Monty Python's reign of
terror began in 1166, when William the Conker invaded Baldock,
England. Conker quickly laid waste to much of Bulgaria, planting
horse chestnut trees here, there, and everywhere. Conker had a pet
python called Monty. But Monty was too compassionate for Conker's
liking, so ended up in the Crusades in 1756, where he was used as a
portable bridge. One day, Monty caught sight of Mathilda Python,
deserted his post, and 100,000 souls drowned (Monty was quite big).
Python was court-martialled, but, luckily, six bakers took pity on
him and adopted him.
The bakers decided to name
their pub, Monty le Python, but the 'le' was soon dropped for reasons
of etiquette. The bakers were nasty bastards, in truth, and they all
wanted to have Monty to themselves. Thus, they would have contests
whereby the man who punched the most holes in the most doughnuts,
without using his hands, would win Python. The girls loved all this,
and all six bakers were soon wed, but as they all scored 1,603 the
ownership of Monty was still to be settled.
Thus, they formed a
wrestling troupe called Monty Python, and they consisted of the six
men who were to be immortal: John 'Cleaver' Cleese, Graham 'Chopper'
Chapman, Eric 'Innocent' Idle, Terry 'Garotter' Gilliam, Michael
'Poker' Palin, and Terry 'Jabber' Jones.
They were to fight to the
death. The winner gaining Monty. On the road to their first venue at
Scrotum Grab - a treacherous 362 mile walk in camel slurry - the
group kept their spirits up telling jokes, and performing sketches,
including those which were to be famous evermore: 'The Dead Parsnip
Sketch', 'Upper Class Twig In The Rear', and 'The Ministry of Sunny Forts'.
They didn't fancy wrestling
anymore, went home, wrote a history of Belgium before bedtime, and
were signed up in 1869 by the Bermuda Broadcasting Company, and then
they made some films. Monty became their manager.
- Paul Rance. Mr. Rance began his
career as a writer some time ago, and wrote novels such as 'David
Copperfield' and '1984'. He then became a successful singer with The
Beatles, played football (soccer to you Americans), cricket, rugby,
and water polo for England. He was the first man on Mars in 1934.
Python, or The Pythons, is the collective name of the creators of
Monty Python's Flying Circus, a British television comedy sketch show
that first aired on the BBC on October 5, 1969. A total of 45
episodes were made over four series. However, the Python phenomenon
was much greater, spawning stage tours, a musical, four films,
numerous albums, and several books, as well as launching the members
to individual stardom.
television series, broadcast by the BBC from 1969 to 1974, was
conceived, written and performed by Graham Chapman, John Cleese,
Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. Loosely
structured as a sketch show, but with a highly innovative
stream-of-consciousness approach (aided by Terry Gilliam's
animations), it pushed the boundaries of what was then considered
acceptable, both in terms of style and content. The group's influence
upon comedy has been compared to that which The Beatles had on music
(George Harrison regarded them as taking over where The Beatles left
off and in fact became friendly with the cast). Their influence on
the British comedic spectrum has been apparent for years, while in
America it is especially evident in more recent absurdist trends in
television comedy. The six members of the team had got to know each
other gradually in the preceding years, firstly through university -
Chapman, Cleese and Idle were at Cambridge together, while Jones and
Palin were at Oxford - and later through their work on various
television comedy programmes, most notably The Frost Report.
1967, John Cleese and Graham Chapman co-wrote and starred in At Last,
the 1948 Show (above), which also starred Marty Feldman, Tim
Brooke-Taylor and Aimi MacDonald, with occasional appearances by Eric
Idle. The following year, Idle, Michael Palin and Jones Terry wrote
and starred in the children's show, Do Not Adjust Your Set (DNAYS)
(below left), which also featured animations by Terry Gilliam.
early 1969, Michael Palin and Terry Jones wrote and starred in a
short-lived series called The Complete and Utter History of Britain
(above right), in which they presented various periods in British
history as though television cameras had been there. The series was
seen by John Cleese, who decided that he would like to work with
Palin. A similar thought was had by Barry Took, a producer at the
BBC, and he arranged a meeting between the two. Cleese brought
writing partner Chapman along, and Palin brought DNAYS colleagues
Jones, Idle and Gilliam. The six of them hit it off, sharing a love
of The Goons and Spike Milligan's Q5 television show. With no
questions asked, the BBC gave them a budget to produce 13 television shows.
The first episode of Monty
Python's Flying Circus was broadcast on October 5, 1969. The show was
buried late at night and was moved round the schedules to make way
for other programmes. Occasionally it was dropped altogether4, while
certain regions of the UK never got to see it at all. Despite all
this, the show developed a significant word-of-mouth following;
enough for the BBC to commission a second series in 1970.
Just before the second
series, the Pythons branched out into the world of film, with the
release of And Now For Something Completely Different. Envisaged as a
way of breaking Monty Python into the American market, it wasn't as
successful as they'd hoped and the team returned to television. The
third series of Flying Circus was shown in 1972-73, at the end of
which, Cleese decided that he'd been with the circus long enough. The
fourth series, renamed simply Monty Python was shown in 1974. Having
only six episodes, it is generally considered to be the weakest of
the four series, with John's departure unbalancing the group.
Fortunately, John wasn't gone for good...
CLUB FEATURETTE DEPARTMENT
Here are some of our favorite bits from
Monty Python. The bits presented here, in no particular order, are
our favorites. They are by no means all the bits, nor the naughtiest,
though some may be considered somewhat naughty so if you're offended
you may contact, in writting, Nigel Incubator-Jones, Minister of
Somewhat Naughty Bits!
Michael Palin, 4 is the
Python superstar. A brilliant humourist, Michael is the vital
creative influence without whom Python could not have survived. With
an I.Q. of several thousand, Michael still finds time to look up
people who owe him money. Michael drives a scarlet and gold
Lamborghini or else hitchhikes.
May 5, 1943, the youngest Python by a matter of weeks, Palin is often
lovingly referred to as "the nice one." He attended Oxford,
where he met his Python writing partner Jones. The two also wrote the
series Ripping Yarns together. Palin and Jones originally wrote
together, but soon found it was more productive to write apart and
then come together and review what the other had written. Therefore,
Jones and Palin's sketches tended to be more focused than that of the
other four, taking one bizarre, hilarious situation, sticking to it,
and building on it. Examples include "The Spanish
Inquisition" sketch and the "fish-slapper" in the
sketches take everyday situations (talking in the sitting room,
dining out) but then introduce an unexpected, impossible to predict,
rogue element (the Spanish Inquisition, a grotesquely overweight
man). From here, Palin and Jones could play around with the newly
created environment, taking it to impossible, unbelievably stupid
extremes, for example, attempting to torture old ladies with cushions
and comfy chairs, or having waiter Cleese feed Mr. Creosote until he
actually explodes, showering the other diners in viscera.
recent years, Palin has starred in a number of documentary travel
series for the BBC in which he visits various usually remote
locales, often along some predetermined route; for example his
series Pole to Pole and the BBC-sponsored Around the World in Eighty
Days, where he followed the route of the fictional journey of Phileas
Fogg in Jules Verne's novel of the same name. He also starred in
Gilliams Brazil and Time Bandits, hosted Saturday Night Live
several times and appeared with John Cleese in a Fish Called Wanda
and Fierce Creatures. Palin is one of the most popular personalities
in Britain today.
Eric Idle, 13 is even
younger than Graham Chapman and John Cleese. Eric is the real genius
of the group. Much taller than a midget, Eric is, as he puts it,
"little short of brilliant." Eric has brought to Python
much of the anarchic humour and brilliantly surrealist performance
which would have been so sadly lacking without him. Eric was born
under Derry and Toms.
Idle was born on March 29,
1943 in South Shields, England. When with Monty Python, two writing
partnerships were formed Cleese and Chapman, Jones and Palin.
That left Gilliam in his own corner, considered to be a sensible
position in view of the arcane nature of his work, and Idle.
Idle was content to be cast
as the group loner, preferring to write by himself, at his own pace,
although he sometimes found it difficult in having to present
material to the others and make it seem funny without the back-up
support of a partner. Cleese claimed that, though he often felt his
position was unfair, Idle was an independent person and worked best
on his own. Idle claimed, "It was easier in a show where there
were thirteen in a series than with a film, where stuff was read out
all the time, and you had to convince five others. And they were not
the most un-egotistical of writers either."
Idle studied at Cambridge,
a year behind Cleese and Chapman. He is perhaps best remembered for
composing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, which closes Life
of Brian and which has become something of the group's signature tune.
Since Python, Idle has
starred in movies ranging from South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
to National Lampoon's European Vacation to 102 Dalmatians to
television shows such as The Simpsons, MADtv and Saturday Night Live
and even starred in the 1996 "point-and-click" computer
game Discworld, in which he voiced the game's protagonist Rincewind.
Idle also directs and stars in the mockumentary, The Rutles and the
Ruttles 2. Originally hatched in 1978 as a short film parody for
Saturday Night Live, the mockumentary bloomed into one of Eric Idle's
better projects outside Monty Python. Taking the career (and
hagiography) of the Beatles and inverting them quite nicely, Idle
conjures up four doppelgangers who offer the familiar mannerisms but
practically none of the intelligence of their models. If that sounds
like the same gag that powered This Is Spinal Tap (which emerged six
years later), it is, with the crucial difference that Idle's lampoon
is precise where Tap was consciously generic.
Curently Idle is the writer
of the three time Tony award-winning Broadway musical, Spamalot based
on the Holy Grail movie. He also collaborated with John Du Prez on
Terry Jones, 12 is
unbelievably young, and yet his mature judgement and fine singing
voice have earned him the accolade of "the biggest thing since
Virginia Woolf." Terry has constantly refused offers for him to
leave Python, preferring instead to devote his considerable talents
to helping "the other, less privileged members of the cast."
Terry likes steak au poivre and his ambition is to have a road named
Jones was born on February
1, 1942 in North Wales. All the Pythons have an eclectic range of
talents, but Jones is particularly hard to compartmentalise. George
Perry has commented that should you "speak to him on subjects as
diverse as fossil fuels, or Rupert Bear, or mercenaries in the Middle
Ages or Modern China and in a moment you will find yourself
hopelessly out of your depth, floored by his knowledge."
However, not everyone
considers Jones a "show-off", merely that he has a good-natured
enthusiasm. It is this same cheery devotion that has led to his
unflagging loyalty to the preservation of the group. As long as there
is Jones, there will be, in some way, a Monty Python. Jones'
dedication to Python is not a recent occurrence however. As well as
writing with Palin, he committed himself to directing the Python
films Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Life of Brian, and Monty
Python's Meaning of Life, when it was felt that a member of the group
should be in charge. One of Jones' major concerns was devising a
fresh format for the Python TV shows, devising a
stream-of-consciousness style which abandoned punchlines and instead
encouraged the fluid movement of one sketch to another and the
cross-referencing of jokes. This allowed the team's conceptual humour
and one-line ideas room to realise their full potential which
conventional formulas would arguably compromise. Jones also objected
to TV directors use of sped-up film, over-emphatic music, and
static camera style. As a film director, Jones finally gained fuller
control of the projects and devised a visual style that complemented
the humour, and, once again, concentrated on allowing the performers
room to breathe; for instance, in the use of wide shots for long
exchanges of dialogue, and more economical use of music. His methods
encouraged many future television comedians to break away from
conventional slapstick or studio-bound shooting styles, as
demonstrated by Green Wing, Little Britain and The League of Gentlemen.
Jones' innumerable contributions to the show, his parodic, screechy-voiced
depictions of middle-aged women are among the most memorable. His
humour, in collaboration with Palin, tends to be conceptual rather
than situational; the central joke in a typical Palin/Jones sketch
tends to be an illustrated idea taken to extremes. Examples of this
include the "Mouse Organ" sketch, in which a tuxedoed man
(Jones) bashes mice who have been trained to squeak at a select pitch
and are then played in the appropriate order to render the "Bells
of St. Mary"; cunningly, no laughs are wrung from the violence
of the situation but rather from the madness of the idea itself. The
crime-fighting bishop sketch also contains many typical conceits,
such as a crook that doubles as an emergency telephone.
In 2004, Jones was the
presenter and actor for the BBC's miniseries, Terry Jones' Medieval
Lives. He has also directed and starred in Erik the Viking, and in
2006 presented a series on BBC2 entitled Barbarians.
Jones is arguably the most
underrated member of the group, even by diehard fans. His major
contributions were largely behind the scenes (direction, writing) and
he often deferred to the other members of the group as an actor.
However, recent Python literature has gone some way in reclaiming him
as a vital factor in maintaining the group's independence and unity.
The last film Jones
directed was the 2015 comedy Absolutely Anything, about a
disillusioned schoolteacher who is given the chance to do anything he
wishes by a group of aliens watching from space. The film features
Simon Pegg, Kate Beckinsale and the voices of the five remaining
members of Monty Python playing the aliens (appearing together for
the first time since 1983's Monty Python's The Meaning of Life) and
Robin Williams (in his last film role) as the voice of Pegg's dog.
Later that same year Jones
was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, a form of
frontotemporal dementia that impairs the ability to speak and
communicate, and was no longer able to give interviews. He had first
given cause for concern during the reunion Monty Python Live (Mostly)
shows in July 2014 because of difficulties learning his lines.
Graham Chapman, 19 is the
youngest member of the group. A modest, soft-spoken loud mouth,
Graham feels that without him the show would have been a complete
disaster. A brilliant and prolific writer, Graham wrote many of the
I.T.M.A. Shows as well as most of E.M.Forster. Graham's favourite
colour is off-white and his favourite heavy gas is Helium. Most often
seen with a pipe in his mouth, Graham is said to have liked nothing
better than a rough shag after filming.
Leicester, England on January 8, 1941, Chapman was originally a
medical student, but changed to theatre when he joined Footlights at
Cambridge. Chapman was perhaps best remembered for taking on the lead
roles in The Holy Grail, as King Arthur, and Life of Brian, as Brian Cohen.
movie roles were fairly straight, the comedy deriving from the
stereotypical lead in bizarre situations, encountering eccentric
characters, still being played as serious, and unflinching. These
roles, however, were unusual for the Graham Chapman the public had
come to know on the Flying Circus, where he figured as the tall,
craggy pipe smoker who gave the impression of calmness, disguising a
manic unpredictability as real in his characters as they were in
reality. For behind the pipe-smoking, rugby-playing exterior lay an
alcoholic with whom the rest of the Pythons often had trouble
dealing. This was one of the reasons that Cleese left the television
show after series three.
particularly had trouble filming Holy Grail in Scotland, where he got
a case of delirium tremens, often called DTs. During his worst
alcoholism, he was reportedly consuming two quarts of gin every day.
However, by the time his definitive role of Brian arose, he was sober
and continued to produce some of his best work with the Pythons.
starring in Monty Python features, Chapman starred in movies such as
The Odd Job (he was also the producer) and Yellowbeard (which he also
directed), also making several appearances on Saturday Night Live.
Chapman died of spinal and throat cancer on October 4th, 1989. Thanks
to the nature of the other Pythons, he is now lovingly referred to as
"the dead one." Cleese also made a point to be the first
person to say 'fuck' in a British eulogy, but only because the
deceased (Chapman) was the first person to say 'shit' on British television.
John Cleese, 18 is even
younger than Graham, the youngest of the group. John refers to
himself as a comic genius, a manic wild-eyed wizard of wit, and one
of the most popular men since Ghandhi. His special role in Python, he
feels, has been the complete integration of writing and performing
into a viable and successful whole. John's favourite colour is fish,
and his pet hate is insincerity.
Born on October 27, 1939 in
Weston-super-Mare, England, Cleeses surname had originally been
Cheese. His father, however, had the name changed to Cleese when he
joined the army during World War II. Perhaps the best known of the
Pythons, Cleese attended Clifton College, Bristol where he developed
a taste for performing by appearing in the house plays. He moved on
to Cambridge, where he met his future Python writing partner, Chapman.
work with Chapman was, aside from Gilliam's animations, perhaps the
most surreal of the Pythons' work and almost certainly the most
intentionally satirical. Unlike Palin and Jones, Cleese and Chapman
actually wrote together, in the same room. Cleese claims that their
writing partnership involved him sitting with pen and paper, and
Chapman sitting back, not speaking for lengths at a time, but when he
did speak, it was often brilliant. Without Chapman's input, the
"dead parrot" sketch would have been about the duller
subject of a car (it is much harder to imagine Cleese throwing about
a car in the same way he threw about the parrot).
Their work often involved
ordinary people in ordinary situations, doing incredibly strange and
surreal things. For example, Cleese and Chapman transformed the
ordinary sight "a civil servant in black suit and bowler hat
makes his way to work" into a bizarrely unforgettable scene; the
straight-faced Cleese used his physical potential to its full force
as the crane-legged civil servant performing an athletic, grotesque,
utterly unique walk to his office at the "Ministry of Silly Walks".
This sketch was in fact
written by Palin and Jones, but Cleese made it his own, showcasing
his talent for physical comedy (also famously used in Fawlty Towers)
and playing characters who could remain serious, even impassive,
while doing something utterly ludicrous. His role as Sir Lancelot in
Monty Python and the Holy Grail also showcases this, as he fights his
way through a castle to save a damsel in distress, much like, say,
Kevin Costner in films such as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,
although completely oblivious to the fact that he is actually
savaging wedding guests.
Another popular device used
by the two was highly articulate arguments over completely arbitrary
subjects, such as in the "cheese shop", the "dead
parrot" sketch or the "argument clinic". All of these
roles were opposite Palin, who Cleese often claims is his favourite
Python to work with.
Fawlty Towers was a British
sitcom created by Cleese and first broadcast on BBC2 in 1975. Only
twelve episodes were produced, but the series has had a lasting and
powerful influence on later shows. The show is set in a fictional
hotel named Fawlty Towers in the Devon town of Torquay on "The
English Riviera". The series was written by Cleese and (then
wife) Connie Booth, who also played two of the main characters, and
was broadcast in two series: The first, in 1975, and the second, in 1979.
Fawlty Towers was inspired
by the Monty Python team's stay in the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay.
Cleese and Booth stayed on at the hotel after filming for the Python
show had finished. The owner, Mr. Donald Sinclair, was very rude,
throwing a bus timetable at a guest who asked when the next bus to
town would arrive and placing Eric Idle's suitcase behind a wall in
the garden in case it contained a bomb (actually it contained a
ticking alarm clock). He also criticised the American-born Terry
Gilliam's table manners for being too American (he had the fork in
the wrong hand while eating), possibly inspiring Basil's treatment of
an American visitor in the episode "Waldorf Salad".
Sinclair died in England in 1981 despite rumours that he had
emigrated to Canada, he never left Torquay. Interestingly, Basil
Fawlty displayed an affinity for Canada on a couple of occasions in
the series, once joking that he would move there to escape his wife.
Mr. Sinclair and some of his relatives have not appreciated the way
he has been portrayed, although former staff and visitors have
remembered actual events there that were allegedly as ludicrous as
those depicted in the programmes. Also, the two daughters of Donald
Sinclair confirm that it is an accurate rendition of their father. In
fact, his eldest daughter Beatrice (Ann) left England for the United
States at age 17 to escape her controlling parents, who had pulled
her out of schooling at age 12 in order to work full-time at the hotel.
In 1988 Cleese wrote and
starred in A Fish Named Wanda with fellow Python Michael Palin. The
movie was a major critical and commercial success when it was
released and has remained a popular favourite since. Kline received
wide acclaim and won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for
his work. The principal cast reunited in 1997 playing different roles
for Fierce Creatures.
Cleese played Q's assistant
("R") and finally the new Q himself in the James Bond
movies. He also has done work for Shrek 2 and 3, and appeared in the
first two Harry Potter movies, Rat Race, and several Saturday Night
Live episodes. Cleese has recently had a species of lemur named after
him, Avahi cleesei (or "Cleese's Woolly Lemur"). This was
in recognition of his promotion of conservation issues after the
release of his film Fierce Creatures, which featured such an animal,
and Operation Lemur with John Cleese, which highlighted their plight
on the island of Madagascar their natural habitat.
Terry Gilliam, 10 1/2 is
the real baby of the group. He is so young and talented that it is
almost presumption to mention his name along with the others. "I
think I can safely say that without me there would have been no Monty
Python, no United Nations and quite possibly no end to the Second
World War," says Terry disarmingly. Terry has written over 40
symphonies and his greatest likes are his own cartoons and having his
inside leg measured.
Gilliam, born in
Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 22, 1940, is the only non-British
member of the troupe. He started off as an animator and strip
cartoonist for Harvey Kurtzman's Help! magazine, one issue of which
featured Cleese. Moving from the USA to England, he animated features
for Do Not Adjust Your Set and then joined Monty Python's Flying
Circus when it was created.
He was the principal
artist-animator of the distinctive, surreal cartoons, which
frequently linked the show's sketches together, and defined the
group's visual language in other mediums. He mixed his own art,
characterised by soft gradients and odd bulbous shapes, with
backgrounds and moving cutouts from antique photographs, mostly from
the Victorian era. The style has been mimicked repeatedly throughout
the years: in the children's television cartoon Angela Anaconda, a
series of television commercials for Guinness, the JibJab cartoons
featured on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the online comic strip
The New Adventures Of Queen Victoria, and the television history
series Terry Jones' Medieval Lives. The title sequence for Desperate
Housewives and the visits to the land of the living in Grim Fandango
are also highly Gilliamesque. The style of animation used for South
Park was inspired by Gilliam's paper cut-out cartoons for Monty
Python's Flying Circus.
Besides doing the
animations for the Flying Circus, he also appeared in several
sketches, usually playing parts that no one else wanted to play
(generally because they required a lot of make-up or uncomfortable
costumes, such as a recurring knight in armour who would end sketches
by walking on and hitting one of the other characters over the head
with a plucked chicken) and played side parts in the films.
He co-directed Monty Python
and The Holy Grail and directed short segments of other Python films
(for instance "The Crimson Permanent Assurance", the short
film that appears before The Meaning of Life). Gilliam has gone on to
become a celebrated and imaginative film director of such notable
titles as Time Bandits, Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,
The Fisher King, Twelve Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The
Brothers Grimm and Tideland.
Unofficial Associate Pythons
Several people have been accorded
unofficial "Associate Python" status over the years.
Occasionally such people have been referred to as the 'seventh
Python', in a style reminiscent of George Martin (or other associates
of the Beatles) being dubbed "the Fifth Beatle." The two
collaborators with the most meaningful and plentiful contributions
have been Neil Innes and Carol Cleveland. Both were present and
presented as Associate Pythons at the official Monty Python
25th-anniversary celebrations held in Los Angeles in July 1994.
Neil Innes (above left) is the only
non-Python besides Douglas Adams (above right) to be credited with
writing material for Flying Circus. He appeared in sketches and the
Python films, as well as performing some of his songs in Monty Python
Live at the Hollywood Bowl. He was also a regular stand-in for absent
team members on the rare occasions when they recreated sketches. For
example, he took the place of Cleese at the Concert for George.
Gilliam once noted that if anyone qualified for the title of the
seventh Python, it would certainly be Innes. He was one of the
creative talents in the off-beat Bonzo Dog Band. He would later
portray Ron Nasty of the Rutles and write all of the Rutles'
compositions for All You Need Is Cash (1978). By 2005, a falling out
had occurred between Idle and Innes over additional Rutles projects,
the results being Innes' critically acclaimed Rutles
"reunion" album The Rutles: Archaeology and Idle's
straight-to-DVD The Rutles 2: Can't Buy Me Lunch, each undertaken
without the other's participation. According to an interview with
Idle in the Chicago Tribune in May 2005, his attitude is that Innes
and he go back "too far. And no further." Innes has
remained silent on the dispute.
Cleveland (right) was the most important female performer in the
Monty Python ensemble, commonly referred to as "the female
Python". She was originally hired by producer/director John
Howard Davies for just the first five episodes of the Flying Circus.
The Pythons then pushed to make Cleveland a permanent recurring
performer after producer/director Ian MacNaughton brought in several
other actresses who were not as good as she was. Cleveland went on to
appear in about two-thirds of the episodes, as well as in all of the
Python films, and in most of their stage shows, as well. Her common
portrayal as the stereotypical "blonde bimbo" eventually
earned her the sobriquet "Carol Cleavage" from the other
Pythons, but she felt that the variety of her roles should not be
described in such a pejorative way.
Cleese's first wife, Connie Booth, (below)
appeared as various characters in all four series of Flying Circus.
Her most significant role was the "best girl" of the
eponymous Lumberjack in "The Lumberjack Song", though this
role was sometimes played by Carol Cleveland. Booth appeared in a
total of six sketches and also played one-off characters in Python
feature films And Now for Something Completely Different and Monty
Python and the Holy Grail.
Douglas Adams (author of The Hitchhiker's
Guide to the Galaxy) was "discovered" by Chapman when a
version of Footlights Revue (a 1974 BBC2 television show featuring
some of Adams' early work) was performed live in London's West End.
In Cleese's absence from the final TV series, the two formed a brief
writing partnership, with Adams earning a writing credit in one
episode for a sketch called "Patient Abuse". In the sketch,
a man who had been stabbed by a nurse arrives at his doctor's office
bleeding profusely from the stomach, when the doctor makes him fill
in numerous senseless forms before he can administer treatment. He
also had two cameo appearances in this season. Firstly, in the
episode "The Light Entertainment War", Adams shows up in a
surgeon's mask (as Dr. Emile Koning, according to the on-screen
captions), pulling on gloves, while Palin narrates a sketch that
introduces one person after another, and never actually gets started.
Secondly, at the beginning of "Mr. Neutron", Adams is
dressed in a "pepperpot" outfit and loads a missile onto a
cart being driven by Terry Jones, who is calling out for scrap metal
("Any old iron ..."). Adams and Chapman also subsequently
attempted a few non-Python projects, including Out of the Trees. He
also contributed to a sketch on the soundtrack album for Monty Python
and the Holy Grail. In addition to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Adams also wrote Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency (1987) and
The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul (1988), and co-wrote The Meaning
of Liff (1983), The Deeper Meaning of Liff (1990) and Last Chance to
See (1990). He also provided three stories for the television series
Doctor Who and served as script editor for the show's seventeenth
season in 1979.
than Carol Cleveland, the only other non-Python to make a
significant number of appearances in the Flying Circus was Ian
Davidson (top left). He appeared in the first two series of the show,
and played over 10 roles. While Davidson is primarily known as a
scriptwriter, it is not known if he had any contribution toward the
writing of the sketches, as he is only credited as a performer. In
total, Davidson is credited as appearing in eight episodes of the
show, which is more than any other male actor who was not a Python.
Despite this, Davidson did not appear in any Python-related media
subsequent to series 2, though footage of him was shown on the
documentary Python Night 30 Years of Monty Python.
Stand-up comedian Eddie Izzard, a devoted
fan of the group, has occasionally stood in for absent members. When
the BBC held a "Python Night" in 1999 to celebrate 30 years
of the first broadcast of Flying Circus, the Pythons recorded some
new material with Izzard standing in for Idle, who had declined to
partake in person (he taped a solo contribution from the US). Izzard
hosted The Life of Python (1999), a history of the group that was
part of Python Night and appeared with them at a festival/tribute in
Aspen, Colorado, in 1998 (released on DVD as Live at Aspen). Izzard
has said that Monty Python was a significant influence on his style
of comedy and Cleese has referred to him as "the lost Python".
Series director of Flying Cirus, Ian
MacNaughton (left bottom), is also regularly associated with the
group and made a few on-screen appearances in the show and in the
film And Now for Something Completely Different. Apart from Neil
Innes, others to contribute musically included Fred Tomlinson and the
Fred Tomlinson Singers. They made appearances in songs such as
"The Lumberjack Song" as a backup choir. In addition,
various other contributors and performers for the Pythons included
John Howard Davies, John Hughman, Lyn Ashley, Bob Raymond, John
Young, Rita Davies, Stanley Mason, Maureen Flanagan, and David Ballantyne.
The group (including
Cleese) reformed in 1974 to write and star in their first feature
film of new material (a feature film And Now For Something Completely
Different was produced in 1971 but was comprised entirely of old
material, which was re-shot, often shortened, and sometimes slightly
changed for the film. The group did not consider this film a success,
but it enjoys a cult following today). The film, Monty Python and the
Holy Grail, was based around Arthurian Legend and directed by Jones
and Gilliam, who also drew the film's linking animations and opening
credits. Along with the rest of the Pythons, Jones and Gilliam
performed several roles in the film, but it was Chapman who took the
lead as King Arthur. Holy Grail was filmed on a budget of only about
£150,000, which is roughly £1,000,000 in 2005 when adjusted
for inflation. This money was raised in part with donations from rock
groups such as Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.
film was shot on location in Scotland, particularly around Doune
Castle, Glen Coe, and the privately-owned Castle Stalker. Because of
the small budget, the film had to make do without horses. This led to
one of the film's most memorable gags, as every time the script calls
for the knights to be majestically riding their steeds, they are
actually play-riding along on foot while their squires behind them
(also play-riding) carry coconut shells to bang together to imitate
the sound of horses' hooves (once a radio sound effect now actually
shown on screen for comic effect). The chain mail armour worn by the
various knights was actually silver-painted wool, whilst the many
castles seen throughout the film were either Doune Castle shot from
different angles, or cardboard models held up against the horizon.
The filming was apparently unpleasant. The weather was poor and the
"chain mail" soaked up water, the budget only allowed for
low-quality hotels, Gilliam and Jones argued with each other and with
the other Pythons, and the extent of Chapman's alcoholism became
apparent when he began to suffer from delerium tremens during the
filming. The Pythons recall that the filming of Holy Grail is the
only time any of them can remember the usually amiable Palin losing
his temper. This occurred when Jones and Gilliam insisted on
consistently re-shooting a scene in which Palin played a character
called "the mud eater". The scene was ultimately cut from
the movie. The film proved a success and in 2000, readers of Total
Film magazine voted Monty Python and the Holy Grail the 5th greatest
comedy film of all time.
Monty Python's Life of
Following the success of
Holy Grail, a reporter asked Idle what the title of the next Python
film would be. It is reported Idle replied "Jesus Christ - Lust
for Glory", which soon became the group's stock answer as they
realised that it shut reporters up. Though the rest of the group
originally laughed the joke off, they soon began to seriously
consider a film lampooning the life of Christ in the same way Holy
Grail had lampooned King Arthur. However, after some research the
group decided they could not do this as they felt Jesus was a good
person with a solid message. However, they agreed that his followers
would be easy to poke fun at, and so Monty Python's Life of Brian was
made. The focus therefore shifted to a separate individual born at a
similar time, and a legend was born. When Jesus does appear in the
film (as he does on two occasions in the stable and speaking
the Beatitudes (Matt 5:1-48)), he is portrayed according to Christian
beliefs. The comedy only begins when members of the crowd mishear his
statement 'Blessed are the Peacemakers...' ('I think he said,
"blessed are the cheesemakers"'; also, later, there is some
debate on whether the 'Greek' should inherit the Earth). With regards
to funding, Python again had help from a rock star in the person of
George Harrison, who set up Handmade Films purely to finance the
film. He claims he did so because he simply wanted to see another
Python film. The Pythons often joke that it is still the most anyone
has ever paid for a cinema ticket.
Learning their lesson from
Holy Grail's unpleasant setting, the team chose to write the film in
the Caribbean (where they were visited by Keith Moon and Mick Jagger)
and film in Tunisia. In contrast to Holy Grail, many of the Pythons
remember this as their most enjoyable experience working together as
The experiment with
co-direction on Holy Grail proved to be a one-off, as it led to
creative friction. Instead, Jones was left to direct by himself.
Though Cleese had originally wanted to play Brian, the rest of the
group favoured Chapman, whom they considered as the best actor
amongst them. Though Chapman only plays Brian and Biggus Dickus, the
rest of the cast, between them, play over 40 characters. It also
featured cameos from Harrison and Milligan (who just happened to be
on holiday in Tunisia at the time). Moon was also set to appear but
sadly died before he could film his part.
its release, protests against the film were organised based on its
perceived blasphemy, not the least of which because the film ends
with a comical song sung by the victims of a mass crucifixion (Idle's
"Always Look on the Bright Side of Life"). On its initial
release in the UK, the film was banned by several town councils (some
of which had no cinemas within their boundaries). The film was also
banned for eight years in the Republic of Ireland and for a year in
Norway (it was marketed in Sweden as 'the movie that is so funny, it
was banned in Norway!'). The film was not released in Italy until
1990, eleven years after it was made. The film was not shown in
Jersey until 2001. The Bailiff of Jersey, Frank Ereaut's government,
wanted it to be watched only by adults, even though the BBFC rated it
suitable for those aged 14 or over.
Mary Whitehouse and other
campaigners launched waves of leaflets and picketing at and around
cinemas that showed the film, ironically boosting the publicity.
Shortly after the film was released, Cleese and Palin engaged in a
debate over it on the BBC2 discussion programme Friday Night,
Saturday Morning, in which Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of
Southwark put the case against the film. Cleese has frequently said
that he enjoyed the debate, since he felt that the film was
'completely intellectually defensible'. Palin, however, was visibly
angry. This discussion was later parodied by Not the Nine O'Clock
News with a debate about The General Synod's Life of Christ, in which
a guy named Jesus Christ is mistaken for the Comic Messiah John
Cleese. For their part, the Pythons contend on the DVD commentary
that the film is heretical because it lampoons the practices of
modern organised religion, but does not blasphemously lampoon the God
that Christians worship.
Monty Python's The
Meaning of Life (1983)
Python's final film was
more like the style of Flying Circus. A series of sketches loosely
followed the ages of man from conception to death. Directed again by
Jones, The Meaning of Life is embellished with some of Python's most
bizarre moments, and various elaborate musical numbers. At the time
of its release the Python's confessed their aim was to offend
"absolutely everyone". The film begins with a short film by
Gilliam - The Crimson Permanent Assurance - that was originally
planned as a sketch within the film but eventually grew so ambitious
that the Pythons felt it needed to be separate from the main film
(although the characters from the short do make a brief return to
"invade" the main film).
Though a commercial and
critical success, The Meaning of Life is generally not regarded as
being of the same quality of its predecessors. Many feel it lacks the
structure of Holy Grail and Life of Brian. Idle claims it was just
"one re-write away from being perfect". The Pythons had
originally wanted to do one final re-write introducing one lead
character (such as Arthur or Brian) who could be followed through the
ages of man. However, Cleese refused as he had grown tired of the
already protracted writing process for the film. Crucially, this was
the last project that all six Pythons would collaborate on, except
for the 1989 compilation Parrot Sketch Not Included where we see the
Python cast sitting in a closet for 4 seconds, which would be the
last time Chapman was filmed on screen with the rest of the Pythons.