Please note: this website is no longer updated but is being maintained for posterity. Links and information may be out of date.

Monty Python

by Angela and Dave Pressland

What was it?

The Beyond the Fringe team
"The Pythons", from the left: Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin

A television sketch show that ran for four series between 1969 and 1974, and which spawned feature films, stage shows, records, books and even a CD-ROM. Born out of the sixties satire boom, Monty Python popularised a brand of humour that defied description, so much so that eventually the adjective "pythonesque" was coined. Mixing live action with Terry Gilliam's unique animations it produced some of the funniest and most famous sketches ever filmed. Oddly enough, the very first edition of Monty Python ever transmitted was entitled "Whither Canada?"

The Cast:

John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam

What have they done since?

John Cleese went on to write and star in Fawlty Towers, one of the most popular British sit-coms ever made. He was a co-founder of Video Arts, a company that made training films for industry, in many of which he also performed. He has written, directed or starred in (sometimes all three) a number of feature films including Clockwise, A Fish Called Wanda and Fierce Creatures. And we've just heard that John has been cast as 'R', Q's incompetent assistant, in the next James Bond Film, The World is Not Enough.

Eric Idle was the main creative force behind Rutland Weekend Television, a spin-off from which was The Rutles (aka All You Need is Cash), a hilarious parody of the story of the Beatles. He has done some stage work, including the English National Opera's production of The Mikado in which he played Koko. British television viewers will have heard him most recently signing the theme song to One Foot in the Grave, in one episode of which he also made a guest appearance as a council allotment inspector.

Terry Jones worked with Michael Palin on the TV series Ripping Yarns, he was also involved in several feature films, including Jabberwocky and Eric the Viking, and has written some books for children.

Graham Chapman was probably the least prolific of the Pythons in later years although he did write and star in the spoof pirate film Yellowbeard. Graham Chapman died in 1989 but even this didn't put an end to his stage career. When the Pythons did a TV special in Aspen - their first get-together in eighteen years - they brought Graham's 'ashes' on stage in an urn!

Michael Palin teamed up with Terry Jones to produce the series Ripping Yarns. He has done a lot of film work including A Private Function, A Fish Called Wanda and Fierce Creatures. Most recently he has metamorphosed into a latter day Alan Whicker, embarking on a series of extensive television journeys starting with Around the World in Eighty Days followed by Pole to Pole and, most recently, Full Circle.

Terry Gilliam is now a writer and director of considerable note. Among his films are Jabberwocky, Time Bandits, The Adventures of Baron Münchausen, Brazil, The Fisher King and, most recently, Twelve Monkeys and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Monty Python sketches ...

As for samples of their work, their repertoire is so vast and so many topics are covered. Maybe it would be an idea to look at just a few subjects that relate to Paul himself.

... on acting ...

Man (Graham Chapman) opening a letter: Ooh. Ooh.

Ex Frigidaire service engineer, Marlon Brando

Paul Newman worrying about the cat

Wife (Terry Jones): Oh, what is it dear?
Man: It's from the BBC. They want to know if I want to be in a sketch on telly.
Wife: Ooooh. That's nice.
Man: What? It's acting innit?
Wife: Yes.
Man: Well I'm a plumber. I can't act.
Wife: Oh, you never know till you try. Look at Mrs Brando's son next door. He was mending the fridge when they came and asked him to be in 'The Wild One'. What do they want you to do?
Man: Well, they just want me to stand at a counter, and when the sketch starts I go out.
Wife: Oh, that sounds nice. It's what they call a walk-on.
Man: Walk-on? That's a walk-off, that's what this is.
Wife: Well, what else does it say?
Man: It just says 'We would like you to be in a sketch. You are standing at a counter. When the sketch starts you go off. Yours faithfully, Lord Hill.'
Wife: Oh well, you'd better be off then.
Man: Yeah, well, what about the cat?
Wife: Oh, I'll look after the cat. Goodness me, Mrs Newman's eldest never worried about the cat when he went off to do 'The Sweet Bird of Youth'.
Man: All right then, all right. Bye. Bye dear.
Wife: Bye bye, and mind you don't get seduced.

... on playing a Mountie and dressing up in women's clothes ...

Well, we could hardly ignore it, could we? Especially as Paul mentioned in a UK radio interview that this was the "greatest song ever written" and he knows all the words!

All together now:

Soloist:

I'm a lumberjack and I'm O.K.
I sleep all night and I work all day.

Mountie Chorus:

He's a lumberjack and he's O.K
He sleeps all night and he works all day.

Soloist:

I cut down trees, I eat my lunch
I go to the lavatory
On Wednesdays I go shopping
And have buttered scones for tea.

Mountie Chorus:

He cuts down trees, he eats his lunch
He goes to the lavatory
On Wednesdays he goes shopping
And has buttered scones for tea.

Altogether now!
I put on women's clothing...

He's a lumberjack and he's O.K
He sleeps all night and he works all day.

Soloist:

I cut down trees, I skip and jump
I like to press wild flowers
I put on women's clothing
And hang around in bars.

Mountie Chorus:

He cuts down trees, he skips and jumps
He likes to press wild flowers
He puts on women's clothing
And hangs around in bars?

He's a lumberjack and he's O.K
He sleeps all night and he works all day.

Soloist:

    Girlie?!I cut down trees, I wear high heels
    Suspenders and a bra
    I wish I'd been a girlie
    Just like my dear Papa.

    Mountie Chorus:

    He cuts down trees, he wears high heels
    (spoken rather than sung)
    Suspenders . . . and a bra?
    That's shocking, etc.
    That's rude . . . tut-tut . . .
    (music runs down)

.. on characters Paul has played and written about ...

In Paul's rock musical, Thunder, Perfect Mind, Dan Macdonald was cast as Attila the Hun. In an episode of Witness to Yesterday, Paul played the part of Alexander the Great. In Monty Python, both characters collide ...

Intercom buzzer goes on desk  
Chief Constable (Terry Jones), depressing knob): Yes, Beryl?
Beryl (male voice): Attila the Hun to see you, sir.
CC: Who?
Beryl: Attila the Hun, sir.
CC: Oh botherkins! Er, constable, go and see to him will you?
Sergeant
(Graham Chapman):
What! In this dress?
CC: Oh all right, I'll go.
Sergeant: Oh, I have got a little green pinny I could wear...
CC: No, no, no, I'll go. You stay here.
Sergeant: Oh goody! I can get on with the ironing.
(The chief constable enters the reception area of the police station. There is a policeman behind the counter and a little insignificant man is waiting.)
CC (to policeman): Right where is he? Mr The Hun?
Beryl (John Cleese): Over there, sir.
CC: Right, er, all right sergeant, leave this to me. Er, now then sir, you are Attila the Hun?
Attila (Michael Palin): That's right, yes. A.T. Hun. My parents were Mr and Mrs Norman Hun, but they had a little joke when I was born.
CC: Yes well, Mr Hun.
Attila: Oh! Call me 'The', for heavens sake!
CC: Oh well, The. what do you want to see us about?
Attila: I've come to give myself up.
CC: What for?
Attila: Looting, pillaging and sacking a major city.
CC: I beg your pardon?
Attila: Looting, pillaging, sacking a major city, and I'd like nine thousand other charges to be taken into consideration, please.
CC: I say, excuse me Mr Hun. (he takes off his hat, removes his moustache, puts it in the hat and puts the hat back on) Have you any objection to taking a breath test?
Attila: Oh, no. No, no, no, no.
CC: Right, er, sergeant will you bring the Hunalyser, please?
(The constable produces a breathalyser)
Beryl: Here we are, sir.
(Hands it to the chief constable)
CC: Er, how's it work?
Beryl: Well he breathes into it, sir, and the white crystals turn lime green. Then he is Attila the Hun, sir.
CC: I see. Right. Would you mind breathing into this Mr Hun?
Attila: Right. (blows into bag)
CC: What if nothing happens, sergeant?
Beryl: He's Alexander the Great!
CC: Ha, ha! Caught you, Mr A.T. Great.
Attila (who is now
Alexander the Great):

Oh curses! Curses! I thought I was safe disguised as Attila the Hun.
CC: Oh, perhaps so, but you made one fatal mistake. you see, this wasn't a Hunalyser. it was an Alexander the Greatalyser! Take him away, Beryl!

Script extracts written by John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam.