Looking back at the naughty 1970s German TV comedy series starring sexploitation queen Ingrid Steeger.
Back in the glory days of pre-digital satellite TV, when the Astra dish used to pick up Sky also brought the British viewer no end of European – OK, mostly German – TV channels, it wasn’t just Tutti Frutti and vintage sex comedies that drew viewers to channels like RTL Plus, Sat 1 and others. At a time when British TV was entering its terminal decline into demographic obsessions from producers who were more concerned with hipster credibility than broad entertainment, German TV felt oddly refreshing, even if you didn’t speak the language. At one point in the early 1990s, my channel surfing landed on a wacky 1970s sketch show, then being re-run by WDR in a mid-afternoon slot. Klimbim was the ideal lazy post-lunch viewing before getting back to work – unpretentious fun that was liberally scattered with gratuitous nudity from star Ingrid Steeger, and which had that Benny Hill-like slapstick approach that often didn’t need dialogue and so transcended language barriers.
Klimbim – which more or less translates as ‘odds and ends’ – ran from 1973 to 1979, and was originally conceived as a German answer to Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In, with Steeger as their own Goldie Hawn. The show mixed stetches, musical numbers and the tediouslly ongoing adventures of the Klimbim Family, and was cheerfully unsophisticated – the comedy was nothing if not broad, often literally presented as music hall entertainment. Perhaps, then, it was appropriate that the two female stars of the show were Steeger (top films: I, A Groupie; Love in 3D; Schoolgirl Report Pt. 4: What Drives Parents to Despair) and Elisabeth Volkmann (top films: Magdalene: Possessed By The Devil; Housewives Report; Nurses Report), both familiar faces from German cinematic sex comedies of the era, which were equally unsophisticated (to say the least). While those films required the actresses to do little more than disrobe, Klimbim was a little bit more challenging, and Steeger in particular proved herself to be a great physical comedian (and, let’s be honest here, with a great physique). Of course, the show required her to disrobe fairly frequently, but it allowed her to be more than just a sex symbol (especially in the Klimbim Family segments where she played the gap-toothed brat of the family).
The show featured various guests stars throughout the five season run – mostly names unfamiliar outside Germany, but including Jerry Lewis (who was in the first episode), Sylvie Vartan, Curd Jürgens, Udo Jürgens, Maria Schell and Karin Dor. There were, eventually, thirty episodes in total, and the show was a huge ratings hit at the time, leading to soundtrack LPs and an 8mm compilation of sketches.
For both Steeger and Volkmann, the show was a way out of sex films and into the mainstream. Steeger had a long and successful TV career after the show ended, while Volkmann became a Fassbinder regular (another Fassbinder favourite, Barbara Valentin, had appeared in season 3 of Klimbim) and then provided the voice of Marge in the German TV dubs of The Simpsons.
Klimbim looks very dated today, of course – the mix of gratuitous nudity and childish comedy feels odd, some of the sketches drag on and on in typical 1970s style and yes, it cheerfully objectifies Steeger, who is often the archetypal bubble-headed blonde bimbo of the Marilyn Monroe variety. But modern comedy is often pretentious, smug and apparently opposed to the very idea of actually being funny, and this show, hit and miss as it might be, is still entertainingly silly and disposable.
Fans can find pretty much every episode on YouTube (at least as I write this), or you can buy the entire collection on DVD.