“And Now for Something Completely Different”
50 years of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”
The six members of Monty Python Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, John Cleese, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam revolutionized comedy with their television sketch show, which originally aired on the BBC from 1969 to 1974 and is celebrating his 48th anniversary today. The shows were composed of surrealist, risque or innuendo-laden humor, sight gags and observational sketches without punchlines. It also featured animations by Terry Gilliam, often sequenced or merged with live action. The first episode was broadcast on 5 October 1969 on BBC One, with 45 episodes airing over four series from 1969 to 1974, plus two episodes for German TV. The show often targets the idiosyncrasies of British life, especially that of professionals, and is at times politically charged. The members of Monty Python were highly educated. Terry Jones and Michael Palin are Oxford University graduates; Eric Idle, John Cleese, and Graham Chapman attended Cambridge University; and American-born member Terry Gilliam is an Occidental College graduate. Their comedy is often pointedly intellectual, with numerous erudite references to philosophers and literary figures. The series followed and elaborated upon the style used by Spike Milligan in his groundbreaking series Q5, rather than the traditional sketch show format. The team intended their humor to be impossible to categorize and succeeded so completely that the adjective “Pythonesque” was invented to define it and, later, similar material. The series received three BAFTA nominations (for Best Light Entertainment Show, Best Script, and John Cleese for Best Light Entertainment Personality), and received two special BAFTA awards – for production, writing & performance, and for Terry Gilliam’s animations. No other comedy series has seared itself into the national consciousness quite like Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
By Ken Warren, 2017
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