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Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-74)

Courtesy of Python (Monty) Pictures Ltd

Main image of Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-74)
BBC, 5/10/1969-5/12/1974
45 x 30min episodes in 4 series, colour
ProducerJohn Howard Davies
ProducerIan MacNaughton
ScriptGraham Chapman
 John Cleese
 Terry Gilliam
 Eric Idle
 Terry Jones
 Michael Palin
AnimationTerry Gilliam

Cast: Graham Chapman; John Cleese; Eric Idle; Terry Jones; Michael Palin; Terry Gilliam; Carol Cleveland;

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A world of dead parrots and cheese shops, silly walks and unexpected visits from the Spanish Inquisition.

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Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and, later, Terry Gilliam were collaborators on Do Not Adjust Your Set (ITV, 1967-69); John Cleese and Graham Chapman appeared together in At Last the 1948 Show (ITV, 1967). In 1969, these six (with guidance from Barry Took) joined forces to create Monty Python's Flying Circus (BBC, 1969-74), one of the most influential comedies in the history of British television. Alongside Spike Milligan's Q (BBC, 1969-80), Monty Python revitalised the tired television sketch show formula through its anarchic content and radical form.

Python's humour was marked by its absurdity, from an Olympic hide-and-seek competition to an army combat instructor training recruits in self-defence against assailants armed with fresh fruit. Never afraid to take risks, the team would often end sketches without punchlines, preferring an arbitrary explosion or an improbable segue into an unrelated sketch. Sketches were punctuated by Terry Gilliam's bizarre animations - part-collage, part-original artwork and frequently ending with the now iconic descending foot - or by John Cleese's pinstriped (or occasionally naked) character announcing, "and now for something completely different."

Despite its originality, much of the show's material depended on an established comedy staple; the ridiculousness of Britain's class system. From 'The Upper-Class Twit of the Year Competition' to the stereotypical working-class Gumbies, all facets of Britain's social hierarchy were routinely parodied. Perhaps reflecting their own Oxbridge background, the team took particular delight in ridiculing the affluent middle-classes. Celebrated sketches like 'The Ministry of Silly Walks' and 'The Batley Townswomens' Guild present The Battle of Pearl Harbour' were typical of a desire to undermine British conservatism.

Python had its share of critics. Some argued that sketches like 'The Philosophers Football Match' or 'The Wife of Jean-Paul Sartre' were culturally elitist, alienating viewers who didn't share the team's educational background. Others complained it was too 'boys-own', and that the team's frequent cross-dressing, alongside the regular appearance of a scantily-clad Carol Cleveland, was at best regressive, at worst misogynist. Moreover the show's risk-taking nature meant that for every memorable skit, there was at least one that was instantly forgettable.

However Python was often sublimely funny, and many sketches garnered worldwide acclaim (and are still recited by pub bores across the world). Four feature films, plus numerous books, records and stage performances, furthered the team's reputation, but fans' hopes of a reunion were dashed in 1989 by the tragic early death of Graham Chapman.

Justin Hobday

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Video Clips
Bicycle Repair Man (3:41)
Buying a Bed (4:50)
Dirty Fork (5:27)
Fish Slapping Dance (2:01)
Seducing Milkmen (0:57)
Production stills
Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)
At Last The 1948 Show (1967-68)
Complete and Utter History of Britain, The (1969)
Frost Report, The (1966-67)
It's a Square World (1960-64)
Booth, Connie (1949-)
Chapman, Graham (1941-1989)
Cleese, John (1939-)
Cleveland, Carol (1942-)
Davies, John Howard (1939-2011)
Gilliam, Terry (1940-)
Idle, Eric (1943-)
Jones, Terry (1942-)
MacNaughton, Ian (1925-2002)
Palin, Michael (1943-)
TV Satire
The Roots of Monty Python