Fatal television

An episode of the 1970s television series The Goodies killed a man. He died laughing.

The Goodies logo
Cnbrb, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Death by laughter is a real thing, but many accounts are apocryphal or at least unprovable. The case of Alex Mitchell is neither, and it’s all thanks to The Goodies.

The Goodies was a British television show that could be described as a surreal sitcom: three housemates do what they can to make some money. Things like setting up a psychiatric clinic for animals, making a sex-education film, or staging a Lancastrian-themed martial arts contest.

The Goodies were famous for taking premises and extending them far into the absurd. The animal psychiatric clinic ended with a gigantic kitten rampaging through London (“Kitten Kong”). The sex-education film led to the Goodies blowing up the BBC (“Gender Education”). But the martial arts contest (“Kung Fu Kapers”) actually caused a viewer to die laughing.

The episode in question featured one of the trio demonstrating the satirical Lancastrian martial art of ecky thump. Wearing a stereotypical flat cap, he bludgeons his opponents with a black pudding, eventually forming an army to take on parliament.

(In case you are wondering, this episode popularised the Lancastrian exclamation of surprise “ecky thump.” The White Stripes album Icky Thump got its name from the same source.)

Alex Mitchell really enjoyed this episode. Mitchell may have had a heart condition known as long Q-T syndrome – his granddaughter certainly suffered from it. According to his wife, he began laughing almost as soon as the episode started, and kept going for more than twenty minutes. Then he collapsed and died from a heart attack.

His wife wrote a letter to the Goodies, thanking them for making Mitchell’s last minutes happy ones.

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