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Classic Season Two opening to Monty Python’s Flying Circus!
The 1960s satire boom opened up the way for a fresh, inventive generation of young comedy writer-performers to flourish on TV and to take comedy in a new and exciting direction.
Among them were five graduates from the Oxbridge comedy scene, all of whom became contributors to The Frost Report and whose stand-out talents were soon rewarded with prominent roles in new hit sketch series: At Last the 1948 Show, which starred ex-Cambridge Footlights John Cleese and Graham Chapman, while Do Not Adjust Your Set featured ex-Oxford writing partners Michael Palin and Terry Jones alongside another former Footlight, Eric Idle.
The two shows had a similar, zany feel and Do Not Adjust Your Set was spiced-up further by the inclusion of some hilariously surreal animations by an eccentric young American upstart named Terry Gilliam.
Forming a strong mutual respect, the six decided to team up and work together on ‘something new’ and with the help of Barry Took (who was then a comedy consultant at the BBC) they were given their own series, famously being told “you can have thirteen shows, but that’s it”.
Having toyed with several names (including Owl Stretching Time and The Toad Elevating Moment), the group settled on the appropriately bizarre Monty Python’s Flying Circus: ‘circus’ being suggested by the BBC, and Monty Python being envisaged by the team as the perfect name for a sleazy entertainment agent.
Their writing effectively threw away the rulebook of traditional sketch writing, dispensing with punchlines and allowing sketches to blend into each other or simply stop abruptly.
It was a technique already pioneered by Spike Milligan, but the ruthlessly self-critical Pythons mastered it.
Gilliam’s unique animation style became crucial, segueing seamlessly between any two completely unrelated ideas and making the stream-of-consciousness work.
Flying Circus was fortunate too in being broadcast in colour, unlike their previous shows, helping transmit to viewers the Pythons’ vibrant, crazy ideas.
The show took a short while to find a fanbase but grew into a phenomenon, so much so that George Harrison claimed the spirit of the Beatles had passed onto Monty Python.
Episodes often had a surreal and barely identifiable theme and the Pythons joyfully weaved sketches throughout every show so viewers had no idea where they would be taken next.
It’s one of the Pythons’ astonishing achievements that a single edition could throw up characters like The Spanish Inquisition, who remain as memorable as any of the weekly repeated caricatures in recent series like The Fast Show or Little Britain.
Flying Circus did have its share of recurring items: John Cleese’ BBC link man and his announcement “And now for something completely different” became a catchphrase; while characters appearing in multiple episodes included a rubber-chicken-wielding knight and various members of the dim-witted Gumby family.
But such moments seemed to be the icing on the Pythonic cake, always outbalanced by fresh material.
The Pythons took on virtually every acting role themselves, the main exception being attractive women (usually played by ‘honorary Python’ Carol Cleveland) and each cast member developed his own specialities.
thinking of doinga monty python inspired design for the bestival brief, its nothing like how i design so will be interesting to see if i can pull it off.