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.
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