There are many things that come to mind when a person from any part of the world hears about England. Many people think about the Royal Family, Big Ben, our food and architecture, or the long and interesting history of the Empire. But British Humour is probably the most distinguishable trait of our people. If there is a true epitome of this particular thing, this should be Monty Python. This surreal comedy group was created in the 1960s and rose to prominence with the Monty Python Flying Circus – a TV series which started in 1969 and went on for 45 episodes over four series. Over the years the comedy sketches written and performed by the Pythons have become part of popular culture and the group’s members – some of the most influential comedians in the world.
The origins of the legend
The original, or founding members of Monty Python are as follows:
- Graham Chapman
- Eric Idle
- Terry Gilliam
- Terry Jones
- John Cleese
- Michael Palin
Jones and Palin were actually the first two Pythons to meet and work together. This was before the Flying Circus Era, when they performed side by side with the Oxford Revue. Chapman and Cleese, on the other side, were both students at Cambridge University, where they actually met. Idle studied at the same place, but he enrolled a year after Chapman and Cleese already left. Terry Gilliam, the American Python, met with Cleese in New York. In some way or another all original members knew each other, and worked together writing and performing in stage and TV productions. There are some 10 series that credit one or two members of Monty Python as regular contributors before the creation of the Flying Circus. It was not until the success of Do Not Adjust Your Set, a pretty innovative tea-time children’s programme that ITV actually offered Gilliam, Idle, Jones, and Palin to create their own late-night TV series. Chapman and Cleese on the other hand worked on the Frost Report and At Last the 1948 Show, which led the BBC to offer them their own show. It was Cleese who had worked previously with Palin and offered him to collaborate on the new material. ITV could not offer a studio to Palin & co until the summer of 1970, which led the latter to take Cleese’s offer seriously. He brought his own partners along, which actually led to the creation of the core Monty Python group. Many critics, historians and fans put a great emphasis on the fact that it was Cleese’s desire to work with Palin that led to the creation on one of the greatest phenomena in British culture in the second half of the 20th century.
The Flying Circus
It is said that straight from the beginning the Pythons knew exactly what type of show they are willing to make. All of them were great fans of the work of Peter Cook, Alan Bennett, Jonathan Miller, and Dudley Moore on Beyond the Fringe, and some of them worked on Frost, which was similar in style and concept. They got together at 9 am each day and worked until 5 am. Cleese and Chapman usually formed one group, Jones and Palin another and Idle preferred to work alone. Gilliam was in charge of the animation, and he was not involved in the actual writing process. We would instead come after several days of work on the scripts, read everything along with the rest of the group, and then critique and re-writes were in order.
In addition to the humour and the absurd of the stories being told, the Monty Python Flying Circus is credited for being among the most innovative shows of its era. For example, they made a tradition out of using the cold open – when the episode starts without any credits – in many occasion the credits appeared once the show had already reached the middle. Another thing that created the unique character of the Flying Circus was that none of the members of the group particularly liked punch-lines, which is why the majority of the sketches end abruptly, cutting directly to the next one. The surreal, collage stop motion animations of Terry Gilliam were also considered to be quite innovative.
List of Monty Python Productions
Over the years there have been countless products created under the banner of Monty Python – from TV series and films to theatre shows, books and video games. Here we will concentrate on several of the best known and loved categories: