Monty Python's Flying Circus

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A brief history of Python...

Monty Python's Flying Circus


1969 was quite a year, and barely had the public at large recovered from seeing a real live bloke on the moon, before they were subjected to something even more awe-inspiring and unbelievable. One October evening viewers in the UK switched on their TV sets only to be struck dumb by the phenomenon known as Monty Python's Flying Circus. I'd say it was a certainty that as the Liberty Bell rang out those particular viewers didn't have a clue what they were letting themselves in for!

The Python team consisted of - in no particular order - Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, Graham Chapman and John Cleese. Their comic roots were based in Cambridge and Oxford Universities and their pedigree included I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again, The Frost Report, At Last The 1948 Show, Do Not Adjust Your Set and The Complete and Utter History of The World. (All except Terry G, his roots were based at Occidental College California and his pedigree included Help! Magazine and Do Not Adjust Your Set.) They all basically came from a middle class background that had helped to fuel their anarchic rebellious streaks and gave them an apparently endless supply of characters and subjects to present before the general public. I say apparently endless because even though the Python series only lasted for four seasons the troupe went on en masse and individually to produce books, films, TV shows, etc... that continued in much the same vein as Python itself.

With six different people writing the show, a democratic element was introduced into how they decided what was to be included. Palin and Jones wrote together, Cleese and Chapman wrote together, Idle wrote alone and Gilliam was locked in a cupboard with scissors and glue to do whatever the heck it was that he did! When each writing team brought something to the table the others got to vote on whether it was to be used or not.

The title of the show remained undecided almost until the show began. Titles such as "Owl Stretching Time," "Whither Canada" and my personal favourite "Ow! It's Colin Plint!" were considered during brainstorming sessions to name the show. A lot of the memos regarding the series referred to it as "The Circus" or "Flying Circus" so the BBC became a little insistent that this aspect of the title be kept for consistency. Before it was decided that this particular flying circus was the property of a certain Monty Python, there was speculation that it may have belonged to Arthur Megapode or even Gwen Dibley!

The first show introduced to us Michael Palin's raggedy old "It's" man, who emerged from under the sea at Poole Harbour and made his way up the beach to begin the show. This episode also brought us "It's Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart;" famous deaths; Italian lesson; Whizzo butter; "It's The Arts;" Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson; Picasso/cycling race and the Funniest Joke in the World (joke warfare).

To say there had been nothing like this on television before would be inaccurate as there was obvious nuances of the team's previous television work and the very heavy influence of Spike Milligan's Q5 series in which sketches would invariably stop for no reason or just fall apart around the participants' ears. It would be fairer to say that there had been very little like it on television before, certainly in the way the show was structured, and it took a little time for audiences to warm to its themes. Now Monty Python is recognised the world over. People tend to love it or hate it.

Fans of the show range from children in the school playground quoting the parrot sketch to each other as if it's brand new (been there done that) to those who only need to see a penguin and they're giggling for no outwardly apparent reason (also been there and done that!) The show's influence is all over comedy shows that followed from the satire of Not The Nine O'clock News to the anarchic humour of the Fast Show today. In fact the "Suits You Sir" characters in the Fast Show would quite easily be at home in a pub saying "Nudge nudge wink wink."

There's a plethora of Python stuff around, so if you've never indulged before now is a good time to go out there and try it - you might like it! 


Anne-Marie Trace

Page Last Updated Sunday, February 13, 2005 at 12:28:03