“scored 2 in games / watched monty pythons flying circus”
Bend it like….erm…. Teenage Rock Opera!
It was about now that I really started to get into Monty Python in a big way, dedicating my Thursday evenings to being glued to the TV set and what I think were the BBC repeats of the show.
I believe it’s difficult for younger generations to fully comprehend the impact that Python made back in the seventies. As countless other people have commented over the years, they really were to comedy what The Beatles were to music. There is just so much comedy about nowadays that would not exist if it weren’t for the early stylings of Messrs Cleese, Jones, Palin, Chapman, Idle and Gilliam.
It’s only my opinion of course, but – having (again) watched several BBC America repeats lately – I personally don’t think the TV episodes have stood the test of time very well. I much prefer the movies such as “Life of Brian” and “Monty Python & The Holy Grail“, mainly because they seem FAR less of a curate’s egg.
For die-hard Python fans I know that will be considered a sacrilegious viewpoint, but it’s something I can’t lie about.
However, back in 1972 I’m not sure I could have said even the vaguest bad thing about Monty Python. “Obsessed” is, perhaps, an understatement for how I was?
Sure there were some sketches I didn’t laugh at – some I’ll admit I was too young to properly understand at the time – but then something like election candidate “Tarquin Fin-tim-lin-bin-whin-bim-lim-bus-stop-F’tang-F’tang-Olé-Biscuitbarrel“, Bicycle Repair Man, the Architect sketch, the Spanish Inquisition, Spam, Bruce, Nudge Nudge Wink Wink and countless other crazy moments would come along and provide me with my quotable material for the next week or more.
I’ve hung onto quotes from Python all my life, and every so often my brain will mysteriously unveil one previously forgotten and I’ll recite an entire sketch – or at least some dialogue – verbatim.
I can say without a shadow of a doubt that – along with the likes of Spike Milligan, The Goons, Tony Hancock and The Goodies – I owe my own anarchic sense of humour to the Python crew. So they’re the ones to blame really.
The interim years have seen mixed fortunes for the Pythons.
Michael Palin was head and shoulders my favourite Python – maybe because he always had the best lines, or the ones which I found the most funny? – so I was as pleased as anyone with the success of his mid-life traveling series like “Around the World in 80 Days” etc. Just as in various interviews, these showed him coming across as a “genuine bloke”… if that makes sense?
John Cleese surpassed his Python days with the timeless and irrefutably hilarious “Fawlty Towers“, in itself another deeply influential TV comedy series. (Although why co-writer Connie Booth has never been given the proper credit for her contribution is anyone’s guess). In contrast to his writing skills however, Cleese always seems to come across as something of an angry bitter man, full of demons. I’ve also heard rumours that he also a bit of a git to work with, always miserable, etc and FAR too serious That seems a shame for a man who gave us so much humour – but isn’t that often the case where a comic’s best work is always on the outside?
Graham Chapman – always the most nervous-looking Python – sadly left us in 1989, following a losing battle against a rare form of spinal cancer. His funeral service (link NSFW or kids) was as fabulously irreverent as you – and he – would expect.
Terry (“Mr Creosote”) Jones appears to have spent his post-Python years with a pen in his hands, co-writing other quality comedy series like “Ripping Yarns“, as well as authoring books, magazine and newspaper articles. He’s done some historical documentaries for TV, and got to do his own fair share of film directing (Erik the Viking etc). Many consider him to be very much be the “philosophical one” of the troupe, responsible for many of the more esoteric and ‘educational’ skits. It was probably his skits that I failed to fully grasp. Rumour (sadly) has it he too has been fighting cancer recently.
I hate to say it, but Eric Idle has always irritated me. He was my least-liked Python back in the 70’s and he’s certainly my least-liked now. (I try to conveniently ignore his genius of parody with the sublime “Rutles” project, always referring to it as being written by Neil Innes) I have always felt Idle to be a little too ‘smug’, a little too ‘full of himself’ and the one apparently most involved with somehow undermining the Python legacy, his latest attempt being the theatrical musical “Spamalot“… which – to me at least – just seems to stretch a joke a tad too far… if that’s possible?
However, having said all that, he is TOTALLY redeemed thanks to one major musical contribution. That contribution being the song at the end of “Life of Brian”, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life“. It is such a beautiful mix of pathos and comedy that I’ve actually considered asking to have it aired at my own funeral, the only thing putting me off is that it has now become something of a “funeral cliché”. Well, that, and the fact that my wife doesn’t care for whistling very much.
Animator Terry Gilliam has gone on to be a film director of considerable acclaim with classics like “Brazil“, “The Fisher King” and “Time Bandits” assuring him of a place in film, as well as comedy, history. (Let’s not mention “The Brothers Grimm” shall we?). I wonder if he’ll ever shake off the tag of being Python’s “cartoon man” though?