Saturday 7 September 2019

And Now For Something Completely Different ...

1983 - and we as a family have got our first VHS video player.
A great hulking piece of kit that weighs half a ton and when sat on the shelf next to the TV, you can almost see the shelf bowing.
This acquisition coincided with (it appears to me) an upturn in the family "fortune" (ie my parents now had a bit more disposable income than previously, we were not dirt poor but not exactly well off either, but now it seemed more expensive holidays and consumer goods were attainable)

The other shift in the world was me moving into my teenage years, and suddenly trust was betowed on me.  Basically, my parents could now go out at weekends and not have to drag us snotty kids along with them.
And the Video player seemed to be an embodiment of this trust.
Saturday mornings were spent in the local Video shop choosing what to rent for the weekend, and Saturday nights we were left to fend for ourselves with nothing bu a microwave curry and a Viennetta for company.
And one of the earliest video rentals was Monty Python's And Now For Something Completely Different.
This was basically a re-recording of several sketches from the first two series, linked together in the Python-standard "stream of conscienceless" with failing sketches, recurring characters and Terry Gilliam animations.
"How Not To Be Seen", "Self Defence Against Fresh Fruit", "Nudge Nudge", "The Funniest Joke In The World", "Upper Class Twit Of The Year", "Conrad Poohs and His Dancing Teeth".  And of course two of the finest, most recognisable Python sketches (also recognised by many non-Python fans).
A lot like a Greatest Hits of Best Of compilation allows one entry to a band, this film changed my view of what "comedy" is.
Oh yes, there were many bits of that film that stuck, but I was not yet a fully-fledged Python follower.
That came over the next few months as the TV series was rented (BBC video for some reason only had 3 episodes per tape, so it was a long task).
And then there was more ... the films and records were found, devoured, learnt word-for-word and repeated amongst like minded weirdos (as we were called) at school.
Arriving in the world of work, I soon discovered there were other Python-infused minds around me, and friendships were formed based on the ability to recite "The Spanish Inquisition" or answering questions in a kind of silly high-pitched whine (as the Minister for Home Affairs once did).

Much like (the later trend) of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, we posited the theory that "All Roads Lead To Python", and you were never more than 6 (or maybe 8 if we didn't want to take too big a leap of logic) steps away from a Python-ism.
We even had T-Shirts printed up bearing the legend, and have been known to wander along Bournemouth sea-front shouting "Albatross!"

The TV shows ran for 4 series between 1969 and 1974, and was given the late night (10:30 on BBC2) slot on Sunday evenings - a televisual dead zone, but slowly (through word of mouth) it began to pick up an audience.  Series 3 made the transfer to BBC1, but by Series 4 it was returned to BBC2 (popular opinion (or the BBCs opinion) was that the show was a niche interest, and therefore had no place in prime time)
John Cleese left before Series 4 and went to do a little known sitcom called Flay Otters, or Flowery Twats, or Farty Towels, or something like that - no idea what happened to that show.  It seems to have been lost in the mists of time (presumably wiped by the BBC as I don't think I've ever seen it)

But he did return for the films.  The first of these (Holy Grail) was part funded by Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd (and wherever else the Pythons could find the money).
The budget constraints were obvious when you see the knights of the round table embarking on their quest not on horseback, but by banging two coconut shells together (a combination of both a great joke and necessity).
For their next film, funding was put in place by EMI.  Sets were built in Tunisia, Production crews engaged, scripts and actors finalised, and filming was to commence within days.  And then someone at EMI decided to read the script, and the funding was withdrawn.
The Pythons convinced a close friend of theirs to provide Finance through his (not yet formed) Film Company.  George Harrison re-motgaged his home in Henley (Friar Park), formed Handmade Films and stepped in as Financier and Executive Producer of the film.  When asked why he had gone to such great lengths to help, he answered: "I wanted to see the Film".  This is therefore the most expensive Cinema Ticket ever purchased.
The final film - The Meaning Of Life - nearly works, but sort of runs out of steam, and just doesn't appear as "whole" as the other films, or indeed the TV series.  There are many great bits in it, including some of the best songs they've done ("Galaxy Song" and "Every Sperm Is Sacred"), but just feels laboured, almost like they're trying too hard to make it work.

Since The Meaning Of Life in 1983, Pyhton activity has been limited to re-appraisals and (a few) re-unions).
The first "big" re-appraisal was for the 20th Anniversary which saw the release of the retrospective "Parrott Sketch Not Included" where all the Pythons were finally seen together in the same room (actually the same cupboard) for the first time since the final shots of The Meaning Of Life.
This is particularly poignant because Graham Chapman (with customary silliness (© John Lloyd) the day before the 20th Anniversary.

The last time the remaining Pythons were on stage together was July 2014s O2 shows Monty Python Live (Mostly).  Originally intended to be a one-off, it ended up running for 10 nights due to demand for tickets (and I never managed to get one, I tried but never manged to get logged onto the website, and the (foolishly) gave up))

50 years on and their legacy remains -in the TV shows, the Films, the books, the records, and their influence can still be seen, heard and felt.
Not bad for a BBC favour to Barry Took to put six untried comedians on the TV.

"Is this the right room for an Argument?"

Parrott Sketch (Secret Policemans Ball)
(John Cleese at his most unhinged, and Michael Palin desperately trying not to crack up)

Parrott Sketch - Updated (Amnesty International Benefit, 1989)


  1. Great piece on the history of Python and I agree with most of your criticisms of various sketches and films. My fave sketches are the fish slapping dance and - one you mentioned - "Self Defence Against Fresh Fruit".

    What did you think of the Not the Nine O'Clock News comedy show's sketch about Monty Python worshippers?

    1. I heard the NOTN sketch first. With no context, it was a great piece of comedy.
      Later when I saw the actual Python debate footage, NOTN had produced a brilliant piece of satire as well

    2. There's a NOTN sketch I'd love to see again. It's Mel Smith reading the news and there's an item about a bomb going off somewhere. Smith then says: "The dead - in order of importance - were....." He then lists an American, a couple of Brits, some Europeans and so on down the list to lesser mortals.

      I remember thinking at the time that it was amazing that the BBC allowed such a close to the mark piece of very dark comedy to be broadcast.