Looking Back: Monty Python's Flying Circus
It’s a strange age being 13 years old. It is when one starts to embark on that awful and often embarrassing experience they call ‘teenagedom’. You start liking girls, you sulk at the fact that your mother bought you a blue pen instead of black and your cultural tastes change. At this point in a feature, it is very typical for the writer to give you, the reader, a bit of context about the subject they are writing about. Let’s not buck the trend:
Comedy, like education and religion, had been chosen for me during my younger years. I had been forced to watch comedy such as The Two Ronnies, Tommy Cooper, Norman Wisdom and, dare I say it, Carry On. However, at the tender age of 13, I could choose what I wanted to watch. And thus I was introduced to Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
The Monty Python group have been compared to The Beatles. When The Beatles split up in 1969 after changing the music scene, along came Monty Python who revolutionised the comedy scene; both are often re-discovered by teenagers and seemingly live forever. Unfortunately, I can make no claim to watching the first broadcast of Monty Python’s Flying Circus because due to unforeseen circumstances, I was not born then. I was born in 1994. So you can see the complications.
The BBC Comedy team describe their style as:
“Their writing effectively threw away the rulebook of traditional sketch writing, dispensing with punchlines and allowing sketches to blend into each other or simply stop abruptly. It was a technique already pioneered by Spike Milligan, but the ruthlessly self-critical Pythons mastered it.”
For far too long, I had been spoon-fed jokes by Hollywood and early British comedy that I was forced to laugh it. I felt incredibly British by this process because it was: feed line – punchline – laugh, you fool. Terry Gilliam called the punchline in sketch comedy a “damp squib” because he loved Pete and Dud’s sketches but felt disappointed with the joke at the end after the hilarious build-up. If you want to look at their style in a purely analytical way (which you shouldn’t do, really), Museum.tv describes it as a “free-form, non-linear, deeply sarcastic, satirical, and anarchic--seemed somehow to reflect the times. It mocked all conventions which preceded it, particularly the conventions of television.”
As an adolescent male, the anarchical style of Flying Circus appealed to me the most. I recently read an article on Chortle (which can be seen here) which said that the BBC almost axed the show because it was too cruel. Brilliant! One executive complained: “This edition had contained two really awful sketches; the death sequence had been in appalling taste, while the treatment of the national anthem had simply not been amusing.” Death? Excellent! This show had everything: blood, death, silliness and sometimes bare breasts! What else could a teenager ask for?
Monty Python was – excuse the pun – something completely different to anything that I had experienced. This surreal sense of humour was complemented by the excellent animations by Terry Gilliam. Terry Jones claimed that Gilliam’s cartoons were the inspirations for the continuous stream-of-consciousness approach to Monty Python. The animations did tend to stray towards the macabre but in the dark caverns of the teenage mind, this was something one could relate to. I felt that the animations basically stuck your fingers up at authority. My personal favourite is when a gentleman is pushing a pram on a street when an old lady coos over it. The old lady then gets eaten by the pram; with the gentleman jumping up and down in glee. After several old ladies are devoured by the carnivorous pram, a narrator says “Stop that” and turns the pram towards the gentleman was pushing it. The gentleman is then chased. After watching Disney films, this was the perfect antidote.
I could write pages and pages and pages worth of analysis of my favourite sketches. From the infamous Dead Parrot “This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be!” to the Spanish Inquisition, from crossing-dressing Lumberjacks to the Minister of Silly Walks; which I played in front of my Drama class to a rapturous applause and copyright lawyers.
My favourite is perhaps the most simplest and may surprise you:
Why? Because it is typically Monty Python: I did not see it coming.
To end this, I shall return to the start and my comparison to The Beatles. They will both carry on and will never be forgotten. As people will be singing classics such as Hey Jude and Yellow Submarine, they will also be saying “And Now for Something Completely Different” and “Nudge Nudge Wink Wink, Say No More Say No More”.