Tag Archives: Monty Python’s Flying Circus

Happy Birthday Michael!

Palin globesA ridiculously Happy 74th to Arthur Putey, Mr. Gumby, the It’s Man, Cardinal Ximenez, Heinrich Bimmler, Mr. Pither, Sir Galahad the Pure, Ex-Leper, Ken Pile, Luigi Vercotti, Debbie Katzenberg. And so many more…

 

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Happy Birthday Graham

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Been a little while since I’ve posted. Sorry. In the past month, I’ve had one graduation, the holidays, getting the kid ready for a move and a new job, and getting ready for another Cleese trip, not to mention my 103-year old Aunt Betty passing away unexpectedly.

But this would have been Graham Chapman’s 76 birthday, and that’s always worth a thought. Graham was an active member of Python for 20 years, and a considerably less active Python for 28 years now. It took nothing less than death to slow him down, and even then, he’s still been popping up in places like the O2 show, and making an ash of himself in various reunions. In fact, one thing that Graham never was, was inactive, and I’m glad that trend continues.

I’ll start posting more regularly as I travel with Mr. C this month. If you’re in the Northeast or parts of the Midwestern US, keep watching–John Cleese is coming your way. And in keeping with our theme, he’ll doubtless have lots to say about Graham.

 

Terry and Terry

I know Terry Jones will be very excited and happy to see all of the well-wishes from his fans from around the world, and I’ll make sure his family is aware of them. Even though they are dealing with a lot nowadays, the outpouring of love, affection, and support is pretty incredible.

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In the midst of the announcement of Terry’s dementia, however, another bit of sad news for Python fans may be overlooked. Terence Baylor, one of the rep company for Life of Brian, passed away this week.

I got to spend many jolly hours with Terry B on the set of Brian in Tunisia, and he couldn’t have been nicer—I’m glad I was able to interview him for my Monty Python’s Tunisian Holiday book. He appeared in numerous roles throughout the film, from Carol Cleveland’s husband in the Sermon on the Mount scene, to the crucifee who said “I’m Brian and so’s my wife.”

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One indication of how much the Pythons valued him was evident when keeping in mind how little the Pythons improvised on any of their projects. When we were filming the crowd scene outside Brian’s window, the crowd responds to Brian’s “You’re all different” with “Yes, we are all different.” Terry B, who was standing near John, suggested something to him, and there was a brief discussion. The next thing I knew, when the hundreds of people shouted “Yes, we are all different,” Terry raised his hand and said “I’m not.” It worked, and it stayed in the final edit. Terence Baylor had just improvised in a Python film!

The last time I saw him was at a Python anniversary party in London in 1989, where he and some of the other rep company members were commenting (and rightly so) on how good Carol Cleveland still looked. I didn’t see much of him afterward, as he was a busy working stage, film, and TV actor, as evidenced by his appearance in the first Harry Potter film. But even Harry Potter didn’t let him improvise!

Terry…

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I’ve known for quite a while that I’d have to write this post, but I was hoping against hope that it wouldn’t happen. As many of you know, Terry Jones has been diagnosed with Frontal Temporal Dementia/Primary Progressive Aphasia, which has severely affected his ability to speak.

Terry will be getting a well-earned Lifetime Achievement Award from BAFTA Wales next weekend, and the family chose to make the announcement in the BAFTA press release that was just sent out. In accordance with the family’s wishes, I will say no more, except that Terry agreed to go public with his diagnosis in order to raise awareness in hopes of helping others with this horrible form of dementia.

I spent this past week with Terry, staying with him at his house, going for hikes, hoisting a couple of beers, and I can say that he is much loved and being well looked after. Terry and I had dinner with another old friend last night (see photo), and I have seldom laughed so much in a single evening.

I know Terry is cheered by the well-wishes of friends and fans, and while he may be stepping out of the limelight, we’ll thank him for Mr. Creosote, and Mandy, and Sir Bedevere, and so many more. Love you old chum…

 

Pythonic Paragraphs

Been a while since I checked in with any Python news (or any 
news at all, for that matter).
Unfortunately, two of the three items today are sad ones.
Most folks have probably heard of the death of Kenny Baker,
best known to most as R2D2, but better known to Terry Gilliam fans as
Fidgit of Time Bandits. Here's a little more information
courtesy of the Monty Python web site, as well as a tribute by
Terry G and Michael Palin:http://www.montypython.com/news_kennybaker/373
And Flying Circus fans hold Fred Tomlinson near and dear to
their hearts. The leader of the Fred Tomlinson Singers passed
away in July, with more information here:
http://www.montypython.com/news_FredTomlinson/368
I don't think I ever met him (although we were apparently
at some of the same parties); but if his singers did nothing
more than back up the Pythons on Lumberjack Song and Spam (and
they did plenty more than that), I would owe him a huge debt
of gratitude.
Finally, some very good news indeed. My old boss and dear
pal John Cleese is receiving the Rose d'Or Lifetime
Achievement Award in Berlin in September for a lifetime in
entertainment. Well deserved and congratulations John; more
information is here:  
http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-37093116
Glad I could end with a happy story!
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Why #MontyPython is still not dead yet

Here’s an article on how Monty Python nearly ended before it began:

https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2016/06/the-unknown-hero-who-saved-monthy-pythons-flying-c.html

Although there isn’t much longtime fans didn’t know, it never hurts to point out how precarious history can be, and how important it is to save, document, and archive as much as possible.

Just a few things to point out. Terry Jones usually told me that it was Flying Circus editor Ray Millichope who gave him the warning that the Python shows were going to be taped over, but there were a couple of times that he credited someone in the archive department. Terry usually sat in with Millichope and series director Ian MacNaughton when the Flying Circus shows were being edited, which drove MacNaughton crazy at first, but Terry and Millichope became much friendlier. I suspect–and this is only a guess–that Millichope found out about the planned videotape wiping from someone in the archive department, and he passed the news along to Terry. Or, Terry became such a familiar face in that area of the BBC while he sitting in on the editing, that someone felt comfortable enough to pass the news on to him. While Terry doesn’t remember anymore, his presence at the BBC is almost certainly the reason he got the phone call.

For a short time, Terry was convinced that the videotaped copies he had at his house would be the only evidence that Monty Python ever existed, and he wanted the tapes to show to his children some day.

But it was right around this time that PBS made their first overture to the BBC about Python. It did not end well, but it gave the BBC the idea that these programs just might be worth keeping after all. And sure enough, a short time later, Ron DeVillier successfully convinced the Dallas PBS station to try the show in America. And the rest is comedy history.

And by the way, the videotape reels were not small back then, and they took up enormous shelf space, which was another reason the BBC didn’t want to keep anything they didn’t have to.

But Monty Python was almost forgotten for another reason. If they had launched Flying Circus a year or two earlier, it would have probably been in black and white instead of color. By the late 1960s, black and white shows were much less marketable than color programs, both in Britain and abroad, and there would have been much less reason for keeping them around. That’s why so few BBC comedy shows from the 60s survive–to the BBC, they looked old-fashioned and much less interesting than anything in color. And that seems to be a huge reason why Python pre-cursors Do Not Adjust Your Set and At Last the 1948 Show were thought lost–and why it has taken so many years to reconstruct both series. John says that except for the faces, the final 1948 show was not very different from the first Python shows–except, of course, the latter were in color.

It’s amazing how much that could have been easily saved, was instead wiped and thrown out. I know that several of the scenes cut from Life of Brian were saved on videotape by Terry Jones when the film was being edited. Those are apparently the only copies that still exist. One time when I was visiting Terry at his house in the ’80s, he showed me the deleted scenes on his VCR; it’s hard to believe that those were the videotaped versions used for DVD extras when the deluxe version of the film was released. The film copies were apparently thrown out, possibly as a cost-saving measure.

Less than five years ago, one of my students mentioned that he had seen some rare outtakes and rehearsal scenes from Meaning of Life, thanks to a professor friend in the Southwest U.S. I was skeptical, but discovered that he had, in fact, a large box of videocassettes from the film. It turns out that a friend of a friend knew Terry J, and when they were having dinner, Terry mentioned that he had all sorts of tapes left over from editing the film, and he was about to throw them out (he had recently finished the film). The professor recognized their value, and offered to take them. As a result, I was able to contact him, and today the Meaning of Life outtakes, rehearsal scenes, and alternate takes are all in the Python archives in London. Don’t be surprised to see them turn up on DVD when the time is right.

So, there are success stories, and we can only hope that in the future, even more Python material will turn up.

The Pythons always give credit to the BBC for giving them almost unprecedented creative freedom, but the penny-pinchers there almost wiped out the results of that freedom. Let’s be grateful that they didn’t succeed.
Visit Kim “Howard” Johnson’s author’s page at amazon.com

My Python Process class today at the iO Chicago discussed stealing sketches. John Cleese highly recommends it as a method of learning to write them (see his autobiography So, Anyway…), and he takes his own advice. In fact, he stole a sketch previously written by Graham Chapman and himself for the eighth episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Here’s the original sketch. Any guesses what it turned into?

@montypython #Montypython #soanyway #improv

This week in Python…

It was 44 years ago this week, on June 26, 1970, that the Pythons started recording the second series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

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The Pythons shot most of their film segments during the summer, so that when they went into the BBC studios to tape the programs before an audience, the outside segments could be shown to an audience and edited in afterward. And that is why, when John Cleese walks along the street, walking silly, he changes from film to tape when he walks onto the studio set.

More Python Naming Rights

It took months for the Pythons to come up with a name for their show. Many were chosen and discarded, and some of those were recycled and used as the titles for individual episodes. Finally, the BBC announced that their time had run out, and they were simply going to have to make a selection, whether they liked it or not.

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The BBC had been referring to the show as “The Circus” in their scheduling books, and that eventually transformed into “The Flying Circus.” For a brief time, the BBC was referring to it as “Baron von Took’s Flying Circus,” after Barry Took, Head of Comedy at that time and a champion of the show. And so, there was a period in which “Flying Circus” was established, but no one knew exactly whose flying circus it would be.

Of course, that led to more meetings about the name. But before Monty Python was selected they considered a number of other ones, including the following:

Megapode’s Flying Circus

Arthur Megapode’s Flying Circus

Admiral Megapode’s Flying Circus

Ow! It’s Megapode’s Flying Circus

Gwen Dibley’s Flying Circus

El Megapode’s Flying Circus

Noris Heaven’s Flying Circus

The Amazing Flying Circus

The 37 Foot Flying Circus

The Fly Circus

El Thompson’s Flying Circus

Arthur Buzzard’s Flying Circus

Myrtle Buzzard’s Flying Circus

Charles IInd’s Flying Circus

El Trotsky’s Flying Circus

Nigel’s Flying Circus

Brian’s Flying Circus

Brian Stalin’s Flying Circus

Limb’s Flying Circus

El Moist’s Flying Circus

Sydney Moist’s Flying Circus

Stephen Furry’s Flying Circus

Will Strangler’s Flying Circus

Cynthia Fellatio’s Flying Circus

El Turbot’s Flying Circus

Norman Python’s Flying Circus

Bob Python’s Flying Circus

and…

Monty Python’s Flying Circus (seems like the obvious choice now, doesn’t it?)

I’ve been blogging a lot about Python lately, and I have a feeling it’ll continue that way for a while–at least through the end of July, when the Reunion shows end and I return from London. But I don’t mind if you don’t.

Naming Rights

It was 45 years ago this week, on June 16, 1969, that the Pythons held a meeting to try to decide on a name for their upcoming TV series. They were unsuccessful.

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It would take a lot of meetings and a lot of suggestions before they came up with the winning selection. It was not a high priority for them at the time. They had numerous discussions in which they finally selected one, then met again the following day and decided they didn’t like it very much. And the process would start over.

As most fans know, they went through many, many names trying to select the perfect name for their show. By the way, it’s worth mentioning that they weren’t trying to pick a name for their comedy group, because at that time, they didn’t consider themselves a comedy group–just six writer-performers who were trying to figure out what to call their TV series. I’ll post a few of the runners-up this week.