Flying Circus
Flying Circus

Monty Python's Flying Circus
Monty Python’s Flying Circus is a British surreal sketch comedy series created by and starring the comedy group Monty Python, consisting of Graham Chapman

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British sketch comedy television series For other uses, see Monty Python's Flying Circus (disambiguation).

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Find sources: "Monty Python's Flying Circus" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (October 2009) (Learn how and when to remove this template message) Monty Python’s Flying CircusGenreSketch comedy
Surreal comedy
Black comedyCreated byGraham Chapman
John Cleese
Eric Idle
Terry Jones
Michael Palin
Terry GilliamWritten by Directed by StarringGraham Chapman
John Cleese (series 1-3)
Eric Idle
Terry Jones
Michael Palin
Terry Gilliam
Carol ClevelandOpening theme"The Liberty Bell" by John Philip SousaComposer(s)Neil Innes
Fred Tomlinson SingersCountry of originUnited KingdomNo. of series4No. of episodes45 (list of episodes)ProductionRunning timeapprox. 25–30 minutesReleaseOriginal networkBBC1 (1969–1973)
BBC2 (1974)Original release5 October 1969 (1969-10-05) –
5 December 1974 (1974-12-05)ChronologyFollowed byAnd Now for Something Completely DifferentExternal linksWebsite

Monty Python’s Flying Circus is a British surreal sketch comedy series created by and starring the comedy group Monty Python, consisting of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam, aka the "Pythons". The first episode was recorded at the BBC on 7 September and premiered on 5 October 1969 on BBC1, with 45 episodes airing over four series from 1969 to 1974, plus two episodes for German TV.

The series stands out for its use of absurd situations, mixed with risqué and innuendo-laden humour, sight gags and observational sketches without punchlines. Live action segments were broken up with animations by Gilliam, often merging with the live action to form segues. The overall format used for the series followed and elaborated upon the style used by Spike Milligan in his ground breaking series Q5, rather than the traditional sketch show format. The Pythons play the majority of the series characters themselves, along with supporting cast members including Carol Cleveland (referred to by the team as the unofficial "Seventh Python"), Connie Booth (Cleese's first wife), series producer Ian MacNaughton, Ian Davidson, musician Neil Innes, and Fred Tomlinson and the Fred Tomlinson Singers for musical numbers.[1][2]

The programme came about as the six Pythons, having met each other through university and in various radio and television programmes in the 1960s, sought to make a new sketch comedy show unlike anything else on British television at the time. Much of the humour in the series's various episodes and sketches targets the idiosyncrasies of British life, especially that of professionals, as well as aspects of politics. Their comedy is often pointedly intellectual, with numerous erudite references to philosophers and literary figures and their works. The team intended their humour to be impossible to categorise, and succeeded (although, by their perspective, failed) so completely that the adjective "Pythonesque" was invented to define it and, later, similar material. However, their humour was not always seen as appropriate for television by the BBC, leading to some censorship during the third series. Cleese left the show following that series, and the remaining Pythons completed a final shortened fourth season before ending the show.

The show became very popular in the United Kingdom, and after initially failing to draw an audience in the United States, gained American popularity after Public Broadcasting Service affiliates began airing the show in 1974. The success on both sides of the Atlantic led to the Pythons going on live tours and creating three additional films, while the individual Pythons flourished in solo careers. Monty Python's Flying Circus has become an influential work on comedy as well the ongoing popular culture.

Contents Premise

Monty Python's Flying Circus is a sketch comedy show, though does not adhere to any regular format. The sketches include live-action skits performed by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Terry Gilliam, along with animations created by Gilliam, frequently used as linking devices or interstitial between skits. The show's introductory theme, which varied with each series, was also based on Gilliam's animations, its theme music set to "The Liberty Bell" march by John Philip Sousa, and ending with a shot of the show's title before being crushed by a giant foot. Gilliam selected the rendition of the march performed by the Band of the Grenadier Guards, published in 1893,[3] as under the Berne Convention and United States copyright law, the work had fallen into the public domain, allowing them to avoid royalty payments.[4]


The title Monty Python's Flying Circus was partly the result of the group's reputation at the BBC. Michael Mills, the BBC's Head of Comedy, wanted their name to include the word "circus" because the BBC referred to the six members wandering around the building as a circus, in particular, "Baron Von Took's Circus", after Barry Took, who had brought them to the BBC.[5] The group added "flying" to make it sound less like an actual circus and more like something from World War I. The group was coming up with their name at a time when the 1966 Royal Guardsmen song Snoopy vs. the Red Baron had been at a peak. Freiherr Manfred von Richthofen, the World War I German flying ace known as The Red Baron, commanded the Jagdgeschwader 1 squadron of planes known as "The Flying Circus."

The words "Monty Python" were added because they claimed it sounded like a really bad theatrical agent, the sort of person who would have brought them together, with John Cleese suggesting "Python" as something slimy and slithery, and Eric Idle suggesting "Monty".[6] They later explained that the name Monty "...made us laugh because Monty to us means Lord Montgomery, our great general of the Second World War".[7]

The BBC had rejected some other names put forward by the group including Whither Canada?, The Nose Show, Ow! It's Colin Plint!, A Horse, a Spoon and a Basin, The Toad Elevating Moment and Owl Stretching Time.[6] Several of these titles were later used for individual episodes.

Recurring characters See also: List of recurring Monty Python's Flying Circus characters

Compared with many other sketch comedy shows, Flying Circus had fewer recurring characters, many of whom were involved only in titles and linking sequences. Continuity for many of these recurring characters was frequently non-existent from sketch to sketch, with sometimes even the most basic information (such as a character's name) being changed from one appearance to the next.

The most frequently returning characters on the show include:

Gumbys on parade

Other characters appearing multiple times include:

Other returning characters include a married couple, often mentioned but never seen, Ann Haydon-Jones and her husband Pip. In "Election Night Special", Pip has lost a political seat to Engelbert Humperdinck. Several recurring characters are played by different Pythons. Both Palin and Chapman played the insanely violent Police Constable Pan Am. Both Jones and Palin portrayed police sergeant Harry 'Snapper' Organs of Q division. Various historical figures were played by a different cast member in each appearance, such as Mozart (Cleese, then Palin), or Queen Victoria (Jones, then Palin, then all five Pythons in Series 4).

Some of the Pythons' real-life targets recurred more frequently than others. Reginald Maudling, a contemporary Conservative politician, was singled out for perhaps the most consistent ridicule.[10] Then-Secretary of State for Education and Science, and (well after the programme had ended) Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was occasionally mentioned, in particular referring to Thatcher's brain as being in her shin received a hearty laugh from the studio audience[citation needed]. Then-US President Richard Nixon was also frequently mocked, as was Conservative party leader Edward Heath, prime minister for much of the series' run. The British police were also a favourite target, often acting bizarrely, stupidly, or abusing their authority, frequently in drag.

Series overview Main article: List of Monty Python's Flying Circus episodes

There were a total of 45 episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus made across four series.

Series Episodes Originally aired First in the series Last in the series 1 13 5 October 1969 11 January 1970 2 13 15 September 1970 22 December 1970 3 13 19 October 1972 18 January 1973 4 6 31 October 1974 5 December 1974 Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus Main article: Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus

Two episodes were produced in German for WDR (Westdeutscher Rundfunk), both entitled Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus, the literal German translation of the English title. While visiting the UK in the early 1970s, German entertainer and TV producer Alfred Biolek caught notice of the Pythons. Excited by their innovative, absurd sketches, he invited them to Germany in 1971 and 1972 to write and act in two special German episodes.

The first episode, advertised as Monty Python’s Fliegender Zirkus: Blödeln für Deutschland ("Monty Python's Flying Circus: Clowning around for Germany"), was produced in 1971 and performed in German. The second episode, advertised as Monty Python’s Fliegender Zirkus: Blödeln auf die feine englische Art ("Monty Python's Flying Circus: Clowning around in the distinguished English way"), produced in 1972, was recorded in English and dubbed into German for its broadcast in Germany. The original English recording was transmitted by the BBC in October 1973.

Development See also: Monty Python

Prior to the show, the six main cast members had met each other as part of various comedy shows: Jones and Palin were members of The Oxford Revue, while Chapman, Cleese, and Idle were members of Cambridge University's Footlights, and while on tour in the United States, met Gilliam. In various capacities, the six worked on a number of different British radio and television comedy shows from 1964 to 1969 as both writers and on-screen roles. The six began to collaborate on ideas together, blending elements of their previous shows, to devise the premise of a new comedy show which presented a number of skits with minimal common elements, as if it were comedy presented by a stream of consciousness. This was aided through the use of Gilliam's animations to help transition skits from one to the next.[11]


Although there were few recurring characters, and the six cast members played many diverse roles, each perfected some character traits.


Graham Chapman often portrayed straight-faced men, of any age or class, frequently authority figures such as military officers, policemen or doctors. His characters could, at any moment, engage in "Pythonesque" maniacal behaviour and then return to their former sobriety.[12] He was also skilled in abuse, which he brusquely delivered in such sketches as "The Argument Clinic" and "Flying Lessons". He adopted a dignified demeanour as the leading "straight man" in the Python feature films Holy Grail (King Arthur) and Life of Brian (title character Brian).[13]


John Cleese played ridiculous authority figures. Gilliam claims that Cleese is the funniest of the Pythons in drag, as he barely needs to be dressed up to look hilarious, with his square chin and 6' 5" (196 cm) frame (see the "Mr. and Mrs. Git" sketch).[citation needed] Cleese also played intimidating maniacs, such as an instructor in the "Self Defence Against Fresh Fruit" sketch. His character Mr. Praline, the put-upon consumer, featured in some of the most popular sketches, most famously in "Dead Parrot".[14] One star turn that proved most memorable among Python fans was "The Ministry of Silly Walks", where he worked for the eponymous government department. The sketch displays the notably tall and loose-limbed Cleese's physicality in a variety of silly walks. Despite its popularity, particularly among American fans, Cleese himself particularly disliked the sketch, feeling that many of the laughs it generated were cheap and that no balance was provided by what could have been the true satirical centrepoint.[citation needed] Another of his trademarks is his over-the-top delivery of abuse, particularly his screaming "You bastard!"

Cleese often played foreigners with ridiculous accents, especially Frenchmen, most of the time with Palin. Sometimes this extended to the use of actual French or German (such as "The Funniest Joke in the World", "Hitler in Minehead", or "La Marche Futile" at the end of "The Ministry of Silly Walks"), but still with a very heavy accent (or impossible to understand, as for example Hitler's speech).

Gilliam The famous Python Foot can here be seen in its original format in the bottom left corner of "Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time" Close up of the foot

Many Python sketches were linked together by the cut-out animations of Terry Gilliam, including the opening titles featuring the iconic giant foot that became a symbol of all that was 'Pythonesque'.[15] Gilliam’s unique visual style was characterised by sudden, dramatic movements and deliberate mismatches of scale, set in surrealist landscapes populated by engravings of large buildings with elaborate architecture, grotesque Victorian gadgets, machinery, and people cut from old Sears Roebuck catalogues. Gilliam added airbrush illustrations and many famous pieces of art. All of these elements were combined in incongruous ways to obtain new and humorous meanings in the tradition of surrealist collage assemblies.[citation needed]

The surreal nature of the series allowed Gilliam’s animation to go off on bizarre, imaginative tangents. Some running gags derived from these animations were a giant hedgehog named Spiny Norman who appeared over the tops of buildings shouting, "Dinsdale!", further petrifying the paranoid Dinsdale Piranha; and The Foot of Cupid, the giant foot that suddenly squashed things. The latter is appropriated from the figure of Cupid in the Agnolo Bronzino painting "Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time".

Notable Gilliam sequences for the show include Conrad Poohs and his Dancing Teeth, the rampage of the cancerous black spot, The Killer Cars and a giant cat that stomps its way through London, destroying everything in its path.

Initially only hired to be the animator of the series, Gilliam was not thought of (even by himself) as an on-screen performer at first, being American and not very good at the deep and sometimes exaggerated English accent of his fellows. The others felt they owed him something and so he sometimes appeared before the camera, usually in the parts that no one else wanted to play, generally because they required a lot of make-up or involved uncomfortable costumes.[16] The most recurrent of these was The-Knight-Who-Hits-People-With-A-Chicken, a knight in armour who would walk on-set and hit another character on the head with a plucked chicken when they said something really corny. Some of Gilliam's other on-screen portrayals included:

Gilliam soon became distinguished as the go-to member for the most obscenely grotesque characters. This carried over into the Holy Grail film, where Gilliam played King Arthur's hunchbacked page 'Patsy' and the bridgekeeper at the Bridge of Death. It has also been claimed that he was originally asked by Terry Jones to play Mr. Creosote in The Meaning of Life, but turned it down.


Eric Idle is known for his roles as a cheeky, suggestive playboy ("Nudge Nudge"), a variety of pretentious television presenters (such as his over-the-top portrayal of Philip Jenkinson in the segments connecting the "Cheese Shop" and "Salad Days" sketches), a crafty, slick salesman ("Door-to-Door Joke Salesman", "Encyclopedia Salesman") and the merchant who loves to haggle in Monty Python’s Life of Brian. He is acknowledged as 'the master of the one-liner' by the other Pythons.[17] He is also considered the best singer/songwriter in the group; for example, he wrote and performed "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from The Life of Brian.[18] Unlike Jones, he often played female characters in a more straightforward way, only altering his voice slightly, as opposed to the falsetto shrieking used by the others. Several times, Idle appeared as upper-class, middle-aged women, such as Rita Fairbanks ("Reenactment of the Battle of Pearl Harbor") and the sexually-repressed Protestant wife in the "Every Sperm is Sacred" sketch, in The Meaning of Life.

Because he was not from an already-established writing partnership prior to Python, Idle wrote his sketches alone.[19]


Although all of the Pythons played women, Terry Jones is renowned by the rest to be 'the best Rat-Bag woman in the business'.[citation needed] His portrayal of a middle-aged housewife was louder, shriller, and more dishevelled than that of any of the other Pythons. Examples of this are the "Dead Bishop" sketch, his role as Brian's mother Mandy in Life of Brian, Mrs Linda S-C-U-M in "Mr Neutron" and the café proprietor in "Spam". Also recurring was the upper-class reserved men, in "Nudge, Nudge" and the "It's a Man's Life" sketch, and incompetent authority figures (Harry "Snapper" Organs). He also played the iconic Nude Organist that introduced all of series three. Generally, he deferred to the others as a performer, but proved himself behind the scenes, where he would eventually end up pulling most of the strings.[citation needed] Jones also portrayed the tobacconist in the "Hungarian translation sketch" and the enormously fat and bucket vomiting Mr. Creosote in Meaning of Life.


Michael Palin was regarded by the other members of the troupe as the one with the widest range, equally adept as a straight man or wildly over the top character.[citation needed] He portrayed many working-class northerners, often portrayed in a disgusting light: "The Funniest Joke in the World" sketch and the "Every Sperm Is Sacred" segment of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. In contrast, Palin also played weak-willed, put-upon men such as the husband in the "Marriage Guidance Counsellor" sketch, or the boring accountant in the "Vocational Guidance Counsellor" sketch. He was equally at home as the indefatigable Cardinal Ximinez of Spain in "The Spanish Inquisition" sketch. Another high-energy character that Palin portrays is the slick TV show host, constantly smacking his lips together and generally being over-enthusiastic ("Blackmail" sketch). In one sketch, he plays the role with an underlying hint of self-revulsion, where he wipes his oily palms on his jacket, makes a disgusted face, then continues. One of his most famous creations[citation needed] was the shopkeeper who attempts to sell useless goods by very weak attempts at being sly and crafty, which are invariably spotted by the customer (often played by Cleese), as in the "Dead Parrot" and "Cheese Shop" sketches. Palin is also well known for his leading role in "The Lumberjack Song".

Palin also often plays heavy-accented foreigners, mostly French ("La marche futile") or German ("Hitler in Minehead"), usually alongside Cleese. In one of the last episodes, he delivers a full speech, first in English, then in French, then in heavily accented German.

Of all the Pythons, Palin played the fewest female roles.[citation needed] Among his portrayals of women are Queen Victoria in the "Michael Ellis" episode, Debbie Katzenberg the American in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, a rural idiot's wife in the "Idiot in rural society" sketch, and an implausible English housewife who is married to Jean-Paul Sartre.


The production team was headed by Ian MacNaughton. Other regular team members included Hazel Pethig (costumes), Madelaine Gaffney (makeup) and John Horton (video effects designer). Maggie Weston, who worked on both makeup and design, married Gilliam in 1973 and they are still together. The series was primarily filmed in London studios and nearby locations, although location shooting to take in beaches and villages included filming in Somerset and Norwich.

Pre-production of the series had started by April 1969. Documents from the BBC showed that the viability of the show had been threatened around this time when Cleese reminded the BBC that he was still under contract from David Frost's David Paradine Productions, who wanted to co-produce the show. The BBC memos indicated the potential of holding off the show until 1971, when Cleese's contract with Paradine expired, but ultimately the situation was resolved, though the details of these negotiations have been lost.[20]

Broadcast Original broadcast

The first episode aired on the BBC on Sunday, 5 October 1969, at 10:50 p.m.[20] The BBC had to assure some of its workers from striking who thought the show was replacing a late-night religious devotional show by asserting it was using the alternative programming to give clergymen time off on their busiest day.[20] The first episode did not fare well in terms of audience, capturing only about 3% of the total UK population, roughly 1.5 million, compared to Dad's Army that had 22% on the Thursday of that same week. In addition to the lowest audience figures for shows during that week, the first episode has had the lowest Appreciation Index for any of the BBC's light entertainment programmes.[21][20] While public reception improved over the course of the first series, BBC executives had already had acquired a bad taste for the show, with some BBC documents describing the show as "disgusting and nihilistic".[21] Some within the BBC had been more upbeat on how the first series worked out and congratulated the group by the end of the first series, but the larger dislike for the show had already made an impact on the troupe, as Cleese expressed that he would not likely continue to participate after making the second series.[21] Separately, the BBC had to re-edit several of the first series' episodes to remove the personal address and phone number for David Frost that the troupe had included in some sketches.[22]

The second series, while more popular than the first, further stressed the relations between the troupe and the BBC. Two of the sketches from the series finale "Royal Episode 13" were called out by BBC executives in a December 1970 meeting: "The Queen Will be Watching" which the troupe mocks the UK national anthem, and the "Undertakers sketch" which took a comedic turn on how to dispose of the body of a loved one.[21][22] The BBC executives criticised producer MacNaughton for not alerting them to the content prior to airing.[22] According to Palin via his published diary, the BBC started to censor the program within the third series following this.[22]

Cleese remained for the third season but left afterwards. Cleese cited that he was no longer interested in the show, believing most of the material was rehashes of prior skits.[23] He also found it more difficult to work with Chapman who was struggling with alcoholism at the time.[24] The remaining Pythons continued to produce a shortened fourth series with only six episodes before deciding to end the show, with the final episode broadcast on 5 December 1974.

Lost sketches

The first cut that the BBC forced on the show was the removal of David Frost's phone number from re-airings of episode 102 in the sketch "The Mouse Problem". The Pythons had slipped in a real contact number for David Frost to the initial airing, which resulted in numerous viewers bothering him.

Some material originally recorded went missing later, such as the use of the word "masturbating" in the "Summarize Proust" sketch (which was muted during the first airing, and later cut out entirely) or "What a silly bunt" in the Travel Agent sketch (which featured a character who has a speech impediment that makes him pronounce "C"s as "B"s),[25] which was cut before the sketch ever went to air. However, when this sketch was included in the album Monty Python's Previous Record and the Live at the Hollywood Bowl film, the line remained intact. Both sketches were included in the Danish DR K re-airing of all episodes ("Episode 31", aired 1 November 2018, 6:50 pm).[26]

Some sketches were deleted in their entirety and later recovered. One such sketch is the "Party Political Broadcast (Choreographed)", where a Conservative Party spokesman (Cleese) delivers a party political broadcast before getting up and dancing, being coached by a choreographer (Idle), and being joined by a chorus of spokesmen dancing behind him. The camera passes two Labour Party spokesmen practising ballet, and an animation featuring Edward Heath in a tutu. Once deemed lost, a home-recorded tape of this sketch, captured from a broadcast from Buffalo, New York PBS outlet WNED-TV, turned up on YouTube in 2008.[27] Another high-quality recording of this sketch, broadcast on WTTW in Chicago, has also turned up on YouTube.[28] The Buffalo version can be seen as an extra on the new Region 2/4 eight-disc The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus DVD set.[citation needed] The Region 1 DVD of Before The Flying Circus, which is included in The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus Collector's Edition Megaset and Monty Python: The Other British Invasion, also contains the Buffalo version as an extra.[29]

Another lost sketch is the "Satan" animation following the "Crackpot Religion" piece and the "Cartoon Religion Ltd" animation, and preceding the "How Not To Be Seen" sketch: this had been edited out of the official tape. Six frames of the animation can be seen at the end of the episode, wherein that particular episode is repeated in fast-forward. A black and white 16 mm film print has since turned up (found by a private film collector in the US) showing the animation in its entirety.

At least two references to cancer were censored, both during the second series. In the sixth episode ("It's A Living" or "School Prizes"), Carol Cleveland's narration of a Gilliam cartoon suddenly has a male voice dub 'gangrene' over the word cancer (although the word 'cancer' was used unedited when the animation appeared in the movie And Now for Something Completely Different, the 2006 special Terry Gilliam's Personal Best used this audio to restore the censored line). Another reference was removed from the sketch "Conquistador Coffee Campaign", in the eleventh episode "How Not to Be Seen", although a reference to leprosy remained intact. This line has also been recovered from the same 16 mm film print as the above-mentioned "Satan" animation.

A sketch from Episode 7 of Series 2 (subtitled 'The Attila the Hun Show') featured a parody of Michael Miles, the 1960s TV game show host (played by Cleese), and was introduced as 'Spot The Braincell'. This sketch was deleted shortly afterwards from a repeat broadcast as a mark of respect following Miles' death in February 1971. Also, the controversial "Undertaker" sketch from Episode 13 of the same series was removed by the BBC after negative reviewer response. Both of these sketches have been restored to the official tapes, although the only source for the Undertaker sketch was an NTSC copy of the episode, duplicated before the cut had been made.

Animation in episode 9 of series 3 was cut out following the initial broadcast. The animation was a parody of a German commercial, and the original owners complained about the music use, so the BBC simply removed part of the animation, and replaced the music with a song from a Python album. Terry Gilliam later complained about the cut, thinking it was because producer Ian McNaughton "just didn't get what it was and he cut it. That was a big mistake."[30]

Music copyright issues have resulted in at least two cuts. In episode 209, Graham Chapman as a Pepperpot sings "The Girl from Ipanema", but some versions use "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair", which is public domain. In the bus conductor sketch in episode 312, a brief parody of "Tonight" from West Side Story has been removed from recent releases. There have also been reports of substituting different performances of classical music in some uses, presumably because of performance royalties.

A Region 2 DVD release of Series 1–4 was released by Sony in 2007. This included certain things which had been cut from the US A&E releases, including the "masturbation" line, but failed to reinstate most of the long-lost sketches and edits. A Blu-ray release of the series featuring every episode restored to its original uncut broadcast length was released by Network for the show's 50th anniversary in 2019.[31]

American television

At the time of the original broadcasting of Monty Python in the United Kingdom, the BBC used Time-Life Television to distribute its shows in the United States. For Monty Python, Time-Life had been concerned that the show was "too British" in its humour to reach American audiences, and did not opt to bring the programme across.[32] Additionally, the Python's first film, And Now for Something Completely Different, a selection of skits from the show released in the UK in 1971 and in the United States in 1972, did not fare well with American audiences.[32] During their first North American tour in 1973, the Pythons performed twice on US television, firstly on The Tonight Show, hosted by Joey Bishop, and then on The Midnight Special. The group spoke of how badly the first appearance went down with the audience; Idle described The Tonight Show performance: "We did thirty minutes in fifteen minutes to no laughs whatsoever. We ran out onto the green grass in Burbank and we lay down and laughed for 15 minutes because it was the funniest thing ever. In America they didn’t know what on earth we were talking about."[33]

Despite the poor reception on their live appearances on American television, the Pythons' American manager, Nancy Lewis, began to push the show herself into the States. In 1974, the PBS station KERA in Dallas was the first television station in the United States to broadcast episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus, and is often credited with introducing the programme to American audiences.[34] Many other PBS stations acquired the show, and by 1975, was often the most popular show on these stations.[32] And Now for Something Completely Different was re-released to American theaters in 1974 and had a much better box office take that time. That would also set the stage for the Pythons' next film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, released near simultaneously in the UK and the United States in April 1975, to also perform well in American theaters.[33][35] The popularity of Monty Python's Flying Circus helped to open the door for other British television series to make their way into the United States via PBS.[36]

With the rise in American popularity, the ABC network acquired rights to show select episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus in their Wide World of Entertainment showcase in mid 1975. However, ABC re-edited the episodes, thus losing the continuity and flow intended in the originals. When ABC refused to stop treating the series in this way, the Pythons took them to court. Initially the court ruled that their artistic rights had indeed been violated, but it refused to stop the ABC broadcasts. However, on appeal the team gained control over all subsequent US broadcasts of its programmes.[37][32] The case also led to their gaining the rights from the BBC, once their original contracts ended at the end of 1980.

The show also aired on MTV in 1988, during the network's infancy;[38] Monty Python was part of a two-hour comedy block on Sunday nights that also included another BBC series, Pebble Mill At One.

In April 2006, Monty Python's Flying Circus returned to non-cable American television on PBS. In connection with this, PBS commissioned Monty Python's Personal Best, a six-episode series featuring each Python’s favourite sketches, plus a tribute to Chapman, who died in 1989. BBC America has aired the series on a sporadic basis since the mid-2000s, in an extended 40-minute time slot in order to include commercials. IFC acquired the rights to the show in 2009, though not exclusive, as BBC America still airs occasional episodes of the show. IFC also presented a six-part documentary Monty Python: Almost the Truth (The Lawyers Cut), produced by Terry Jones' son Bill.

Subsequent projects Main articles: Monty Python § Life beyond the Flying Circus, and List of Monty Python projects Live shows with original cast

The members of Monty Python embarked on a series of stage shows during and after the television series. These mostly consisted of sketches from the series, though they also revived material which predated it. One such sketch was the Four Yorkshiremen sketch, written by Cleese and Chapman with Marty Feldman and Tim Brooke-Taylor, and originally performed for At Last the 1948 Show; the sketch subsequently became part of the live Python repertoire. The shows also included songs from collaborator Neil Innes.

Recordings of four of these stage shows have subsequently appeared as separate works:

  1. Monty Python Live at Drury Lane (aka Monty Python Live at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane), released in the UK in 1974 as their fifth record album
  2. Monty Python Live at City Center, performed in New York City and released as a record in 1976 in the US
  3. Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl, recorded in Los Angeles in 1980 and released as a film in 1982
  4. Monty Python Live (Mostly): One Down, Five to Go, the troupe's reunion / farewell show, ran for 10 shows at The O2 Arena in London in July 2014. The final performance on 20 July was live streamed to cinemas worldwide. A re-edited version was later released on Blu-ray, DVD and double Compact Disc; the CD version is exclusive to the deluxe version of the release which contains all 3 formats on four discs housed in a 60-page hardback book.

Graham Chapman and Michael Palin also performed on stage at the Knebworth Festival in 1975 with Pink Floyd.[39]

French adaptation

In 2005, a troupe of actors headed by Rémy Renoux, translated and "adapted" a stage version of Monty Python’s Flying Circus into French. Usually the original actors defend their material very closely, but given in this case the "adaptation" and also the translation into French (with subtitles), the group supported this production. The adapted material sticks close to the original text, mainly deviating when it comes to ending a sketch, something the Python members themselves changed many times over the course of their stage performances.[40][41] Language differences also occur in the lyrics of several songs. For example, "Sit on My Face" (which translated into French would be "Asseyez-vous sur mon visage") becomes "cum in my mouth".[42]

Reception Awards and honours Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result 1970 BAFTA TV Award Special Award Monty Python's Flying Circus
For the production, writing and performances. Won Terry Gilliam
For the graphics. Won Best Light Entertainment John Howard Davies
Ian MacNaughton Nominated Best Light Entertainment Personality John Cleese Nominated Best Script Writing Team Nominated 1971 Best Light Entertainment Performance John Cleese Nominated Best Light Entertainment Production Ian MacNaughton Nominated 1973 Best Light Entertainment Performance Monty Python Nominated Best Light Entertainment Programme Ian MacNaughton Won 1975 Best Light Entertainment Programme Ian MacNaughton Nominated 2008 Online Film & Television Association Awards OFTA TV Hall of Fame Monty Python's Flying Circus Won

Monty Python's Flying Circus placed fifth on a list of the BFI TV 100, drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, and voted for by industry professionals.

Time magazine included the show on its 2007 list of the "100 Best TV Shows of All Time".[43]

In a list of the 50 Greatest British Sketches released by Channel 4 in 2005, five Monty Python sketches made the list:[44]

In 2004[45] and 2007, Monty Python's Flying Circus was ranked #5 and #6 on TV Guide's Top Cult Shows Ever.[46]

In 2013, the programme was ranked #58 on TV Guide's list of the 60 Best Series of All Time.[47]

Legacy Main article: Monty Python § Cultural influence and legacy

Douglas Adams, creator of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and co-writer of the "Patient Abuse" sketch, once said "I loved Monty Python's Flying Circus. For years I wanted to be John Cleese, I was most disappointed when I found out the job had been taken."[48]

Lorne Michaels counts the show as a major influence on his Saturday Night Live sketches.[49] Cleese and Palin re-enacted the Dead Parrot sketch on SNL in 1997.

The show was a major influence on the Danish cult sketch show Casper & Mandrilaftalen (1999)[50] and Cleese starred in its 50th episode.[51][52]

In computing, the terms spam and the Python programming language,[53] are both derived from the series.

As of 2013, questions concerning the Pythons' most famous sketches are incorporated in the examinations required of those seeking to become British citizens.[54][unreliable source?]

Transnational themes

The overall humour of Monty Python's Flying Circus is built on an inherent Britishness; it is “based on observations of British life, society, and institutions”.[55] However, part of this focus is achieved through seeing the ‘other’ through a British lens.[55][56] The often “excessive generalization and utterly banal stereotypes” can be seen as a persiflage of the views held by the British public, rather than poking fun at the cultures that were depicted.[55]

For example, while American culture is not often in the foreground in many sketches, it is rather a frequent side note in many skits. Almost all of the 45 episodes produced for the BBC contain a reference to Americans or American culture, with 230 references total, resulting in approximately five references per show, but increasing over the course of the show.[56] In total, 140 references to the American entertainment industry are made. Entertainment tropes, such as Westerns, Film noir and Hollywood are referenced 39 times. Further, there are 12 references to arts and literature, 15 to US politics, 5 to the American military, 7 to US historical events, 12 to locations in the US, 7 to space and science fiction, 21 economic references, such as brands like Pan-Am, Time-Life, and Spam, and 8 sports references. Some references do double count in various categories.[56] It is also notable that American music is regularly heard in the show, such as the theme to the television series Dr. Kildare, but most prominently the show's theme tune (The Liberty Bell by John Philip Sousa).

While American entertainment was a pervasive cultural influence in Britain[56] at the time of the production of the series, not all references to American culture can be seen as conscious decisions. For example, Terry Jones did not know that Spam was an American product at the time he wrote the sketch.[56] Kevin Kern summarises in his analysis of references to the US 'that portrayals of American themes reflected three broad responses to American hegemony: 1) minor or passing references to specific individuals, events, or products of American culture, 2) American cultural tropes used to serve a general comedic purpose, and 3) satire aimed at American targets, specifically US economic power, the crassness or banality of American culture, or American violence and militarism'.[56] However, Kern does not see this as exhibiting anti-American tendencies, but as 'a natural extension of the Pythons’ frequent (…) satirical focus on vulgarity, banality, violence, and militarism in the United Kingdom (…)' [56]

See also References


  1. ^ "Fred Tomlinson, singer on Monty Python – obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 2 August 2016. Retrieved 15 August cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output .citation q{quotes:"\"""\"""'""'"}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-free a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-free a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .id-lock-registration a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-registration a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-subscription a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-subscription a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:inherit;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{display:none;color:#33aa33;margin-left:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration,.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}
  2. ^ Slotnik, Daniel E. (4 August 2016). "Fred Tomlinson, Singer Who Led a 'Monty Python' Troupe, Dies at 88". New York Times. Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  3. ^ All Music Guide to Classical Music: The Definitive Guide to Classical Music. San Francisco, CA: Backbeat Books, 2005. Retrieved February 11, 2018
  4. ^ Clark, Philip. "Monty Python: Sousa, two-sheds and musical subversions," The Guardian, Friday, July 11, 2014. Retrieved February 12, 2018
  5. ^ The term flying circus first being applied to Baron von Richthofen's Jagdgeschwader 1
  6. ^ a b Palin, Michael (2008). Diaries 1969–1979 : the Python Years / Michael Palin. Griffin. p. 650. ISBN 978-0-312-38488-3.
  7. ^ "Live At Aspen". Retrieved 10 January 2013.
  8. ^ Larsen 2008, p. 13.
  9. ^ Larsen 2008, p. 292.
  10. ^ Larsen 2008, p. 288.
  11. ^ "Terry Gilliam Reveals the Secrets of Monty Python Animations: A 1974 How-To Guide". Open Culture. Retrieved 18 August 2019.
  12. ^ Sketches "An Appeal from the Vicar of St. Loony-up-the-Cream-Bun-and-Jam", "The One-Man Wrestling Match", "Johann Gambolputty..." and "Argument Clinic"
  13. ^ Zack Handlen (2011). If You Like Monty Python...: Here Are Over 200 Movies, TV Shows and Other Oddities That You Will Love. Limelight Editions. ISBN 9780879104320.
  14. ^ Chapman, Graham; Cleese, John; Gilliam, Terry; Idle, Eric; Jones, Terry; Palin, Michael (1989). Wilmut, Roger (ed.). The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus: All the Words, Volume One. New York, New York: Pantheon Books. p. 320 (Appendix). ISBN 0-679-72647-0.
  15. ^ Sean Adams (2017). The Designer's Dictionary of Color. Abrams. p. 104. ISBN 9781683350026.
  16. ^ Terry Gilliam (2004). David Sterritt, Lucille Rhodes (ed.). Terry Gilliam: Interviews (illustrated ed.). Univ. Press of Mississippi. p. 80. ISBN 9781578066247.
  17. ^ Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones (2005). Bob McCabe (ed.). The Pythons: Autobiography (illustrated ed.). Macmillan. p. 14. ISBN 9780312311452.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  18. ^ Palin, Michael (2006). Diaries 1969–1979: The Python Years. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. p. 473.
  19. ^ Bill Cooke (2006). Dictionary of Atheism, Skepticism, and Humanism. Prometheus Books. p. 349. ISBN 9781615923656.
  20. ^ a b c d Lawson, Mark (7 October 2019). "Monty Python: BBC archive reveals the secrets behind the sketches". The Irish Times. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  21. ^ a b c d Verkaik, Robert (1 June 2009). "BBC bosses almost lost faith in 'disgusting' Monty Python". The Independent. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  22. ^ a b c d Hastings, Chris (10 December 2006). "What the BBC really thought of Monty Python". The Telegraph. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  23. ^ The Pythons Autobiography by the Pythons—Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, John Chapman, David Sherlock, Bob McCabe—Thomas Dunne Books; Orion, 2003
  24. ^ Richard Ouzounian, "Python still has legs", Toronto Star, 16 July 2006
  25. ^ "Travel Agent / Watney's Red Barrell". Archived from the original on 24 September 2009. Retrieved 13 July 2009.
  26. ^ "Monty Python's Flying Circus (27)".
  27. ^ Monty Python (18 December 1971). "Monty Python - political choreographer". Spiny Norman. Retrieved 17 June 2013.
  28. ^ Monty Python (18 December 1971). "Lost Sketch- Choreographed Party Political Broadcast from WTTW-11". Lost Sketch- Choreographed Party Political Broadcast - Monty Python's Flying Circus WTTW Channel. MontyPythoNET. Retrieved 23 January 2012.
  29. ^ "DVD Talk Review: The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus - Collectors Edition Megaset". 18 November 2008.
  30. ^ "Edit News: Monty Python's Flying Circus". Some Of The Corpses Are Amusing.
  31. ^ "Monty Python's Flying Circus".
  32. ^ a b c d
  33. ^ a b Teodorczuk, Tom. "John Oliver Hears Monty Python's Many Secrets". TheDailyBeast. The Daily Beast Company LLC. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  34. ^ Peppard, Alan (25 August 2011). "Alan Peppard: Bob Wilson hailed in KERA documentary". The Dallas Morning News. Archived from the original on 19 May 2014. Retrieved 25 January 2013.
  35. ^
  36. ^ David Stewart; David C. Stewart (May 1999). The PBS companion: a history of public television. TV Books. p. 216. ISBN 978-1-57500-050-3. Retrieved 29 September 2010.
  37. ^ Monty Python, v. American Broadcasting Companies, Inc., 538 F.2d 14 (2d Cir 1976)
  38. ^ MTV Monty Python Warning. YouTube. 31 May 2007.
  39. ^ Monty Pythons Flying Circus. | Vintagerock's Weblog.
  40. ^ Thomas, Rebecca (3 August 2003). "Monty Python learns French". BBC Online News. BBC. Archived from the original on 6 August 2003. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
  41. ^ Davis, Clive (31 January 2005). "Monty Python's Flying Circus – At Last, in French". The Times Online. Retrieved 4 January 2010.
  42. ^ Logan, Brian (4 August 2003). "Ce perroquet est mort: Monty Python in French? Brian Logan meets the team behind a world first". The Times. London. p. 18. Accessed through ProQuest, 1 March 2012.
  43. ^ "The 100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME". TIME. 6 September 2007. Retrieved 14 July 2009.
  44. ^ "Channel 4's 50 Greatest Comedy Sketches". Archived from the original on 27 June 2009. Retrieved 14 July 2009.
  45. ^ "25 Top Cult Shows Ever!". TV Guide Magazine Group. 30 May 2004.
  46. ^ TV Guide Names the Top Cult Shows Ever - Today's News: Our Take TV Guide: 29 June 2007
  47. ^ "TV Guide Magazine's 60 Best Series of All Time". TV Guide. 23 December 2013.
  48. ^ "Douglas Adams - Biography - IMdb".
  49. ^ "Lorne Michaels - Biography - IMDb".
  50. ^ Hansen, Helle Kastholm (2 April 2017). "LARS HJORTSHØJ: Mine børn sætter mig på plads". Ekstra Bladet (in Danish). JP/Politikens Hus. p. 16 (4th section). Archived from the original on 1 May 2017.
  51. ^ "Casper & mandrilaftalen". Casper & Mandrilaftalen (DK, 1999). Archived from the original on October 7, 2017.
  52. ^ "K'nyt: Cleese i Mandrillen". Dagbladet Information (in Danish). 4 September 1999. p. 9 (1st section). I aftes, fredag, optrådte den store engelske komiker John Cleese som gæst i 'Casper og Mandrilaftalen'.
  53. ^ "General Python FAQ — Python 2.7.10 documentation".
  54. ^ "Weird but true". New York Post. 28 January 2013. Retrieved 24 July 2013.
  55. ^ a b c Dobrogoszcz, Tomasz (2014). Dobrogoszcz, Tomasz (ed.). The British Look Abroad: Monty Python and the Foreign. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.
  56. ^ a b c d e f g Kern, Kevin F. (2014). Dobrogoszcz, Tomasz (ed.). Twentieth-Century Vole, Mr. Neutron, and Spam: Portrayals of American Culture in the Work of Monty Python. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.
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