to his fellow Australians, he signed them up and assumed personal responsibility for their career, declaring them 'The most significant new musical talent of 1967'.

The Bee Gees. Image shows left to right: Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb, Vince Melouney, Maurice Gibb, Colin Petersen
The Bee Gees. Image shows left to right: Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb, Vince Melouney, Maurice Gibb, Colin Petersen

Stigwood, however, was also busy looking to expand his reach into other areas of show business, and one of his first major advances in the pursuit of this ambition was to incorporate (for £2m) the writing agency Associated London Scripts (along with its subsidiary production company Associated London Films) into RSO at the start of 1968. This meant that he now had the brilliant Beryl Vertue, the ALS managing director, as part of a new team that was looking to develop and market TV and movie projects, as well as the vast majority of Britain's best comedy writers, including Galton & Simpson and Johnny Speight, and also another ALS director, Frankie Howerd.

This was the context in which The Bee Gees' early UK career would develop. Their musical ascent was remarkably rapid - they started having major hits (New York Mining Disaster 1941; To Love Somebody; Massachusetts; Words) more or less immediately - but Stigwood, using The Beatles' development as his template, was already looking for similar ways to add to his own protégés' commercial appeal. When, therefore, The Beatles came up with their TV movie Magical Mystery Tour at the end of 1967, Stigwood decided to follow suit and find a visual vehicle for The Bee Gees.

Associated London Scripts. Image shows left to right: Eric Sykes, Ray Galton, Beryl Vertue, Spike Milligan, Alan Simpson. Credit: Popperfoto
Associated London Scripts. Image shows left to right: Eric Sykes, Ray Galton, Beryl Vertue, Spike Milligan, Alan Simpson. Credit: Popperfoto

He made swift use of Associated London Scripts to promote the band to a broader audience via a relatively straightforward TV special, Frankie Howerd Meets The Bee Gees (broadcast by ITV in August 1968), which was scripted by Galton & Simpson, but he was still looking for something upon which they could really stamp their signature. Such a search, however, would prove to be anything but straightforward.

Music stars passing on movie projects was actually even more fashionable at the time than committing to them - The Beatles, in particular, had recently rejected a script by Richard 'The Manchurian Candidate' Condon about four cowboys being pursued by a cursed nymphomaniac (it was later made without them as A Talent For Loving); they had also turned down a story called Shades Of A Personality, in which they would have played different aspects of the same person; an offer to lend their voices to an animated band of vultures in Disney's production of The Jungle Book; and Joe Orton's specially-written screenplay, Up Against It, which would have had them seduce a priest's niece, clash with a dominatrix, dress up in drag, attempt to assassinate the Prime Minister and endure several years in prison. The Bee Gees, forever spookily in the Fab Four's shadow, were now, once again, following their lead, or rather their lack of a lead.

A couple of movie ideas (passed from one ALS writer to another) were toyed with and then dropped (while another, a Boer War comedy called Lord Kitchener's Little Drummer Boys, written by Johnny Speight, got as advanced as securing South African filming locations before being quietly abandoned - partly because Barry complained that it 'reminded me a bit of The Beatles' Help!'). There was even talk of 'the boys' appearing in a new TV production of Speight's highly controversial play If There Weren't Any Blacks, You'd Have To Invent Them, but what Stigwood settled on, in the end, was a sketch show.

Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In

The fact that he fastened on a sketch show as the format was down primarily to the latest phenomenon on US TV: Rowan & Martin's Laugh-in. Launched in January 1968, this fast-paced, slickly-produced showcase for skits and sketches (featuring the likes of Ruth Buzzi, Goldie Hawn, Henry Gibson, Judy Carne and a glittering selection of big name special guests) had rapidly become the most popular and talked-about programme in America, and the BBC was currently in negotiations to bring it to British screens.

Stigwood was one of the first among his peers to appreciate its full significance. Reasoning that, thanks to his recent acquisition of ALS, he already had access to some of the best comedy writers on this side of the Atlantic, and also speculating that younger US (as well as UK) viewers might be attracted to a more 'hip' style of show (if it had worked for The Monkees, the feeling was, why shouldn't it work for The Bee Gees?), he thus started guiding his group in this direction.

This is the point at which the project started to take a strange turn, because although The Bee Gees were drawn to Stigwood's idea, they decided, after some internal discussion, that they wanted to place the sketch show in medieval times ('a Laugh-In type of show,' explained Barry, 'but set roughly in Tudor England'). What was even odder than this proposal was that Stigwood was so quick to accept it.

Stigwood, in fact, had history when it came to, well, history. In 1961, he had produced a pilot for a TV series called Traitors' Gate, which would see method actors (having spent a fortnight in a rented country cottage, wearing ruffs and doublets or other period-appropriate attire, being waited on by two 'servants' also dressed in similarly suitable costumes) play notorious figures from various times long gone by, being quizzed in a studio, Face To Face-style, by a current day interlocutor (Kenneth Macleod). It had failed to take off, and lost Stigwood a considerable amount of money, but the notion of Stiggy, as he was commonly known, being 'Whiggy' - assessing past practices via present perspectives, and vice versa - had remained in his head as an option worth exploring.

Letting The Bee Gees adapt his Laugh-In idea into something more playfully allegorical, therefore, would have made some sort of sense to Stigwood (who already had a reputation for making quick and sometimes highly impetuous decisions). What surely made far less sense - either to him or to anyone else with any awareness of how successful television productions worked - was his similar willingness to allow The Bee Gees to write the show as well as star in it (along with composing the soundtrack).

Part of the reason for the extraordinary success of Laugh-In, after all, had been the fact that it centred around a very polished comedy double act - Dan Rowan and Dick Martin - who had been working together since the Fifties, and fed off a veritable factory-full of top rate comedy writers. The Gibb brothers, in stark contrast, were very young (Barry, when the project was first mooted, was just twenty-one, while the twins Robin and Maurice had only just turned eighteen) and completely new to writing anything other than pop songs.

Stigwood, none the less, was happy to give them their head, so confident was he (on the basis of absolutely no evidence whatsoever) that their acting and comedy talents would prove to be as precocious as their musical ones. While all of the key programme-making resources at ALS were left untapped, therefore, The Bee Gees were given the green light to come up with their own distinctive show.

Bee Gees 1st album

Inspired by a quaint little song of the same name they had already recorded on their July 1967 debut album, Bee Gees' 1st, they elected, eventually, to call this new programme Cucumber Castle. Starting in the spring of 1968, and working intermittently on the project over the course of the rest of the year and into the early months of the next, they gradually built on the basic idea of a sequence of sketches whose pay-offs would be all about the contrasts (and parallels) between Tudor times and the Swinging Sixties.

'It was when we began to really work on the story,' Barry would later say, 'that we realised that the outline of the story contained so many parables relating to reality. So it worked out that several of the sketches, for us anyway, have a meaning above and beyond the obvious joke.'

The essence of this story was that the Gibb brothers would be medieval princes, and the imminent death of their father (to be played by their friend from ALS, Frankie Howerd) would precipitate all kinds of conflict and, it was hoped, comic situations as the battle for power ensued. This saga would be kept open-ended because, once the pilot was completed, there were supposed to be twelve more episodes still to be scripted and shot.

Pleased enough by the progress that was being made, Stigwood and his colleagues (who included, as producer, the shy and retiring Mike Mansfield, a pop music show specialist who would later find a form of fame himself by presenting acts on camera from the gallery - '...and cue the music!' - in the 1975 series Supersonic) proceeded to recruit the kind of cast list that would appeal to the US, as well as the British, market. Aside from The Bee Gees themselves and Frankie Howerd, Richard Harris was hired to play an anachronistic Cromwell ('Get out of my century', he would be told. 'You've no place here!'); Vincent Price as the wicked Count Voxville, who makes a salad out of human heads; Sammy Davis Jr as a tennis player; Eleanor Bron as a short-sighted cellist called Lady Margerie Pee; Spike Milligan as a court jester named 'Spike Milligan'; and Maurice Gibb's then-fiancée, Lulu, as a cook called 'Lulu'; as well as an assortment of other rock and pop stars on the RSO roster, such as Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Roger Daltrey and Steve Winwood.

Even before filming began, however, things started to go wrong. The first of these concerned the state of The Bee Gees themselves.

The Bee Gees

Always inclined to become somewhat over-excited, it had only taken a matter of months working on the sketch show for Barry, as the best-looking of the group, to convince himself that he was now heading for movie stardom. 'Sure I'm leaving The Bee Gees', he told one reporter at the time. 'I'm going into films. But it will be at least two years before it happens.' This sudden proclamation, understandably, did not go down at all well with his bandmates, who themselves were a volatile and somewhat neurotic bunch at the best of times.

Barry quickly retracted his comments, but other arguments, both personal and professional, were continuing to undermine the group's morale. The three Gibb brothers, who had always been fiercely competitive, were now becoming increasingly suspicious of each other's motives, while the other two band members, who had always felt suspicious of the other three's motives, were feeling increasingly frustrated and insecure.

The five became four when they lost their guitarist, Vince Melouney, in December 1968. The official reason given was the usual 'musical differences', with him supposedly keen on moving in 'a more blues-band' direction - although many years later he would say that he had grown tired of 'the conflicts within the Robert Stigwood Organisation that were going on'. Then, soon after this setback, the four became three.

The simmering sibling tensions between Barry and Robin Gibb finally bubbled over at the start of 1969 when Robin left the group. Resentful of what he felt was Stigwood's preferential treatment of his elder brother, whom he thought was being favoured as the frontman, and disagreeing about the choice of A-sides (written by Barry) for recent and forthcoming singles, an embittered Robin departed to pursue a solo career, vowing to also 'launch a new pop empire called Bow and Arrow' (and then Stigwood made the rift even worse by having a writ issued against him for breach of contract).

Newspaper headline: Robin quits Bee Gees

This change necessitated, amongst other things, some further hurried rewriting of the script for Cucumber Castle. Now focusing on two instead of three, the revised plot had Barry playing Prince Frederick and Maurice his brother Prince Marmaduke, with the pair of them presiding over separate parts of their ailing father's disunited kingdom.

Barry and Maurice, along with Lulu, then decided to make a rough film of the script themselves over the course of a few hectic days. Recording all of the scenes on their own 8mm camera, they viewed the results and then rewrote what they judged needed improving until they felt ready to work in the show for real.

There was, however, another problem. All three Gibbs, through the mounting pressures of stardom, were starting to acquire the odd dubious habit - Barry was fond of a puff, Robin a pill and Maurice a pint, to the extent that they were sometimes referred to in private, very affectionately, as 'Potty, Pilly and Pissy' - but Maurice was fast becoming, as he would later confess, 'a real alky'. Although he married Lulu in February 1969 (against Barry's wishes, who felt they were too young), he was in no mood to settle down and was partying hard and drinking harder.

He made the front pages in May for crashing his Rolls-Royce in a street near his home in Belgravia and being propelled, along with his two passengers, through the windscreen. It was reported, rather fancifully, that he subsequently received treatment in hospital only for 'a bash on the nose'.

A sign of his tenuous grasp on reality during this time was the fact that, once he was back up on his feet again, but now sporting a variety of cuts and bruises and two panda-like black eyes, he set off straight down to his local showroom and bought another brand-new Rolls-Royce - which he very nearly crashed soon after. At the start of August, with his drinking getting even worse, he fell down a flight of stairs at Stigwood's Brook Street offices and fractured one of his arms.

It was thus depressingly clear that, with shooting due to commence the following week, Maurice's contributions, either in quantity or quality, could not be taken for granted (even though he was, apparently, still determined to stand in for the show's director, Hugh Gladwish, to oversee some of the 'comedy' scenes). All that Barry could do, in the circumstances, was hope that his brother would not be rocking once the cameras started rolling.

Robert Stigwood's glamorous estate near Stanmore in Middlesex

Filming did indeed go ahead, beginning on 11th August, in the huge sixteenth-century mansion and lavish 36-acre grounds of Robert Stigwood's glamorous estate near Stanmore in Middlesex, whose features included its own reconstituted Scottish castle. Ominously, Maurice marked the start of the proceedings by cutting his neck on a sharp piece of armour.

Further problems, however, kept on coming. The next one concerned the drummer of the band, Colin Petersen.

Although Petersen started filming with the others, he had been complaining for some time about what he considered to be the poor quality of the comedy, and had refused to take part in any of the sketches. This reluctance to do much on the set, other than stand about in the background, was made to seem all the more ironic by the fact that, of all the band members past and present, he was the only one with any real acting experience, having started in the profession at the age of seven and spent several years as a child star (with one of his roles having him appear alongside Sir Ralph Richardson in the 1956 movie Smiley).

Smiley - Ralph Richardson, John McCallum, 'Chips' Rafferty and Colin Petersen as Smiley

It seems that the distance between Petersen and the Gibbs had now grown too great, because, in the last week of August, their patience snapped and he was sacked. 'I received a letter from Barry and Maurice Gibb on Tuesday evening', he said in a statement, 'to the effect that they no longer desire to be associated with me. I am a partner in the Bee Gees and as a result of getting this letter I have no alternative but to put the matter to my lawyers and ask them to dissolve the partnership theretofore known as The Bee Gees. I intend to continue under the name Bee Gees even if it means forming another group.' He concluded by adding acidly: 'The brothers Gibb are welcome to go out as the "Brothers Gibb".'

So now The Bee Gees (or 'The Brothers Gibb') were down to two, and embroiled in a legal dispute, while the movie was still being made. Those who remained, however, were determined to get things done as promptly as possible: Petersen's few scenes were thus promptly cut and in some cases re-shot, the outstanding action was captured (with a decidedly bemused Frankie Howerd filming all of his own scenes as quickly as he could), and, early in September (just as more bad news was breaking - this time that the parents of the Gibb brothers, alarmed at Robin's addiction to methamphetamines, were trying to get him designated a ward of the court), the project was finally completed.

It was not, however, entirely clear - unless one was under the influence of some particularly potent hallucinogenics - what the completed, and clumsily-edited, project actually was. Costing £50,000 (about £900,000 in today's money) to make, and boasting only a slightly more coherent narrative than the much-criticised Magical Mystery Tour, but far fewer inspired creative moments, the fifty-minute-long Cucumber Castle must surely have struck some, even at the time, as a bewildering mess.

Cucumber Castle. Image shows left to right: Dying King (Frankie Howerd), Nurse Sarah Charles Bottom (Pat Coombs)

It begins with the bed-ridden King (Frankie Howerd) - who is shilly-shallying, like Oscar Wilde's Bunbury, over the question of in which world he intends to belong - being attended by his loyal and loving nurse, Sarah Troutsbottom (Pat Coombs). His two self-obsessed young sons, Frederick (Barry Gibb) and Marmaduke (Maurice Gibb), then arrive to interrogate him on what is to become of the kingdom, and of them, upon his death.

Delighted to learn that, by dividing his land up into two, with one half called Cucumber and the other one Jelly ('And why not?' snaps the King. 'I'm dying, aren't I?'), their father is going to make both of them kings, the sons race off to celebrate. Soon, however, they fall out over the matter of which of them should marry their father's nurse (and the heir to much of his fortune), and a duel is arranged opportunistically by Count Voxville (Vincent Price), who wants the woman, or at least the money, for himself.

Cucumber Castle

When this ruse fails to work, and the two brothers head off to their respective kingdoms, boredom sets in. One of them (it had to be Barry's character, given Maurice's frequent indispositions) seeks to solve this by summoning the court jester (Spike Milligan), who sings a Ying-Tong-sort of song, does a desperate Jimmy Durante impression and then, understandably in the circumstances, gets beheaded for his efforts.

The two of them meet up again for a game of tennis and other unrelated sports (Sammy Davis Jr's contribution here, like Richard Harris's elsewhere, ended up, probably much to their relief, on the cutting room floor), while two Pete and Dud-like birds up in a tree introduce a song from the band Blind Faith spliced in from an open-air concert in Hyde Park. One of the kings (Barry again) then addresses his subjects on the occasion of his birthday ('My cucumber and I...'), but his people-pleasing rhetoric ('Whatever is mine, my friends, is most surely yours') backfires badly and the masses proceed to ransack his castle and remove most of his clothes.

Cucumber Castle

Now bereft of all possessions, and abandoned by his subjects, he returns to his brother, 'his only true friend'. They both get in a boat, start singing a song (Don't Forget To Remember), and row off down the lake.

That was Cucumber Castle. As a lesson in hubris, it had certainly done its job - having spoken out before filming about knowing where The Beatles 'went wrong', and how they were confident of avoiding the same mistakes, The Bee Gees had come crashing back down to earth - but as an effective, and exportable, piece of entertainment it had failed dismally.

Structurally, even with the helping hand of an unseen narrator (Peter Blythe), the story seemed to lose interest in itself about a quarter of the way in. The whole thing, in fact, had the 'that'll have to do' feel of something that had been sketched out on a beer mat and then improvised hastily on the set.

The high points, predictably, were the musical interludes by The Bee Gees themselves (which ranged in style from a country and western pastiche to a McCartney-lite paean to nature, as well as their own distinctive ballads), which were generally quite impressive. This was in stark contrast to the profoundly bizarre decision to have a coquettish-looking Lulu bounce on and blast out a jarringly anachronistic version of Simon & Garfunkel's Mrs Robinson (or as she sings it, 'Mrs Raaaaahbinson') whilst polishing random pieces of antique wooden furniture.

Cucumber Castle. Lulu (Lulu)

The sketch content - which, after all, was supposed to provide the core of the show - was practically non-existent (a short and Python-like 'peasant shooting' visual riff was probably the nearest they got to a sketch as such, but even that ran out of steam after a matter of seconds). There were a few brief and aimless scenes that were clearly meant to be comical (such as a string quartet performance that is first invaded by bees and then dispersed by a strong breeze), but no sketches as such, and certainly none of the satirical 'parables', or even parallels, that had been promised. It was tempting to infer, in fact, that the novice comedy writers did not actually understand what a sketch essentially was, let alone know how it was supposed to work.

The duelling scene, for example, drags on and on like a discarded Richard Lester sequence played back in slow motion, with no dialogue and no real development, and ending only, as if out of mercy, by cutting to an entirely unrelated shot of an already dazed-looking Maurice being hit in the face by a custard pie. That, presumably, was meant to be one of their Laugh-In 'sock it to me' moments, but it was executed without any real conviction.

Even the frequent uses of Frankie Howerd's trademark comments out of character were far too lazy and predictable:

KING: Oh, I'm dying! I'm DYING!

NURSE: Try and rally - Lulu's just gonna sing!

KING: What - when I'm dying? What a liberty!!!

I'm dying! I'M DYING!!

NURSE: My liege.

KING: Yes?

NURSE: Are you going?

KING: I wish I could - but the film isn't finished yet!

As for the two Gibb brothers' performances, Maurice's somewhat woozy state of mind at least had the accidentally beneficial effect of rendering most of his expressions suitably Ringo-like and impassive, whereas Barry's comparative sobriety seemed, alas, to make him anxiously over-act, with too many shots spoilt by his well-meaning but unwelcome gurning at the camera.

All of this combined to undermine Cucumber Castle even as a stand-alone vanity project by a fast-rising pop group. It wrecked it completely, however, as the pilot of a comedy sketch show ('like Laugh-In', people had been told repeatedly, 'but with a more solid theme') that was now meant to serve as the basis of a thirteen-part series that it was hoped would be exported to America and elsewhere.

Cucumber Castle

Robert Stigwood, none the less, seemed to go forward in a state of denial. During September 1969 he met personally with TV executives from the UK and the US, still selling the show, and the intended series, as a Laugh-In for a younger, hipper audience, while his colleagues at RSO worked hard to find buyers from various other networks abroad.

A typically misleading plug for the programme had been planted in The Sunday Mirror a week or so before. The journalist James Pettigrew had hailed Stigwood as 'the phenomenal 34-year-old king of pop', and described the forthcoming show breathlessly as 'a British kind of Rowan And Martin's Laugh-In [...] cross-breeding with The Monkees, and funnier than either', with 'high-powered sketches [that] fizzle and pop all the way'. Pettigrew also claimed that 'everyone' in the television industry was 'agog to know what has been going on'.

This kind of PR puffery went on for a while, and then all talk of the project fell silent. There were, it seems, still more problems behind the scenes.

The biggest of these revealed itself in December 1969, when Barry Gibb announced that he was 'fed up to the teeth', as well as 'miserable, disappointed and completely disillusioned [and] heading for a nervous breakdown', and was leaving the group. The Bee Gees, as some wags in the music press had been predicting for some time, was now The Bee Gee.

Not even Maurice, however, was terribly keen on being a - let alone the - Bee Gee at this time, so he in effect split from himself and started working on a solo album like his two brothers were already doing. Cucumber Castle, amongst other group projects, was thus duly left to gather dust on one of the Stigwood Organisation's shelves.

The Bee Gees

Barry and Maurice's soundtrack album was finally released in April 1970. The critics, though generally polite, were distinctly underwhelmed: one said that the record, like the band, sounded at 'half-strength', while another complained that 'the vocal blend is not the same without Robin'. It did include a hit single, Don't Forget To Remember, which had reached No. 2 in the charts a few months before, but the album itself failed to make the Top Forty in either the UK or the US.

In August, however, Barry, Robin and Maurice were reunited as brothers and band mates, declaring themselves 'tired of being on our own', and The Bee Gees had reformed. This prompted Robert Stigwood to revive the Cucumber Castle project.

He was no longer under the illusion that it was going to spark a second career for The Bee Gees as the stars of a comedy sketch series, but he still wanted, if at all possible, to recoup some of his investment. As for The Bee Gees themselves, they were torn for a while between toying with the idea of filming new footage so that Robin could be 'inserted' into the movie, or washing their hands of the whole thing and leaving its fate to their manager. In the end, they settled on the second option and moved on with their musical career.

Stigwood struggled for some time to find any potential buyer, let alone buyers, for the pilot. The previous year's press preview had suggested that executives were 'agog to know what has been going on'; now that they had actually seen the finished product, many of them, sitting stunned in their viewing rooms, were still 'agog to know what has been going on' - but in a very bad way.

The US networks quickly ruled themselves out of any bidding, and even in Britain neither ITV nor the BBC was particularly keen about what they had seen. Eventually, however, Robin Scott, the controller of BBC2, agreed the right to show the film for a very modest fee, and a place was found for it in the forthcoming Christmas schedules.

BBC2 schedule for 26th December 1970, featuring Cucumber Castle at 1:30pm, followed by Siberia To Severnside at 2:25pm

Cucumber Castle thus finally reached the screen on BBC2 at 1:30pm on 26th December 1970. It had been delayed for so long that, since shooting stopped back in the summer of 1969, Barry had released his first solo single; both Robin and Maurice had released their first solo albums; Robin had finished recording his second solo album; Barry had been through a divorce and another wedding; The Bee Gees were currently enjoying their first new hit (Lonely Days) again as a trio; RSO had gone public; Lulu had starred in her own TV series; Frankie Howerd had starred in two series of Up Pompeii!; Blind Faith had disbanded; and The Beatles had released two more albums and a movie, and then broken up.

Cucumber Castle looked, in such circumstances, like some strange relic from another decade and another cultural fashion, and, on the day of transmission, it seems to have come and gone, in that lonely lunchtime slot, without prompting any public comment. There would be no significant reviews, no repeats, and no kind of in-house post-mortem.

Cucumber Castle

If Stigwood and The Bee Gees ever had paused to reflect on the whole sorry saga, they would surely have come to the conclusion that, aside from the folly of associating themselves with Laugh-In in the first place, Stigwood should have stepped back and trusted someone who knew far more about television - such as Beryl Vertue - to oversee the project, and the brothers Gibb should have either waited until they had grown a fair bit more before trying their hand at comedy, or else sought out the advice and guidance of the many experienced writers at ALS.

On the evidence of their next attempt to have some fun with fiction, however, it appears that not much of such reflection can ever have taken place. In 1975, Robert Stigwood announced that he was going to make a 'musical-comedy' movie based on The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album, and that it was going to be 'the most exciting film project I've yet undertaken'.

It would again star The Bee Gees, it would again feature Frankie Howerd and various other RSO acts, and it would again take several years to reach the screen. What, they all must have wondered, could possibly go wrong?


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