Synopses & Reviews
Chapter OnePre-PythonIn the Old Days We Used to Make Our Own Fun"If there is a progenitor to credit (or blame!) for Monty Python, the innovative and surreal comedy group that turned the BBC and cinema screens on their ends, one need look no further than a tall, undisciplined, manic-depressive Irishman, born and raised in India, who spent his young adulthood playing the trumpet for British troops in North Africa, before wrestling his fervent notions of humor onto paper in the back of a London pub.Spike Milligan, author of such pithy memoirs as Adolf Hitler -- My Part in His Downfall, "created the revolutionary BBC Radio series The Goon Show, "which was to radio comedy what Picasso was to postcards. Aired between 1951 and 1960, and featuring Milligan, Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and (briefly) Michael Bentine, The Goon Show "was a marvelously anarchic mixture of nonsensical characters, banterish wordplay and weird sound effects all pitched at high speed. The surreal plots (such as they were) might concern climbing to the summit of Mt. Everest from the inside, drinking the contents of Loch Lomond to recover a sunken treasure, or flying the Albert Memorial to the moon."Milligan's deft use of language and sound effects to create surreal mindscapes showed how the medium of radio could be used to tell stories that did not rely on straightforward plots or punchlines; it was the illogic of the character's actions bordering on the fantastic (i.e., the hero being turned into a liquid and drunken) which moved the show along. It was a modern, dramatized version of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear -- fast-paced and hip, its language a bit blue around the edges.The artistic and popular success of TheGoon Show inspired many humorists who followed. Although its surreal nature could not really be matched, its fast-paced celebration of illogic and its penchant for satire opened the doors for some of the edgier comedy that came to light in Britain in the sixties, such as "Beyond the Fringe" (an internationally successful cabaret featuring Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett, and Dudley Moore), and the television series That Was the Week That Was "and The Frost Report."But while The Goon Show "demonstrated how broadcast comedy could bend convention, it was the passionate satire of the rising talents from university revues that forced satire -- typically a literary exercise -- into the vernacular of the day. If a map were to be drawn of the comedy universe in the late fifties and early sixties, its center would assuredly comprise the halls of Cambridge and Oxford; between them, they produced a flood of talented writers and performers who were to raise the comedy standard, extending from stage to recordings, magazines, television, and film.Among the many illustrious figures who began their careers in Cambridge Footlights "or in revues at Oxford were Humphrey Barclay, David Frost, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden, Jo Kendall, David Hatch, Jonathan Lynn, Tony Hendra, and Trevor Nunn. Also from this rich training ground came five writer/performers of deft talent: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin -- five-sixths of what would become the most successful comedy group in film and television, Monty Python.Leading up to their first collaboration as Python in the spring of 1969, these five Cambridge/Oxford university grads were workingseparately or in teams for several radio and TV shows at the BBC and at independent television (ITV) companies. They soon recognized similar tastes or aesthetics about how comedy should be written and performed. It was partly magnetism and partly luck which brought the group together, and the result was a program that reinvented television comedy, launched a successful string of films, books, and recordings, and turned dead parrots and Spam into cherished comic icons.I Mean, They Think Well, Don't TheyTerry Jones: Mike and I had done a little bit of work together when we'd been at Oxford. I first saw Mike doing cabaret with Robert Hewison, who later became a theatre critic. Mike and I and Robert all worked together on a thing called "Hang Down Your Head and Die." It was in the style of Joan Littlewood's "Oh, What a Lovely War," and it was a show against capital punishment, which we still had in this country at that time. That was the first time Mike and I worked together. And then we did an Oxford revue called "Loitering Within Tent" -- it was a revue done "in a tent -- and he and I worked out a sequence called the "Slapstick Sequence" in which a professor introduces demonstrations of various laugh-inducing pratfalls . As far as I remember that was the first real writing collaboration we did, and in fact that sketch was later done in the Python stage show.I did a bit of writing with Miles Kington (who's now a columnist for "The Independent), and then when Mike came down (I was a year ahead of Mike) he worked on a TV pop show for a while. By that time I'd got a job at the BBC, so I kind of knew what was happening, and Mike and I started writing stuff for "The Frost Report. We werecontributing little one-liners for Frosts monologue and sketches, and then we got to doing these little visual films which we actually got to perform in. Little things like, "What judges do at the high court during recess." We just film a lot of judges with their wigs and gowns in a children's playground, going down slides.We weren't being paid very much for the writing; our fee in those days was seven guineas a minute -- of course, that's a minute of air time, not how long it takes to write! We were kind of lucky if we got two or three minutes of material on the show, so by letting us appear in our...
When the innovative comedy group Monty Python embarked on their unique partnership, combining intelligence with silliness in a stream-of-consciousness display of nonsense, satire, sex and violence, they made a mark on popular culture which is still being felt today. Now, on their 30th anniversary, the five surviving Pythons -- along with some chief co-conspirators including the BBC's Barry Took and Ian MacNaughton, the late Graham Chapman's companion David Sherlock, and the legendary Douglas Adams -- remember what it was like to build a comedic collaboration for the ages.
Monty Python was a state of mind -- a way of looking at the world as a place where walking like a contortionist is not only considered normal but is rewarded with government funding, where people speak in anagrams or operate a cheese-less cheeseshop, where highwaymen redistribute wealth in floral currencies and knights hop around on imaginary steeds. Here, in their own words -- and with rare backstage photographs never before published -- is a look into that rare collective mind: the story of the Python's meeting, their collaboration, their clashes, their struggles to maintain artistic control over their work, and their efforts to expand themselves creatively -- from television to films, books, recordings and stage shows. Here are the artists who made their personal mark on humor, engendered amazing passion from their fans worldwide, and built a lasting monument to spam (the luncheon meat, not the e-mail). In short, it's ...
Monty Python, the genius comedy troupe from Britain, single-handedly revolutionized sketch comedy and paved the way for everything from Saturday Night Live to Austin Powers. Now, in their official oral history, founding members John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin take readers behind the scenes in this no-holds-barred look at their lives and unforgettable comic works like "The Spanish Inquisition," "Dead Parrot," Monty Python's Life of Brian, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (inspiration for the hit Broadway musical Spamalot), and many, many more, with never-before-seen photos and rare interviews from friends and collaborators.
Includes bibliographical references (p. -326) and index.
About the Author
David Morgan is the author of Monty Python Speaks! (Spike, 1999) and editor of Sundancing (Spike, 2000). He has written on film production and media issues for a variety of publications. Mr. Morgan lives in New York City.