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Monty Python's Flying Circus

Monty Python's Flying Circus was the television comedy series that did to British comedy what The Beatles did to music. As a television series it comprised of 45 episodes over 4 series, however the phenomenon that is Monty Python was much more than the television series alone, spawning a stage tour, four films, several computer games and books, as well as launching the individual Pythons (as they are often referred) to stardom in their own right.

The show, originally broadcast by the BBC from 1969 to 1974, was conceived, written and performed by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, most of whom are "still not dead". Loosely structured as a sketch show, but with an innovative stream-of-consciousness approach (aided by Terry Gilliam's animations) it pushed back the boundaries of what was then considered acceptable, both in terms of style and content, and has been a lasting influence, not just on British comedy, but globally.

Table of contents
1 History (pre-Python)
2 Pythomenon
3 Life After Python
4 Python Bibliography
5 Further Reading

History (pre-Python)

Humble Beginnings

Palin and Jones met at Oxford University, Cleese and Chapman met at Cambridge University, Idle was also at Cambridge, but a year later than Cleese & Chapman. Gilliam met Cleese in New York whilst the latter was touring with A Clump Of Plinths.

Variously they appeared in the following shows before being united for Monty Python's Flying Circus:

They also have writing credits for a selection of other shows.

Time for something completely different

The first series of (the as-yet unnamed) Flying Circus was originally planned as a vehicle for Cleese. Cleese, however, wanted to work in collaboration and so the group was assembled. Their approach to writing was democratic. If something made the majority laugh it would be in the show.

Several names were bandied about before Monty Python's Flying Circus was settled upon. Some of the more memorable being Owl Stretching Time, Bunn, Wacket, Buzzard, Stubble and Boot and Gwen Dibley's Flying Circus.

The group had a very definite idea about what they wanted to do with the series, and were a little dismayed when they saw Spike Milligan recording his Q series, as it seemed like he'd beaten them to it. However, whilst there are acknowledged Milligan influences, the style of the show is markedly different. This is largely due to Terry Gilliam's distinctive animations, but the peer-review process in selecting material is also significant.


The TV Series

The first episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus was recorded September 7, 1969, and broadcast on October 5 of the same year.

The shows often targeted the idiosyncracies of British life (especially professionals), and was at times politically charged. The members of Monty Python were highly educated (Oxford and Cambridge graduates), and their comedy was often pointedly intellectual with numerous references to philosophers and literary figures.

In contrast to many other sketch comedy shows (such as Saturday Night Live), Flying Circus featured only a small handful of recurring characters, including:

John Cleese left the group after the third series, and so did not appear in the final six episodes that made up series four, although he did receive writing credits where applicable. Neil Innes and Douglas Adams are notable as the only two non-Pythons to get writing credits in the show - both in the same episode late in season four. Innes frequently appeared in the Pythons' stage shows and can also be seen in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

The final episode was recorded November 16, 1974, and broadcast on December 5.

The theme tune was John Philip Sousa's Liberty Bell March.

Regular supporting cast members include Carol Cleveland, Connie Booth, Neil Innes and The Fred Tomlinson Singers (for musical numbers).

Well-known skits include:

You will note that most of these skits appear in the first two series. Their fame is largely due to their inclusion in the feature film And Now For Something Completely Different, which was recorded between series 2 and 3. A further reason could be that when the show is re-broadcast it is often cancelled before the later series' are shown.

The Films

[To come]

The Rest

[To come]

Life After Python

Python (Monty) Pictures

The five surviving members of the main Monty Python team are directors of Python (Monty) pictures Limited which was incorporated in 1973 and now manages ongoing activities resulting from their previous work together, such as royalties. In the accounts return, the company describes its activities as 'the exploitation of televison and cinematographic productions'. In the last financial year for which accounts are available (to March 2002) the company's turnover was 3.3m (source: Bureau van Dijk's FAME).

A driving force behind Python in the late 1970's was George Harrison, who not only funded and appeared in Monty Python's Life of Brian but produced a number of their songs from that period, including the Lumberjack Song single.

Going Solo

Each member pursued other film and television projects after the break-up of the group as a whole, but often continued to work with one another. Many of these were very successful, such as A Fish Called Wanda (1988), starring Cleese and Palin.

For full details see the Pythons' individual biographies.

The End?

The Pythons are very often the subject of re-union rumours. On 9 October 1999, to commerate 30 years since the Flying Circus's first TV appearance, a re-union of sorts came to pass. BBC2 devoted an evening of programmes, such as a documentary charting the history of the team, and interspersed them with new sketches filmed especially for the evening. Cleese in an interview to publicise the DVD release of The Meaning of Life said a further re-union was unlikely. "It is absolutely impossible to get even a majority of us together in a room, and I'm not joking," Cleese said. He said that the problem was one of busyness rather than one of bad feelings.

Python Bibliography


The following books were published by Monty Python:
Monty Python's Big Red Book (1971)
Monty Python's Brand New Bok (1973) (Paperback edition issued as Monty Python's Papperbok)

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1977) (Original and shooting script, with Gilliam pictures)
The Life of Brian of Nazareth/Montypythonscrapbook (1979) (Film script plus a lot of extra material)
Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983) (Film script with photos)

The Monty Python Songbook
Monty Python: Just the Words (1989) (Full transcripts of all 4 television series. Originally published in two volumes)
The Complete Works of Shakespeare and Monty Python: Vol. 1 - Monty Python (1981) (a repackaging of both the Big Red Book and the Brand New Bok)


Album releases include:
Monty Python's Flying Circus (1970)
Another Monty Python Record (1971)
Monty Python's Previous Record (1972)
The Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief (1973)
Monty Python Live at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (1974)
The Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the Film of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
The Worst of Monty Python (1976) (A repackaging of Another Monty Python Record and Monty Python's Previous Record)
Monty Python Live at City Center (1976)
The Monty Python Instant Record Collection (UK Version - 1977)
Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)
Monty Python examines The Life of Brian (1979) (A promotional album, never publically released)
Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album (1980)
Monty Python's Meaning of Life (1983)
Monty Python's The Final Ripoff (1988) (As the name suggests, a compilation of previous material)
Monty Python Sings (1989) (A compilation of Python songs)

In addition, there have been several singles, either on general release or as promotional material (including magazine freebies).


There were four Monty Python films:
And Now For Something Completely Different
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Life of Brian
The Meaning of Life

In addition, a documentary-style film was made of their live performances at the Hollywood Bowl in 1980, titled Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl.


Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus: Two 45-minutes specials made by WDR for West German television. These were shot entirely on film, mainly on location in Bavaria and in the German language, although the second episode was originally recorded in English and then dubbed into German. Some of the material was reworked from At Last the 1948 Show. Footage from these specials was used to fill in between live stage performances. At one point the team considered editing the two shows together, dubbing them completely into English and releasing them as a 90-minute film, but it never came about.

Live Shows

Python performed several live shows and tours. The following shows were recorded for public release:

Computer Games

Further Reading