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.
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.”