In 1969 a team of writers merged to become the entity and persona known as 'Monty Python'. Graham Chapman1, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin had all previously worked for the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) in various capacities. John Cleese had worked on a show called The Frost Report and with Graham Chapman he co-wrote At Last, the 1948 Show. Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam had been working on a show called Do Not Adjust Your Set. With the help of the BBC's script editor and head of comedy the two groups merged and were thrown straight into a series without a pilot for a run of 13 shows.
The show's title Monty Python's Flying Circus was derived from the BBC's initial idea of John Cleese's Flying Circus. John did not want the show to revolve around him and as a result he suggested 'Python' and Eric Idle suggested 'Monty'.
In total there were four series of Monty Python containing forty-five shows. However, by the start of series four John Cleese had left the group to work on his own projects with his wife, Connie Booth. The shows (for anyone who has not seen them) were mainly a mix of zany madcap humour, satire and school boy pranks and jokes. Memorable sketches include the 'Spam Sketch', 'Nudge, Nudge', 'Upper Class Twit Of The Year' and the unforgettable 'Parrot Sketch', which saw a pet shop owner (Palin) trying to convince an unhappy client (Cleese) that his parrot was not dead when it obviously was.
The main 'theme' of the show was that there should be no beginning or end to the sketches but more of a stream of consciousness. The Pythons inherited this idea from a show which Spike Milligan did called Q5 in which the same sort of idea was expressed. Recent shows such as Paul Whitehouse's The Fast Show have also borrowed heavily from this idea.
Writing the Shows
The team soon had their own writing styles and groups. John Cleese would write with Graham Chapman and often create surreal humour. Terry Jones and Michael Palin (like John and Graham) kept their old writing partnership and Eric Idle wrote on his own, normally witty verbal sketches Terry Gilliam was not involved with writing the shows as such but instead provided surreal animations which were used to link sketches. According to John Cleese there were a lot of 'artistic fights' within the group over the show's content and now and again furniture would be thrown and people would storm out of the room.
There were three films made by the Monty Python team. They proved to be big successes on both sides of the Atlantic, and at least one of the films created a huge uproar of complaint.
The first film was called Monty Python And The Holy Grail and was a basic parody of King Arthur and his knights of the round table. Released in 1975, The Holy Grail was an instant success despite the fact that the budget was limited.
The second film was called Monty Python's Life Of Brian and was about a character that lived in the same period as Jesus Christ. It caused great uproar in the church and was marked as being an attack at religion. The film was banned in some southern states in America and for a time banned in the UK from being shown on TV. However, as Month Python pointed out, God is the only character to appear in all the Python films and, far from being an attack on religion, it instead points out how many people blindly follow without finding out whether something is right for them. And as Jones wryly noted, Jesus died for everyone's sins after telling everyone to be at peace with one another, and much of the human race has spent the next two thousand years fighting over how he said it.
The final Monty Python film (although members of the group did make other films together) was called The Meaning of Life. The basic idea behind this film was to follow the stages of life from birth to death in a series of sketches rather than a continuous flowing film with the same characters. Appearances from Simon Jones (who played Arthur Dent in the BBC's Hitchhiker series) were featured as well as more appearances by Terry Gilliam.