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Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Series 1

“Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Series 1”
Director/Producer: John Howard Davies (shows 1-4); Ian MacNaughton (shows 5-13)
Broadcast on BBC1

From the very beginning, “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” demonstrated quite clearly that the group’s six members were after something quite uncategorizable. The first episode broadcast presented a surreal mix of violence (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart hosts a program depicting famous deaths), TV commercial and interview programme parodies, bizarre cut-out animations, and a shout-out to titans of modern art – all linked by pigs.

Series Highlights

Episode 1“Whither Canada?” (Original air date: 5 Oct. 1969) – Famous Deaths; Italian Lesson; Whizzo Butter; Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson; Picasso/Cycling Race; The Funniest Joke in the World

Episode 2“Sex and Violence” (Original air date: 12 Oct. 1969) – Flying Sheep (With French Lecture); A Man With Three Buttocks; The Mouse Organ; Marriage Guidance Counselor; Working-Class Playwright; “Epilogue”: Wresting to Determine the Existence of God; Carnivorous Pram and Rodin’s Kiss; The Mouse Problem

Episode 3, “How to Recognize Different Types of Trees From Quite a Long Way Away”(Original air date: 19 Oct. 1969) – The Larch; Courtroom Sketch; Bicycle Repairman; Storytime; Dirty Fork Sketch; Seduced Milkmen; Stolen Newsreader; Children’s Interview; Nudge Nudge

Episode 4“Owl-Stretching Time” (Original air date: 26 Oct. 1969) – Art Gallery; Undressing in Public; Self-Defense Against Fresh Fruit; Secret Service Dentists

Episode 5“Man’s Crisis of Identity in the Latter Half of the Twentieth Century” (Original air date: 16 Nov. 1969) – Confuse-A-Cat; The Smuggler; An Interview With a Duck, a Cat, and a Lizard; Police Raid; Newsreader Arrest; “Match of the Day”; Job Interview; Burglar/Encyclopedia Salesman

Episode 6 [No episode title] (Original air date: 23 Nov. 1969) – Johann Gambolputty … of Ulm; Vox Pops; Whizzo Chocolate; The Dull Life of a City Stockbroker; Red Indian in Theatre; 20th Century Vole

Episode 7, “You’re No Fun Any More” (Original air date: 30 Nov. 1969) – Camel Spotting; The Audit; The Blancmange, From Andromeda to WImbledon

Episode 8, “Full Frontal Nudity” (Original air date: 7 Dec. 1969) – Army Protection Racket; Vox Pops; Art Critic; Buying a Bed; Hermits; Dead Parrot; The Flasher; Hell’s Grannies

Episode 9“The Ant, an Introduction” (Original air date: 14 Dec. 1969) – Llamas; A Man With a Tape Recorder Up His Nose; Mountaineering Expedition; The Lumberjack Song; Gumby Crooner; The Refreshment Room at Bletchley; The Hunting Party; The Visitors

Episode 10 [No episode title] (Original air date: 21 Dec. 1969) – Walk-on Role; Robbing a Lingerie Shop; Arthur Tree; Vocational Guidance Counselor; The First Man to Jump the English Channel; Pet Conversions; Gorilla Librarian; Letters; Strangers After Dark

Episode 11 [No episode title] (Original air date: 28 Dec. 1969) – Lavatory Humor; Agatha Christie Sketch; Literary Football Interview; Undertakers; “Interesting People”; The Battle of Trafalgar; The Batley Townswomen’s Guild Presents the Battle of Pearl Harbor; Undertakers

Episode 12 [No episode title] (Original air date: 4 Jan. 1970) – Falling From a Building; “Spectrum”; Mr. Hilter and the North Minehead By-Election; Ken Shabby; Falling Through the Earth’s Crust

Episode 13 [No episode title] (Original air date: 11 Jan. 1970) – Intermissions; Cannibal Restaurant; Albatross; Me Doctor; Historical Impersonations; Psychiatry and Operating Theatre

The Making of

“One of the first sketches was about sheep nesting in trees, which John and Graham had offered to ‘The Frost Report,'” said Terry Jones. “And the producer, Jimmy Gilbert, had said, ‘No, no, no, it’s too silly. We can’t do that.’ John’s thing was always, ‘The great thing about Python was that it was somewhere where we could use up all that material that everybody else had said was too silly.'”

The Pythons saw themselves not as primarily writers or primarily actors, but as writer-actors.

“Everybody loved performing, absolutely!” said Michael Palin. “Everybody wanted to go out there and put the dress on or whatever! I rarely heard instance where someone said, ‘Well, I don’t want to do that.’ The great thing was, because we were all brought up in the university cabarets, to get out there and show your own material was part of it. Writing was merely fifty percent; the other fifty percent was the performing of it.”

While Cleese & Chapman and Palin & Jones worked as writing teams, and Idle wrote solo, the five would shape their material into a cohesive script. Terry Gilliam, however, worked much more on his own, providing the animations that would glue disparate sketches together.

Gilliam said that in story meetings, “I always had the most difficulty because I could never explain what I was doing; whenever I did, there would be these blank faces. I was maybe in the best position because I had the most freedom. The others had to submit all their material to the group and get rejected or include or changed; mine, because I couldn’t explain it, and because we were always revising at the last moment, was pretty much never touched.”

“I think our budget was £5,000 a show,” said Jones. “It had been kind of a tight operation. Everything was planned very rigorously. We’d do the outdoor filming for most of the series before we started shooting the studio stuff. We had to write the entire series before we even started doing anything, because we’d be shooting stuff for show 13, show 1, or show 2 while we’re in one location, so that while you’re at the seaside you can do all the seaside bits.”

Reception

The first series of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” was originally broadcast on the BBC late on Sunday evenings – and not in all regions of Britain. (Sorry, Midlands!)

“Partly because of its programing and the time it went out, Python clearly was seen as very much of an adult experience,” said Michael Palin, “which is very interesting because nowadays the spirit of Python burns on in ten-year-olds, twelve-year-olds, thirteen-year-olds. So many children love Python. But at the time it was seen as an adult show.

“Also, we became sort of the intellectuals’ darling for a bit, written up in the Observer, things like that … The word ‘cult’ was quote soon applied to Python, though we weren’t quite sure what a ‘cult show’ is. It applied to something that is the property of only a very few select people. I’d never been interested in doing that before. ‘Frost Report’ was a very popular show; ‘Do Not Adjust Your Set’ was aimed at a popular audience. But Python seemed to fit into this niche of darling, irreverent, therefore only accessible to those of a certain sort of intellectual status, and that lasted for a long time.”

John Cleese said, “My experience is that critics recognize what is slightly original, but very frequently miss what is very original! And if you look back at the reviews of ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus,’ they were really not particularly noticeable – nothing remarkable about the reviews for quite a long time. I suspect you would probably get to show 9 or 10 of the first series before anybody was really writing that something remarkable was happening.

“A few people got it right away. But critics on the whole did something hat they do when they’re insecure: they describe what the show was like without really committing themselves to a value judgment.”

“Always we tried to epater les bourgeois,” said Eric Idle. “Once when filming, a British middle-class lady came up and said, ‘Oh, Monty Python, I absolutely hate you lot.’ And we felt quite proud and happy. Nowadays I miss people who hate us; we have sadly become nice, safe and acceptable now, which shows how clever an Establishment really is, opening up to make room inside itself.”

The series received three BAFTA nominations (for Best Light Entertainment Show, Best Script, and John Cleese for Best Light Entertainment Personality), and received two special BAFTA awards – for production, writing & performance, and for Terry Gilliam’s animations.

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Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Series 3

“Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Series 3”
Director/Producer: Ian MacNaughton
Broadcast on BBC1
 

In December 1971 the Pythons began recording their third BBC series, pushing themselves with more creative narrative development and more surreal characters (and, thanks to improved BBC budgets, more ambitious location shoots). The third series also marked the first Python episode in which a single story (“The Cycling Tour”) took up the entire half-hour.

Pushing the boundaries of taste, however, ended up inviting more oversight by the BBC’s censors.

Series Highlights

Episode 27“Whicker’s World” (Original air date: 19 Oct. 1972) – Njorl’s Saga; Multiple Homicide Trial; Police Pursuit Inside Body Animation; Stock Exchange Report; Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion Visit Jean-Paul Sartre; Whicker’s World

Episode 28 [No official title] (Original air date: 26 Oct. 1972) – Mr. and Mrs. Brian Norris’ Ford Popular; Schoolboy’s Extracurricular Activities; How to Do It; Mrs. Niggerbaiter; Farming Club; The Life of Tschaikowsky; Trim-Jeans Theatre Presents; Fish Slapping Dance; Submarine Fish Animation; Puss in Boots; BBC Budget Cuts

Episode 29 [No official title] (Original air date: 2 Nov. 1972) – The Money Programme; Erizabeth L; Church Police; Jungle Restaurant; Ken Russell’s “Gardening Club”; The Lost World of Roiurama; Argument Clinic

Episode 30 [No official title] (Original air date: 9 Nov. 1972) – “Blood, Devastation, Death, War & Horror,” featuring the Man Who Speaks in Anagrams; Merchant Banker; Nature Film; The House Hunters Animation; Mary Recruitment Office; The Man Who Makes People Laugh Uncontrollably; News Reader Gestures; BBC Announcers; “The Pantomime Horse Is a Secret Agent Film”

Episode 31“The All-England Summarize Proust Competition” (Original air date: 16 Nov. 1972) – The All-England Summarize Proust Competition; Everest Climbed by Hairdressers; Fire Brigade; “Party Hints With Veronica Smalls”; Language Lab; Travel Agent (Mr. Smoketoomuch); (Miss) Anne Elk

Episode 32 [No official title] (Original air date: 23 Nov. 1972) – Tory Housewives Anti-Pornography Campaign; Gumby Brain Surgeon; Molluscs; The Minster for Not Listening to People; Apology (Politicians); Expedition to Lake Pahoe; The Silliest Sketch Ever

Episode 33 [No official title] (Original air date: 30 Nov. 1972) – Biggles Dictates a Letter; Climbing Uxbridge Road; Lifeboat; “Storage Jars”; Why Television Is Bad for Your Eyes; The Show So Far; Cheese Shoppe; Sam Peckinpah’s “Salad Days”; Apology; Interlude

Episode 34“The Cycling Tour” (Original air date: 7 Dec. 1972) – The Cycling Tour, Featuring Mr. Pither, Trotsky, Bingo-crazed Chinese, Clodagh Rogers and Dancing Monsters

Episode 35 [No official title] (Original air date: 14 Dec. 1972) – A Bomb on the Plane; English Literature Housing Project; “Mortuary Hour”; The Olympic Hide-and-Seek Final; The Cheap-Laughs; Bull-Fighting; Chairman of the The British Well-Basically Club; Probe on the Planet Algon

Episode 36 [No official title] (Original air date: 21 Dec. 1972) – Tudor Pornography; The Rev. Arthur Belling; The Free Repetition of Doubtful Words Things; “Is There?”; Thripshaw’s Disease; Silly Noises; Sherry-Hoarding Vicar

Episode 37 [No official title] (Original air date: 4 Jan. 1973) – “Boxing Tonight”; Dennis Moore; Astrology Sketch; Ideal Loon Exposition; Poetry of the Off-License; “Prejudice”

Episode 38 [No official title] (Original air date: 11 Jan. 1973) – Choreographed Conservative Party Broadcast; “A Book at Bedtime”; Kamikaze Scotsmen; No Time to Lose; “2001: A Space Odyssey” Bone; Penguins; Spot the Loony; Rival Documentaries; New BBC Series Promos

Episode 39“Grandstand” (Original air date: 18 Jan. 1973) – Light Entertainment Awards With Dickie Attenborough; Oscar Wilde Sketch; Pasolini’s “The Third Test Match”; David Niven’s Fridge; Curry’s Brains; Blood Donor; International Wife-Swapping; The Dirty Vicar Sketch

The Making of

The third series featured some of Python’s most memorable bits: Dennis Moore, the Cheese Shoppe, “The Money Programme,” The All-England Summarize Proust Competition, Sam Peckinpah’s “Salad Days,” and the Fish-Slapping Dance. Terry Gilliam’s animations included an eye-gouging television set and a spot-on parody of “2001.”

One of the most surreal sketches ever featured a city gent (Terry Jones) who makes people laugh uncontrollably just by uttering a word. Fired from his firm due to the debilitating effect he has on his co-workers, he pours out his soul to his manager, even threatening suicide, while his boss is reduced to uncontrollable fits of laughter.

While previously the BBC did not interfere with the production of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” during the third series, program executives began making their presence felt before episodes were transmitted.

“The BBC was changing – it was more sensitive to political pressure – but it felt like special attention was being paid to us because we were ‘naughty boys,'” said Terry Jones.

“When the first and second series went out, nobody ever looked at the shows or anything until they went out. In the last [second series] episode we had the ‘Undertaker’ sketch, which was a gross breach of good taste! … I think Ian [MacNaughton] really got carpeted for that. And then [for] the next series, they wanted to look at the shows before they went out.”

At one point BBC executives presented a memo dubbed “Thirty-Two Points of Worry,” about items in episodes that were deemed offensive or problematic, such as the “Proust Competition” participant who lists his hobbies as “strangling animals, golf and masturbating.” [Apparently, strangling animals was OK, but masturbation was not.]

“Some of the [points] were things they’d made up,” said Jones, such as, “‘You must remove the giant penis that John holds around the door.’ What on earth are they talking about? Had a look at it – it was actually a severed leg that somebody had to sign in the ‘Curry’s Brains’ sketch.’ It was just they weren’t looking very carefully!”

One bit that was cut due to BBC pressure was the “Wee-Wee Sketch,” in which Eric Idle offers Terry Jones a drink from his vast wine cellar, except the wine turns out to be wee-wee. “He’s been laying down wee-wee for years!” said Terry Gilliam. “It’s just a very silly sketch.”

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Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Series 2

“Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Series 2”
Director/Producer: Ian MacNaughton
Broadcast on BBC1
 

In the show’s second series the Pythons were even more confident and daring than in their first, as evident in both the tightness of the editing and the breadth of their material – thus avoiding the “sophomore jinx.”

Series Highlights  [Note: None of the shows had official episode titles]


Episode 14
 (Original air date: 15 Sept. 1970) – Face the Press; New Cooker Sketch; Tobacconist Adverts; The Ministry of Silly Walks; The Piranha BrothersEpisode 15 

(Original air date: 22 Sept. 1970) – Man-Powered Flight; The Spanish Inquisition; Novelties Salesman; A Tax on “Thingy”; The Semaphore Version of “Wuthering Heights”; Court CharadesEpisode 16 

(Original air date: 29 Sept. 1970) – Exploding Stuffed Animals; The Rehearsing Bishop; Flying Lessons; Hijacked Plane; Poet Ewen McTeagle; Psychiatrist Milkmen; Deja VuEpisode 17

 (Original air date: 20 Oct. 1970) – Gumbys; Architect Sketch; How to Give Up Being a Mason; The Bishop; Home on the Pavement; Poet Reader; Chemist Sketch; Police Constable Pan-AmEpisode 18 

(Original air date: 27 Oct. 1970) – Live From the Grill-O-Mat Snack Bar, Paignton; “Blackmail”; Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things; A Room That Destroys Itself; A School Production of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”; A Man Alternately Rude and Police; Boxer Ken Clean-Air SystemsEpisode 19

 (Original air date: 3 Nov. 1970) – “It’s a Living”; Eric Dibley’s “If”; Dung; Timmy Wilson’s Coffee Time; Raymond Luxury Yacht; Registry Office; Fairy Tayle Animation (With the Black Spot); Election Night Special (Featuring the Silly and Sensible Parties)Episode 20

 (Original air date: 10 Nov. 1970) – “The Attila the Hun Show”; Secretary of State Striptease; Killer Sheep; The News for Parrots; Village Idiots; Test Match; Michael Miles Quiz ShowEpisode 21 

(Original air date: 17 Nov. 1970) – Archaeology Today; Silly Vicar; Wife Swap; Mr. and Mrs. Git; Mosquito Hunters; Judges’ Cloakroom; Ms. Thing and Mrs. Entity; Beethoven’s Mynah BirdEpisode 22 

(Original air date: 24 Nov. 1970) – How to Recognize Different Parts of the Body; Bruces; The Man Who Contradicts People; Plastic Surgeon; Military Swanning About; Woman Trips Bus Animation; Killer Cars Animation; Verrifast Plaine Company Ltd.; The Batley Townswomen’s Guild’s Re-enactment of the First Heart Transplant; The Death of Mary Queen of Scots; Penguin on the Television; Inspector Muffin; “Bing Tiddle Tiddle Bong!”Episode 23

 (Original air date: 1 Dec. 1970) – French Film; Scott of the Antarctic; Conrad Poohs and His Dancing Teeth; Fish License; Rugby MatchesEpisode 24

 (Original air date: 8 Dec. 1970) – Conquistidor Instant Coffee Advertising Campaign; Prime Minister Striptease; Job Interview; “It All Happened on the 11:20 From Hainault &c”; Mr. Neville Shunte; Toothy Film Director; Crackpot Religions; How Not to Be Seen; Crossing the Atlantic on a Tricycle; “Yummy Yummy Yummy”; “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” repeated in 30 secondsEpisode 25

 (Original air date: 15 Dec. 1970) – The Black Eagle; Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook; World Forum Communist Quiz Show; Ypres 1914 Sketch; Art Gallery Figures on Strike; Hospital for Over-Acting; Gumby Flower Arrangement; SpamEpisode 26 

(Original air date: 22 Dec. 1970) – Royal Episode 13; Coal Mine Disputes; The Man Who Says Things in a Very Roundabout Way; Krelm Toothpaste Commercial Animation; How to Feed a Goldfish; The Man Who Collects Birdwatcher’s Eggs; Insurance Sketch; Exploding Version of “The Blue Danube”; Lifeboat; Cannibalism Animation; Undertaker SketchThe Making of

Michael Palin said, “I think there was always a conscious desire to do something which was ahead of or tested the audience’s taste, or tested the limits of what we can or cannot say. I think it’s probably strongest in John and Graham’s writing; they enjoyed being able to shock (whereas Terry and I enjoyed surprise more than shock). … The two of them would put together things like the ‘Undertaker Sketch,’ purely because they knew it was outrageous, and yet they did it in a way none of the other Pythons would have done, so it was quite refreshing.

Reception

Unlike Series 1, which went out late Sunday evenings, Series 2 was broadcast Tuesdays on BBC1. There were still regional channels that did not pick up the show, however, stirring much protest in the letters pages of the Radio Times.

On repeats, some sketches fell to the scissors of the BBC’s censors. “Fairy Tale,” Terry Gilliam’s cartoon featuring a prince who discovers a black spot on his face (“Foolishly he ignored it, and three years later he died of cancer”), was edited to replace the word “cancer” with “gangrene.” A Gilliam cartoon in which Christ is crucified on a telephone pole was also cut.

The notorious “Undertaker Sketch,” in which John Cleese brings his dead mother in a sack to a funeral home, only to be offered the option of having her for dinner (“Tell you what, we’ll eat her, if you feel a bit guilty about it after, we can dig a grave and you can throw up in it”), was cut on a repeat, and lost. A copy of an NTSC recording from North America was the source for reinserting the sketch back into the episode for syndication in the 1980s.

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Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Series 4

“Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Series 4”
Director/Producer: Ian MacNaughton
Broadcast on BBC1
 

Filmed after the completion of “Holy Grail,” the fourth series (whose title was shortened to just “Monty Python”) constituted just six episodes. John Cleese had already expressed his desire to move on to solo projects (“Fawlty Towers” would premiere on the BBC in September 1975), and so he does not appear, although he received a writing credit for his contributions with Graham Chapman.

Series Highlights

Episode 40, “The Golden Age of Ballooning” (Original air date: 31 Oct. 1974) – The Golden Age of Ballooning, Featuring the Montgolfier Brothers; Louis XIV, George III and Ferdinand von Zeppelin; The Norwegian Party

Episode 41“Michael Ellis” (Original air date: 7 Nov. 1974) – Buying an Ant; Ant Poetry Reading; Toupee Hall; Various Endings

Episode 42“Light Entertainment War” (Original air date: 14 Nov. 1974) – “Up Your Pavement”; RAF Banter; Courtmartial; Programme Planners; Programme Planners’ Conference; The Last Five Miles of the M2; Woody and Tinny Words; Show Jumping; “When Does a Dream Begin?”

Episode 43“Hamlet” (Original air date: 21 Nov. 1974) – “Hamlet”; Bogus Psychiatrists; “Nationwide”; Police Helmets; Father-in-Law; Boxing Promoter; Piston Engine; Queen Victoria Handicap

Episode 44“Mr. Neutron” (Original air date: 28 Nov. 1974) – Postal Box Dedication; Mr. Neutron; “Conjuring Today”

Episode 45“Party Political Broadcast” (Original air date: 5 Dec. 1974) – Most Awful Family in Britain; Icelandic Honey Week; Waiting Room Stabbing; The Brigadier and the Bishop; The Man Who Finishes Other People’s Sentences; David Attenborough and the Walking Tree of Dahomey; The Batsmen of the Kalahari

The Making of

Though Cleese’s absence is palpable, there is still some stellar material, including the “Light Entertainment War” episode (in which RAF pilots cannot understand each other’s banter), “Mr. Neutron” (in which a supposed alien agent of world domination must put up with tiresome suburban housewives); and “The Most Awful Family in Britain 1974 Competition” (in which the Garibaldi Family only manages to score a disappointing 15 on the disgustometer).

Given Cleese’s departure, the level of surrealism – attributable to the Michael Palin-Terry Jones writing team – was also quite high, such as a bit in which a post office official, dedicating a new mailbox, delivers a long, droning speech about its uses (“to post letters, post-cards and small packages”), which he then repeats in French (“la poste les lettres, les cartes-postales, et de petits paquets”), and then in German …

Lawsuit

While the first three series of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” were sold to non-commercial public television in the United States (which broadcast them pretty much as-is), the six episodes of the fourth series were bought by the commercial network ABC, which intended to air them as two 90-minute late-night specials.

Unfortunately, in addition to cuts made for time (to accommodate about 24 minutes of commercials for each special), the network’s censors also slashed material for supposed “broadcast standards” – ludicrously eliminating words such as “damn,” “hell” and “naughty bits”; jokes (“He used to go through four Jehovah’s Witnesses a day”); and entire characters (one of the ordered cuts included “Entrance of man in wheelchair with sword in head, deleted to eliminate offensive references to handicapped individuals”). Punchlines were cut, making jokes incomprehensible. Python was surreal and stream-of-consciousness, but ABC’s Python was head-shaking.

The first “Wide World of Entertainment” special, broadcast on 3 October 1975, contained “The Golden Age of Ballooning,” “Mr. Neutron,” and “Party Political Broadcast.” When the Pythons later reviewed a tape of the show sent to them by Nancy Lewis, their U.S. manager, they were aghast, and sought an injunction against ABC’s planned broadcast of the second special.

Thanks to a clause buried in the Pythons’ original contract with the BBC, edits to the broadcasts were not permitted without their approval, and so they sued ABC at the United States Court House in New York’s Foley Square. Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin appeared in court on behalf of the group. They argued that the edited programs did not constitute “Monty Python,” and therefore broadcasting them would damage the group in the eyes of its audience. The edited programs could also potentially alienate a larger audience outside of the PBS stations’ markets (for whom the ABC shows represented their first exposure to the group), thus jeopardizing the future sale of Python books, records and films.

ABC, which held that its cuts did not distort the Pythons’ material, argued that dropping the planned broadcast of the second special would damage the network in the eyes of its affiliates and the public.

Eventually, the judge and all parties sat in the jury box to watch a screening of two versions of “Light Entertainment War”: first, as originally run on the BBC, and then as it would appear as part of “Wide World of Entertainment.” Nearly eight minutes were cut from the latter.

“I think their biggest mistake was letting us show our version before they showed their version,” said Gilliam. “Ours comes out, we get the laughs. Then they show their version and there’s no laughs. Not only has it been chopped up badly, but it’s old material, it’s not as funny as the first time. That’s just dumb! If they’d shown theirs first, maybe they would have got the laughs so when they showed our stuff maybe ours would have looked long-winded. [The feeling could have been], maybe ABC did the right thing – they weren’t trying to ruin it, the stuff deserved trimming.”

Judge Morris Lasker favored ABC in his decision partly because of the network’s claims of damages that could be incurred, and partly because of questions about copyright. [The Pythons held copyright over the scripts, but the BBC owned the copyright of the performances of those same scripts.] But by the time the case reached the U.S. Court of Appeals, ABC’s second compilation had already aired, on 26 December 1975, thus making moot its claims of potential damages. The appellate judges were then concentrating on matters of copyright, and whether ABC’s showing of “Monty Python” was a mislabeling of inferior goods, illegal under the Lanham Act.

Python and ABC (in conjunction with the BBC and Time-Life, the show’s distributor) ultimately reached a settlement, which awarded the Pythons full rights to all 45 TV episodes. The fourth series was eventually sold to PBS in the States, “naughty bits” intact.

A footnote: The ABC edit was nominated for a 1976 Emmy Award for Outstanding Special – Comedy-Variety or Music.

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Monty Python’s Fliegender Zirkus (1972)

“Monty Python’s Fliegender Zirkus”
Director: Ian MacNaughton
Producer: Alfred Biôlek, Thomas Woitkewitsch
Broadcast on ARD TV (Germany)
 

After a compilation of Python sketches won a second place prize at the Montreux Festival in 1971, Alfred Biôlek, a producer from Bavaria Films, contacted Ian MacNaughton to propose a Python show for German television, launching “Monty Python’s Fliegender Zirkus.”

Episode Highlights

Episode 1 (Original air date: 3 January 1972) – Carrying the Olympic Torch; Albrecht Durer Documentary; Anita Ekberg sings Albrecht Durer; “The Merchant of Venice” Performed by a Herd of Cows; The Flasher Animation; Little Red Riding Hood; Silly Olympics; Stake Your Claim; “The Lumberjack Song”; Bavarian Restaurant

Episode 2 (Original air date: 18 December 1972) – William Tell; Common Market Sex Maniacs; Sycophancy; National Fish Park; Mouse Stampede Animation; Chicken Mines of North Dakota; German vs. Greek Philosophers’ Football Match; Colin “Bomber” Harris Wrestles Himself; Hearing Aid; Happy Valley

The Making of

The Pythons ended up filming two 45-minute shows for Bavarian television, very close in style to the BBC series (except that both episodes were shot entirely on film, with no live studio audience). “Monty Python’s Fliegender Zirkus” was mostly all-new material, with only a few hints of their BBC work (Michael Palin does sing “The Lumberjack Song” in German). Terry Gilliam also contributed new animation, as well as opening titles that simply replaced English with German.

The first episode was performed in German, a language most of the Pythons could not actually speak. Dialogue, which had been translated for them into German, was recited parrot-fashion or read off cue cards.

“We sort of gaily said, ‘Oh, we’ll learn it phonetically,'” said Terry Jones. “It was only when we were doing the first shot when the full impact of what we were trying to do suddenly hit us, when Mike was having to be an Australian talking about the hinterbacken das ein kangaroo – the rectum of a kangaroo – and realizing you had to talk Parrot German with an Australian accent! We suddenly realized we had bitten off more than we could chew.”

When it came to shoot the second episode, the German producers requested that it be shot in English – not because the Pythons’ German was so bad, but because the first German-language film couldn’t be sold to other territories.

By its absence, the lack of a live audience reveals how effective was the Pythons’ skill in front of an audience, but there are compensating pleasures, including a nod to the Munich Olympics (featuring such track events as the 100-Yards for People With No Sense of Direction); a football match between Greek and German philosophers; a study of grizzled old men panning, Klondike-style, for chickens; and “Little Red Riding Hood,” starring John Cleese as the diminutive heroine.

Some of the material was later screened during the Pythons’ stage shows, and a fairy tale written by Cleese and his then-wife Connie Booth was adapted for “Monty Python’s Previous Record.”

The English-language “Fliegender Zirkus” was broadcast in the U.K. in October 1973, but both episodes were long unseen until their video release in the late 1990s.
Read more at https://web.archive.org/web/20161102200605/http://www.montypython.com:80/tvshow_Monty%20Python’s%20Fliegender%20Zirkus%20(1972)/18#4QgmlzhxCCjVWOYY.99

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Parrot Sketch Not Included – 20 Years of Monty Python (1989)

“Parrot Sketch Not Included – 20 Years of Monty Python”
Producers: Charles Brand, Anne James
Running Time: 0:58
Original U.K. Broadcast Date: 5 October 1989 (BBC)
Original U.S. Broadcast Date: 17 March 1990 (Showtime)

Presented by Steve Martin, this anthology of some of the group’s best bits from “Flying Circus” and “Fliegender Zirkus” (minus the eponymous Parrot Sketch), compiled by John Lloyd, marked the 20th anniversary of the original series’ premiere. “Some people like them, I guess,” espoused Martin in the intro.

Contains

Among the clips (in whole or in part): William Tell; “Merchant of Venice” with cows (though it uses the German subtitles, so you have no idea they are actually reciting Shakespeare); Silly Olympics; Dennis Moore; How Not to Be Seen; the Exploding Blue Danube; World Forum; Greek-German Philosophers Football Match; RAF Banter; the Golden Age of Ballooning, with re-dubbed narration by Palin; French lecture on Flying Sheep; Conrad Poohs and His Dancing Teeth; Architects Sketch; Freemason; Minister of Silly Walks; Queen Victoria Handicap; Kitchen Sink Playwright; Fish Slapping Dance; A Man With a Stoat Through His Head; Vacuum Baby animation; Mrs. Niggerbaiter; Mosquito Hunters; Lovely Day animation; Sam Peckinpah’s “Salad Days”; Stabbing Victim; Boot Camp Hospital; Come Back to My Place; Barber Sketch and “Lumberjack Sketch”; Dictating a letter; World War II film trailer; Spam; the Man With a Tape Recorder Up His Nose; the Mouse Organ; the Mouse Problem; the House Hunters; Competing Documentaries; Escape Artist Pianist; Argument Clinic; It’s the Arts animation; the Spanish Inquisition; Tripping the Bus animation; the Visitors; Flying Harness; and Raymond Luxury Yacht.

“Well, there you have it – the best of Monty Python,” says Martin at the end. “Where are they now?

“They’re in this cupboard,” he gestures, opening a closet to reveal the six Pythons crammed inside. “Sad, isn’t it?”

The Making of

“Parrot Sketch Not Included” also did not include an original sketch filmed for the special with Martin and the six Pythons playing schoolboys. According to “The Pythons Autobiography,” the comedy bit was shot but then cut, to Terry Jones’ relief.

“Somebody had cobbled this thing together,” he said. “When I read it I thought, ‘This is just terrible, we can’t do this.’ … I’m very glad that they cut it.”

“The idea of getting Steve Martin and the Pythons together was a nice one,” said Michael Palin, “in the sense that we respected each other, but it was not necessarily the easiest way of producing the best comedy. That’s why I’ve always felt Python was at its best when it just was the group of us. It was quite a self-contained momentum. It couldn’t be exported, it couldn’t be grafted on to anyone else nor could anyone else be grafted on to Python.”

The special marked the final TV appearance of Graham Chapman, who was suffering from throat cancer. “Suddenly Graham was carried in,” said Eric Idle. “I think Steve had not seen him, nobody had bothered to warn Steve that he might be sick and he just looked at him. He was gaunt and being carried in, and what was good about it was everybody was there, everybody who ever worked for us in come capacity as working on it, and it was like a nostalgic last time to do this. We weren’t very good, we weren’t very funny, but it was a nice experience.”

“Of course when we shot on the day I don’t think we’d realized how ill he was,” said Jones. “He had this frame in order to keep him upright, he had to wear this frame, so he was very, very ill at that stage. It was extraordinary he actually got on camera. That was when we knew he was not at all well.”

Chapman died on October 4, 1989, the day before “Parrot Sketch Not Included,” was first aired.

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Monty Python’s Personal Best (2006)

“Monty Python’s Personal Best”
Producer: John Goldstone
Running Time: 6 x 1:00
Original Broadcast Date: 22 February 2006 – 8 March 2006 (PBS)

In this box-set collection (individual episodes were also released separately), each Python selected their favourite sketches (the surviving five made the selection for Chapman’s episode) to include as their own “Personal Best”. The parameters of what was selected were not limited to bits which they wrote or in which they appeared. The highly-esteemed “Fish Slapping Dance,” for example, is included in five of the six episodes – Palin’s (for his death-defying fall into the Thames), Cleese’s (for wielding a very large fish), Jones’ (for co-writing it with Palin), Gilliam’s (for providing the animated intro), and Chapman’s (’cause, why not?).

Three iterations of “The Lumberjack Song” also appear throughout the set: Palin’s original rendition from “Monty Pythons’ Flying Circus”; the German-language version from “Fliegender Zirkus”; and Idle’s performance from “Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl.”

Each disk has a newly-filmed introduction, and the five surviving Pythons appear in interviews about Chapman on his edition.

 
Episodes
 
“Graham Chapman’s Personal Best” – Sketches selected by the five surviving Pythons as a tribute to Chapman. Each offers reminiscences about working with Graham (from Cambridge and their early collaborations on British TV to Python); the surrealism of his contributions; and his death in 1989. 
 
“Graham was very complex,” said Jones. “I don’t think I ever knew him – there were too many layers.” There are honest discussions of Chapman’s alcoholism and how it affected his humor (“He was a very good stage performer, if he remembered not to drink!” said Idle), and his homosexuality (“He liked to resist stereotypes, he didn’t like to be the stereotype gay,” said Idle. “He hated people who were ‘queeny'”).
 

“It was quite a risky ride, being with Graham,” said Palin.

Also featured is some on-set footage from “Life of Brian,” where Chapman served as crew doctor.

Contents

Sketches include: Royal Society of Putting Things on Top of Other Things; Colonel; Raymond Luxury Yacht; Agatha Christie Murder Mystery; Sir Edward Ross Interview; Solo Wrestling Match; (Miss) Anne Elk; Fish Slapping Dance; Oscar Wilde Sketch; Vocational Guidance Counselor; Mollusks Documentary; Ken Shabby; Ministry of Silly Walks; Albatross; Pantomime Horse Secret Agent; Dead Parrot; Death of Mary Queen of Scots/Penguin on the Television; Film Producer; Putting Down Budgies; Spam; and Argument Clinic.

Extras: Chapman’s “Second-Best” sketches: Lifeboat Cannibalism; Dennis Moore; Trivia Game by Kim “Howard” Johnson.

 
“John Cleese’s Personal Best” – “John Cleese Remembers” features the “reclusive 96-year-old” who recollects his sketches, like Silly Walks (“Rubbish, very poor!”), working with Chapman (“Good riddance!”), violence in Python (“People enjoy violence, it’s in our genes!”), sexism and racism, and how he’d like to be remembered.
 

Contents

Sketches include: Happy Valley; “Epilogue” Wrestling Match; Gumby Doctor; Fresh Fruit Defense Class; Exploding “Blue Danube”; Nature Documentary; Competing Documentaries; Confuse-A-Cat; Cheese Shoppe; Raymond Luxury Yacht; Pablo Picasso Painting on a Bicycle; Flying Lessons; Vacuum Baby animation; Famous Deaths; Batley Townswomen’s Guild’s Re-enactment of the Battle of Pearl Harbor; Fish Slapping Dance; and the 127th Upper-Class Twit of the Year Show.

Extras
: A behind-the-scenes look at the “Real” John Cleese; Trivia Game by Kim “Howard” Johnson.

 
“Terry Gilliam’s Personal Best” – As the “famous cartoonist” explains in the intro, he was slaving away creating animations for an all-cartoon show (“Long before ‘South Park’!”) while the other five Pythons were plying the BBC with drink to curry favor and worm their way into his creation (“It was my show! It was all mine!”). 
 

Contents

Animations include: Third Series “Flying Circus” Opening Titles; Conrad Poohs and His Dancing Teeth; Congratulatory Telegram  Letter; Nutcracker; Lady Tripping Bus; Killer Cars; Ambulances; Operating Theatre; Dancing Venus; Fish Slapping Dance; Royal Navy Recruitment; Victorian Portraits; Forest of Hands; Crelm Toothpaste Ad; Charles Fatless Body Building Ad; Purchase a Past; Police Chase Inside Stomach; An Apology; Gumby; Five Frog Curse; Fairy Tale; Rude Noises; Charwoman; Elephant Fossil; Cannibal in Baby Carriage; Musical Rodin’s Kiss; Opera Singer; The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Goes to the Bathroom; A Lovely Day; Eggs Diamond; Stick-up Man; Rounding Up Suspect; The Royal Society for Putting Things on Top of Other Things’ travels; Decapitation Shave; Cartoon Religions Ltd.; Falling People; Full Frontal Nudity; Metamorphosis; No-Time Toulouse; Television Is Bad For Your Eyes; The Show So Far; the House-Hunters; Gay Boys in Bondage; “2001” Parody; Fourth Series Opening Titles.

Extras: Interview with Gilliam about his start on British television, and the process of creating cut-out animation; Trivia Game by Kim “Howard” Johnson.

 
“Eric Idle’s Personal Best” – Reporting from the “Bollywood Howl,” a reporter (Idle) tells the story of the Pythons (“who will be remembered in the anals of comedy”). Interview subjects include Eric Idle’s mother (played by Idle).
 

Contents

“The Lumberjack Song” (in German); “Sit on My Face”; the Refreshment Room at Bletchley; Ian McKellan recites Ewan McTeagle; World Forum; Nudge Nudge; Silly Olympiad; Greek vs. German Philosophers Football Match; Blood, Devastation, Death, War and Horror; Hairdressers climb Mt. Everest; Travel Agency; “Never Be Rude to an Arab”; Face the Press; Hermits; Storytime; How to Do It; Close Order Swanning About; Bruces; Queen Victoria Handicap; The Money Programme; Escape Artist Pianist; Camp Judges; Climbing the Uxbridge Road; Whicker’s World; Lumberjack Song.

Extras: Idle’s “Second-Bests”: Multiple-murderer’s trial; Sam Peckinpah’s “Salad Days”; Timmy William’s Coffee Time; Trivia Game by Kim “Howard” Johnson.

 
“Terry Jones’ Personal Best” – The “creator” of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” Terry Jones, explains how he let some of his less-successful friends and hangers-on come join his solo show (including Terry Gilliam, who served as a cupboard). Jones even reveals that “Monty Python” is actually an anagram of “Terry Jones.”
 

Also, did you know that creative geniuses need so much sleep that the REALLY creative geniuses never even get out of bed? Now you do!

Contents

Sketches include: The Funniest Joke in the World; Ratcatcher; Killer Sheep; News for Parrots; Kitchen Sink Playwright; Construction site with Figures from English Literature; Bicycle Repairman; Olympic Hide-and-Seek; Mrs. Niggerbaiter; “The Bishop”; Housing Problem Documentary; Poets; Fish Slapping Dance; The Cycling Tour; The Spanish Inquisition; Barber Sketch; Lumberjack Song; Up the Pavement; RAF Banter; Trivializing the War; and Court-Martial Sketch: “Anything Goes.”

Extras: Jones’ “second-best” sketches include: Hell’s Grannies; Jumping the English Channel; The Nude Organist; Njorl’s Saga; Trivia Game by Kim “Howard” Johnson.

 
“Michael Palin’s Personal Best” – Palin (“a slapper for many years”) welcomes viewers to Teddington Lock on the Thames for lessons in the art of Fish Slapping.
 

Contents

Sketches include: “It’s …”; French Sheep Lecture; Dirty Hungarian Phrasebook; An Interview With a Duck, a Cat, and a Lizard; Policeman; Johann Gambolputty; Chemist Sketch; Interviews With Children; The Pirahna Brothers; Undertakers Race; “Blackmail”; The Semaphore Version of “Wuthering Heights”; A Man With a Tape Recorder Up His Nose; Army Commander’s Office; Architects Sketch; A Scotsman on a Horse; Mosquito Hunters; Conrad Poohs and His Dancing Teeth; Wife-Swapping; Postal Box Dedication; Cheese Shop; Fish Slapping Dance.

Extras: Palin’s Personal “Second-Bests”: Beethoven and the Mynah Bird; A Man With Three Buttocks; The Most Awful Family in Britain; Trivia Game by Kim “Howard” Johnson.

The Making of

According to Idle, the selections of sketches were all made independently, and not always amicably. “There was a definite pecking order,” Idle told the Toronto Star. “Cleese got first go, and then I got in second … Because you figured that if you’re not in quick, somebody else would and all the best stuff would have gone.”

Series producer John Goldstone described the process as “complicated.” “Terry Jones, for instance, by the time we got to him, he wanted a whole lot of sketches that everybody had already chosen,” Goldstone told the Toronto Star. “So we had to negotiate. In fact, he had a very long list, so it wasn’t in the end that difficult. But I think everybody chose ‘Fish Slapping.'”

 

“They’re all just a bunch of stupid cartoons,” Gilliam said of his own, all-animation disk to Empire Online. “It’s wasted life, that’s what that DVD’s really about! I could have been anything!”

Not factoring in the newly-shot interviews or repeated bits, six hours of clips culled from the 45 episodes of “Flying Circus” mean that about 16.5 hours didn’t make the cut.

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Monty Python – The Meaning of Live (2014)

“Monty Python: The Meaning of Live”
Directors: Roger Graef and James Rogan
Producers: Jim Beach and Holly Gilliam
UK Premiere (TV): 13 November 2014 on UKTV Gold
Original Running Time: 1:30

A documentary commissioned by UKTV which also made the festival rounds, “Monty Python: The Meaning of Live” gives viewers unparalleled backstage access to the preparations and staging of the Pythons’ 2014 reunion at London’s O2 Arena. What is most revealing is the genial humor and affection of the Pythons and their thoughts about taking to the stage once again, as they reunite for their first live performance in 34 years.

Synopsis

Mixing interviews with candid videography taken in rehearsal halls and backstage at the O2, “The Meaning of Live” documents the Python reunion show from its November 2013 press conference announcement, through rehearsals, discussions over the script, music and costumes, and curtain-up on the 10 sold-out shows.

Much of the film is made up of interviews with the five Pythons, who discuss their temperaments and their comedic styles, their conflicted feelings about revisiting Python material, the absence of Graham Chapman, and the joys of performing together. Most evident is their exuberance once the fans show up by the thousands – in their seventies, the Pythons are like kids again.

We also see how some of the stage show’s effects were created (including Eric Idle’s dance with Carol Cleveland for the “Galaxy Song”), and the filming of professor Brian Cox’s inelegant run-in with Stephen Hawking for their cameo.

Also featured is rare footage from the Pythons’ earliest live performances, including their “First Farewell Tour” in 1973, and their Hollywood Bowl appearance in 1980 – the last occasion at which all six Pythons were on stage together.

Captured backstage, comedian Mike Myers – who was the Closing Night’s surprise guest on “Blackmail” – reveals his unabashed love of Python. As was evident by the audience’s reactions to the show, he wasn’t alone.

The Making of

Filming of the rehearsals was begun before UKTV Gold signed up for a feature-length documentary, to be co-produced by Python (Monty) Pictures Ltd., Films of Record, and Phil McIntyre Television. The Pythons brought on BAFTA Award-winning director Roger Graef, who had worked with the group on “Pleasure at Her Majesty’s” and other concert films from Amnesty International’s “Secret Policeman’s Ball” benefit shows.

Graef created a fly-on-the-wall view of the camaraderie of the group behind the scenes; the pressures of rehearsals; and their feelings about live performances since the early days of Python.

“The core story is known to everybody; this story is what they’re like [as people],” Graef told the Evening Standard. “Backstage as they gear themselves up to perform, they’re intense versions of themselves.”

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