11 May 2018 | Various Sources | Hawkins Bay Dispatch – This Day
This Day – 11 May 1969
Man: [letter read aloud] Dear Sir, I wish to complain in the strongest possible terms about the song which had just broadcast about the lumberjack who wears women’s clothes. Many of my best friends are lumberjacks and only a few of them are transvestites. Yours faithfully, Brigadier Sir Charles Arthur Strong (Ms.). P.S. I have never kissed the editor of the Radio Times.
Monty Python (also collectively known as The Pythons) were a British surreal comedy group who created their sketch comedy show Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which first aired on the BBC in 1969. Forty-five episodes were made over four series.
The Python phenomenon developed from the television series into something larger in scope and impact, including touring stage shows, films, numerous albums, several books, and musicals. The Pythons’ influence on comedy has been compared to the Beatles‘ influence on music.
Their sketch show has been referred to as “not only one of the more enduring icons of 1970s British popular culture, but also an important moment in the evolution of television comedy.”
Broadcast by the BBC between 1969 and 1974, Monty Python’s Flying Circus was conceived, written, and performed by its members Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin.
Loosely structured as a sketch show, but with an innovative stream-of-consciousness approach, aided by Gilliam’s animation, it pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable in style and content.
A self-contained comedy team responsible for both writing and performing their work, the Pythons had creative control which allowed them to experiment with form and content, discarding rules of television comedy.
Following their television work, they began making films, which include Holy Grail (1975), Life of Brian (1979) and The Meaning of Life (1983). Their influence on British comedy has been apparent for years, while in North America, it has coloured the work of cult performers from the early editions of Saturday Night Live through to more recent absurdist trends in television comedy. “Pythonesque” has entered the English lexicon as a result.
In a 2005 poll of over 300 comics, comedy writers, producers and directors throughout the English-speaking world to find “The Comedian’s Comedian”, three of the six Pythons members were voted by fellow comedians and comedy insiders to be among the top 50 greatest comedians ever: Cleese at No. 2, Idle at No. 21, and Palin at No. 30. [Wikipedia]
08 April 2014 | Alun Palmer | The Mirror
After a series of nine shows Monty Python will be dead, cease to be, they will shuffle off their mortal coil.
The legendary comedy troupe have briefly reformed for the shows at London’s O2 Arena in July but despite demand for a world-wide tour Eric Idle, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam have announced that there will be no more performances.
Tickets for the first Python show at the London O2 sold out in 43 seconds. Here are 19 facts about Monty Python that you might not know…
1. Names for the first TV show included Owl Stretching Time; The Toad Elevating Moment; A Horse, a Spoon and a Bucket; Vaseline Review; and Bun, Wackett, Buzzard, Stubble and Boo.
2. The BBC saw one, Flying Circus, and printed it in the schedules and said they couldn’t change it. Monty Python was settled on after variations including Gwen Dibley’s Flying Circus and Baron Von Took’s Flying Circus.
3. The Python theme tune by music is The Liberty Bell by John Philip Sousa, was chosen because the recording was free.
4. The giant foot that comes crashing down in the opening credits is the foot of Cupid, from the Renaissance masterpiece Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time by Bronzino.
5. Former Beatle George Harrison stumped up the $4 million budget for Monty Python’s Life of Brian which went on to make $20 million at the box office.
6. Ten years after the death of Graham Chapman in 1989, the surviving Pythons agreed in principle to tour America. But Michael Palin changed his mind and said he didn’t want to do it, much to the annoyance of Eric Idle.
7. An asteroid discovered in 1997 by two Czech astronomers was named 13681 Monty Python in their honour.
8. Billionaire and Tony Stark inspiration, Elon Musk launched a wheel of cheese into orbit and returned it to earth in 2010 as a tribute to the Pythons.
9. Led By Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, along with the cast of Python musical Spamalot, in 2007, 5,567 people in Trafalgar Square set a new world record for the largest coconut orchestra as they “clip-clopped” along to Always Look On The Bright Side of Life.
10. Spam, the junk emails sent in bulk, was named after the Python’s classic Spam sketch where everything on a menu is spam.
11. John Cleese quit the group while on a flight to Toronto, but would work with them on future films.
12. The endangered Bemaraha woolly lemur (Avahi cleesei) is named after John Cleese.
13. Monty Python and the Holy Grail was shot on a tight budget and filming had to stop regularly when the castle, a plywood cut-out, kept falling over in the wind.
14. The budget for Monty Python and the Holy Grail was raised by bands including Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Elton John who were looking to make a tax loss.
15. The animated God created by Terry Gilliam, who did all the animation, is a picture of cricketer WG Grace.
16. Neil Innes has been described as the seventh Python as he provided music to the TV shows and worked with the Python Offshoots including The Rutles.
17. The fossil of a giant prehistoric snake discovered in 1985 in Riversleigh, Queensland, Australia was named Montypythonoides riversleighensis in honour of the Monty Python team.
18.Eric Idle’s musical Spamalot, based on the Holy Grail movie, made more than $175 million in its first Broadway run. All the Python members received a cut of the profits.
19. Several councils, including a few that didn’t even have cinemas within their boundaries, banned Monty Python’s Life of Brian in 1979 saying it was blasphemous.
Owl Stretching Time [1.04]
- Colonel: Watkins, why did you join the army?
- Watkins: For the water-skiing and the travel, sir. Not for the killing, sir. I asked them to put it on my form, sir: “no killing”.
- Colonel: Watkins, are you a pacifist?
- Watkins: No, sir. I’m not a pacifist, sir: I’m a coward.
- Colonel: [disgusted] That’s a very silly line. Sit down!
Man’s Crisis of Identity in the Latter Half of the Twentieth Century [1.05]
- Encyclopedia Salesman: Burglar! [rings again] Burglar!
- [woman appears at other side of door]
- Woman: Yes?
- Encyclopedia Salesman: Burglar, madam.
- Woman: What do you want?
- Encyclopedia Salesman: I want to come in and steal a few things, madam.
- Woman: Are you an encyclopaedia salesman?
- Encyclopedia Salesman: No madam, I’m a burglar, I burgle people.
- Woman: I think you’re an encyclopaedia salesman.
- Encyclopedia Salesman: Oh I’m not, open the door, let me in please.
- Woman: If I let you in, you’ll sell me encyclopedias.
- Encyclopedia Salesman: I won’t, madam. I just want to come in and ransack the flat. Honestly.
- Woman: Promise? No encyclopedias?
- Encyclopedia Salesman: None at all.
- Woman: All right. [she opens door] You’d better come in then.
- Encyclopedia Salesman: Mind you, I don’t know whether you’ve really considered the advantages of owning a really fine set of modern encyclopedias… You know, they can really do you wonders.
It’s the Arts [1.06]
- Mr. Figgis: Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Liszt, Brahms, Panties …I’m sorry … Schumann, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Bach. Names that will live for ever. But there is one composer whose name is never included with the greats, why is it the world never remembered the name of Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern-schplenden-schlitter-crasscrenbon-fried-digger-dangle-dongle-dungle-burstein-Von-knacker-thrasher-apple-banger-horowitz-ticolensic-grander-knotty-spelltinkle-grandlich-grumblemeyer-spelterwasser-kurstlich-himbleeisen-bahnwagen-gutenabend-bitte-ein-nürnburger-bratwurstle-gerspurten-mit-zwei-macheluber-hundsfut-gumberaber-shoenendanker-kalbsfleisch-mittler-aucher von Hautkopft of Ulm?
The Lumberjack Song
- Bevis: [sung] I cut down trees, I eat my lunch, I go to the lavatory. On Wednesdays I’ll go shopping, and have buttered scones for tea.
- Mounties Choir: [sung] He cuts down trees, he eats his lunch, he goes to the lavatory. On Wednesdays, he goes shopping, and has buttered scones for tea. He’s a lumberjack and he’s OK, he sleeps all night and he works all day.
- Bevis: [sung] I cut down trees, I skip and jump, I like to press wildflowers. I put own womens’ clothing, and hang around in bars.
- Mounties Choir: [sung] He cuts down trees, he skips and jumps, he likes to press wildflowers. He puts on womens’ clothing, and hangs around — [starts to show signs of disgust] — in bars? [perk back up] He’s a lumberjack, and he’s OK, he sleeps all night and he works all day.
- Bevis: [sung] I cut down trees, I wear high heels, suspenders, and a bra. I wish I’d been a girlie, just like my dear Mama!
- Mountie Choir: [sung] He cuts down trees, he wears — high heels? [choir storms out in revulsion, as Bevis continues singing, to his Best Girlie’s dismay]
- Bevis’s Best Girlie: Oh, Bevis. And I thought you were so rugged! [runs off crying]
21 July 2011 | Caitlin Peterkin | Paste
And now for something completely different.
With the much-loved British comedy troupe Monty Python making recent headlines, including their first reunion project since 1983, we’ve decided to honor them by creating a list of our favorite Flying Circus sketches. Below you’ll find 20 of the silliest, wittiest and most entertaining skits to grace our television sets.
Though many Python sketches are known for being un-PC, “Bruces” goes to the extreme in abusing Australian stereotypes. Several Australian philosophy professors at the fictitious University of Woolamaloo, all named Bruce, bond over their love of beer and hatred of “poofters”—four of the seven faculty rules are even devoted to the latter.
19. Philosophers’ Football Match
At the 1972 Munich Olympics, two football teams face off in a heated match, refereed by Confucius. The Greeks, including Plato, Aristotle and Socrates, and the Germans, including Kant, Nietzsche and Marx, don’t so much duke it out kicking the ball as they do kicking around philosophical ideas.
18. The Visitors
Leave it to Eric Idle’s “Nudge Nudge” character, bickering couple John Cleese and Terry Jones, and a goat with diarrhea to ruin Graham Chapman’s romantic evening.
17. Department Store/ Buying an Ant
Who knew buying a pet ant could be so difficult? After dealing with countless annoyances from the department store workers, it’s a miracle that Michael Ellis—er, Chris Quinn—left with a purchase.
16. The Funniest Joke in the World
In this sketch, the Pythons take the phrase “a killer joke” to the next level. Appearing in the very first episode of Flying Circus, “The Funniest Joke in the World” shows a British joke creator writing the eponymous pun and dying from laughter. It eventually ends up in the hands of the British Army to use as warfare against the Germans in World War II.
15. How Not to Be Seen
This sketch, narrated by John Cleese, conveys the importance of not being seen in this it’s-so-ridiculous-it’s-funny Public Service Announcement.
14. Cheese Shop
A hungry John Cleese walks into a cheese shop and thus begins ordering every type imaginable. Out of the 43 fromages listed—including “Venezuelan Beaver Cheese”—the shop has none in stock.
13. Argument Clinic
What’s the difference between an argument and a contradiction? Michael Palin and John Cleese debate it. No they don’t. Yes they do. No they don’t.
12. Dirty Hungarian Phrase Book
At some point in our lives, we’ll all use a book of translations—just hope that it isn’t one published by Michael Palin’s character in this sketch. But perhaps it’s a sign we should all learn how to say “My hovercraft is full of eels” in every language.
11. Upper Class Twit of the Year
The Pythons are also skilled satirists, and sometimes brutal in their parodies as they are in this sketch. With obstacles such as Kicking the Beggar, Insulting the Waiter, Shooting the Rabbits and Taking the Bras Off the Debutantes, it’s not a surprise they’re poking fun at the English upper class.
10. Woody and Tinny Words
In which Graham Chapman, Carol Cleveland and Eric Idle debate the “woodiness” and “tinniness” of words such as “litter bin,” “sausage,” “recidivist” and “caribou.”
9. Nudge Nudge
With this sexual innuendo-laden sketch, Eric Idle brought the phrase “nudge nudge, wink wink” into popular British speech.
Reportedly, this sketch was influenced by the rationing of meat (or lack thereof, in spam’s case) in Britain during WWII. Here we see a cafe, run by Terry Jones as a pepperpot, that serves spam in every dish, including Lobster Thermidor.
7. The Lumberjack Song
One of the best-known Python numbers, “The Lumberjack Song” was created in 15 minutes, according to Michael Palin in a 2007 interview with NPR. In the sketch, Palin sings about his dream of being a lumberjack while backed by a chorus of Mounties. As the song progresses, he ends up sharing more about his dream than the Mounties wanted to know. “The Lumberjack Song” was also honored by several members of The Beatles. During his 1974 North American tour, George Harrison would play the song over P.A. systems before he took the stage. And in the 1990 Christmas Special episode of Shining Time Station, Ringo Starr as Mr. Conductor sings the intro of the song.
6. Reporting a Burglary
How these Pythons keep from bursting into hysterics during this skit remains a mystery. Their ability to switch instantly between high- and low-pitches and speed-talking shows true comedic skill.
5. Self-Defense Against Fresh Fruit
In this absurdist sketch, John Cleese plays a maniacal self-defense teacher against bananas, raspberries and an assortment of other fresh fruit. Make sure to never cross him in a dark alley with grapefruit—whole or segmented.
4. The Fish-Slapping Dance
This silent jig between Michael Palin and John Cleese is 20 seconds of pure comedy, proving that (fish)slapstick never fails to make us laugh.
3. The Ministry of Silly Walks
What’s most impressive about this sketch is not the simplicity of the running walking gag, but the physical comedy of John Cleese’s long-legged, lanky maneuvers.
2. The Spanish Inquisition
This sketch gave way to the single most memorable catchphrase in Flying Circus history.
1. Dead Parrot
Voted number two in the UK on Channel 4’s 50 Greatest Comedy Moments, “Dead Parrot” has remained in the hearts of Python fans everywhere as the best sketch of Flying Circus.
10 Jan 2016 | Angela Wintle | Telegraph
Eric Idle, 72, started his career as a writer for BBC Radio’s I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again and BBC Television’s The Frost Report, before shooting to fame as one of the six original members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a surreal BBC TV comedy show which ran for four series between 1969 and 1973.
The Pythons made several stage appearances and movies before reuniting for ten sell-out farewell shows, Monty Python Live, at London’s O2 in 2014. He and the other surviving Pythons received a BAFTA lifetime achievement award in 2009. Idle is also a novelist, actor, singer-songwriter, musician and comedic composer – who created and co-wrote the music to the 2005 award-winning musical Spamalot.
My father, who was a sergeant in the RAF during the Second World War, was killed in a hitchhiking accident while returning home on compassionate leave. As a result, my mother had to get work, as a nurse, and at seven the RAF put me into a boarding school and ex-orphanage called the Royal Wolverhampton School. I remained there for 12 years.
The living conditions were Dickensian and the teachers were allowed to beat us. We were given sixpence a week pocket money, which we spent in the tuck shop, so they got it all back. Having little money to spend was a valuable learning experience. My schooling also shaped my work ethic because while other children were listening to the Goons, I was studying, which enabled me to go to Cambridge University.
What was your very first job and can you remember what your first pay cheque was?
My first professional job was appearing in a disastrous theatre production of Oh, What a Lovely War in Leicester Rep, shortly after leaving Cambridge. When I was 23 I started writing for I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again and was paid three guineas for every minute’s airtime. When, in 1966, I progressed to The Frost Report, I was paid ten guineas a minute. I was guaranteed three minutes a week, so this was good money. It was also good fun. You could write a joke in the pub at lunchtime and watch it performed on television that evening.
How much did you earn from the original Monty Python’s Flying Circus?
Not much. The BBC paid each of us £2,000 per series for writing and performing. We made more money outside – making films, books and records. Monty Python only became valuable when it was sold to Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in America. They didn’t pay much either, but the series has been shown repeatedly, which led to lucrative tapes, CDs and DVDs.
Was there an obvious turning point in your career?
Yes, when the Pythons successfully sued ABC for breach of contract. In 1975, ABC broadcast two 90-minute Monty Python specials, each featuring three shows, but cut it to bits. We sued to try to prevent the company doing it. We didn’t get an injunction, but continued the lawsuit and ABC was found in breach of contract. Instead of accepting damages, we took the masters of our original Flying Circus, and that was the basis of us earning sensible money. Now, we own the copyright on almost everything we ever made.
What has been your best-paid job?
Spamalot [the musical comedy adapted from the 1975 film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail] was the first really serious money I made. I created it and co-wrote the songs, and when it opened on Broadway it became an instant hit [during its initial run it was seen by more than two million people and grossed more than $175m]. It won a Tony award for best musical and has since opened pretty much everywhere in the world. I have no idea what it’s earned me. I never pay any attention to figures.
Was money the driving force behind Monty Python’s farewell shows, Monty Python Live, at the O2 in 2014?
Yes, we needed to clear up our legal bills [£800,000], as a result of a dispute with a producer on Holy Grail who wanted more out of the royalties for Spamalot. The dispute lasted seven years, but he lost three out of the four cases he put against us. I got Jim Beach, the former band manager of Queen, to manage our O2 shows, so we are now getting our core business, Monty Python, in order.
What did you personally earn from the farewell shows?
Monty Python paid me £20,000 to write, direct and assemble them – the cheapskates! I told them I’d never earned less in a year since leaving Cambridge. The first show sold out in 43 seconds and we ended up performing ten in total. We had no idea there would be such demand. We had offers to perform in America and Australia, but Michael Palin said we couldn’t take it anywhere else because he was touring later that year. He’s always touring. We had the set, the dancing costumes, the offers, but Mike said no.
Did Michael Palin’s decision cause bitterness?
No, we haven’t fallen out over it. About halfway through the run, Mike turned to me and said, “I don’t want to do this for the rest of my life,” and I said, “I know what you mean”. As soon as he made his feelings known, we made the show our final goodbye and put it on DVD. I liked the idea of finishing unexpectedly after all these years. Besides, John Cleese and I just went on the road instead. We said, “We’ll drop the rest of the buggers and go off on our own – just the civilised Cambridge elite.” We toured all October, visited 22 American cities and 37,000 people came to see us. We called it Together Again At Last… For the Very First Time.
How much was your current home when you bought it and what is it worth now?
I live in a Spanish-style hillside home in Los Angeles, California. I paid $900,000 in 1995. It’s perhaps worth about $3m now. Thankfully, I paid off my mortgage before the crash because I could see it coming. I didn’t know all the details of the prime market, but it felt very dodgy – all that real estate bubble going up. I worried that I would be caught having to pay off a very high mortgage for a house I couldn’t sell.
Do you own any other property?
I used to have a house in London, but couldn’t face 20 more years of St John’s Wood in the rain. I bought it for £650,000 and it recently sold for £8m. I can’t remember what we sold it for, but I don’t regret giving it up. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be in LA where it’s warm and sunny. Forty-four years ago I also bought a house in Provence for about 70,000 francs. It had no electricity or running water, and no road leading to the house, but gradually we made improvements. It’s my escape and I love it.
What are your greatest luxuries?
A weekly massage. Writers tend to suffer from back problems because they spend their time bent over a desk. I also have a Cadillac ATS. I owned a Cadillac Eldorado for 15 years, but I’ve just got rid of it. In addition, I have some very nice handmade acoustic guitars that cost about $8,000 each. I also own a lot of books. I used to collect Persian rugs and real estate – you should be able to walk on and live in your money. I had to give up the rugs because I’m allergic to mould.
What’s the biggest current drain on your finances?
My wife. (Only kidding, darling).
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt about money?
Never do things for money. It’s always the things you do for love that turn out to pay the best.
Does money make you happy?
No, but it can buy you things that do, like holidays and wine. People who are interested in money are really uninteresting people. They look like Donald Trump.
Are you a spender or a saver?
I’m not careful with my money at all these days. I buy people a lot of dinners! I don’t invest in the stock market, but I have pension funds – some in America and the UK. I pay taxes in three countries, but can’t vote in any of them.
Are you a generous tipper?
Overly generous. If you’re famous, you have to, otherwise people say, “Eric Idle came in and only left me $4.” I always tip more than people expect.
Do you support any charities?
The Los Angeles Free clinic which provides medical assistance for people who can’t afford healthcare. I always attend their fundraising dinners and often do a little performance. My wife, Tania, is very big on dogs, so I’m always paying out to animal charities.
Do you have any plans to retire?
Yes, but my wife won’t let me.
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