On October 5, 1969, BBC One premiered the very first Monty Python’s Flying Circus. We as scientists, should not underestimate the influence of popular culture, esp. of Monty Python’s kind of humor, on scientific research 😉
The six members of ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ met during their time at university and all of them were working as comedy writers, cast members or in Terry Gilliam’s case as an animator, before joining the Flying Circus. To their first influences belong Peter Cook, Alan Bennett as well as Dudley Moore, all known for their satirical comedy.
But the Monty Python group wanted something different than just presenting typical sketch shows, disturbed by the often clumsy punchlines. They decided to just leave out the punchline and would sometimes just leave the set or announce that “this is the silliest sketch I’ve ever been in“. Soon they needed an innovation and remembered Terry Gilliam’s great animations in prior projects, they decided to use those from then on to blend into other sketches. His animations were famous for their sudden movements, the surrealist landscapes and the strange gadgets taken from the Victorian era. Also it was him to create the famous Python foot.
The episodes were soon known for the seemingly chaotic flow, like not showing any introduction at all or just in the middle of the episode. Sometimes, a sketch would be playing and as soon as the audience thought they finally “get it” they would suddenly see John Cleese, sitting at a desk on grassland saying “and now for something completely different“, leaving a clueless audience behind. The writers were soon known for what they have strongly worked for, the creators of absurdity, bizarreness, and sarcasm, mainly everything but a non-traditional comedy show. They always managed to violate the usual conventions of television, that entertained the people as well as often stimulated them to think over certain social or political issues.
Each of the cast members developed certain traits in their played roles like John Cleese, who was best known for playing either authorities or intimidating characters or even for his physical comedy like in ‘Ministry of Silly Walks’ which is one of hist most famous sketches. Eric Idle on the other hand was widely known for his roles as a sales man as in ‘Conquistador Coffee Campaign’ and is regarded as the group’s best songwriter. It was Idle, who composed ‘Always look on the Bright Side of Life” in ‘The Life of Brian’.
The Monty Python group lost John Cleese as a member in 1974 and continued just a few episodes without him before ending the show completely. Nevertheless they were able to release a few more movies like ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian‘ in 1979 or ‘Monty Python’s Meaning of Life‘ in 1983.
The overall success of the group was astonishing and changed the culture of comedy at first in Great Britain and later globally. They influenced society critically and even the programming language Python is named after them due to their many references on science and technology. The show was in TIME magazine’s list of the ‘100 Best TV Shown of All Time’ and was also ranked in the top ten of the ‘top cult shows ever’.
At yovisto you can watch a sketch of Monty Python’s famous John Cleese, illustrating the ‘Scientist at Work‘.
References and further Reading:
- Monty Python’s sort-of official website
- Monty Python’s official youtube chanel
- Monty Python at wikipedia
- 40 years of Monty Python, photo essay from the Time magazine
- Museum of Broadcast Television
More Articles on Film History in the yovisto blog:
- More than a Bushy Browed, Cigar Smoking Wisecracker – Grucho Marx
- George A. Romero and his ‘Night of the Living Dead’
- The Great George Melies and his Voyage to the Moon