Only Fools and Horses

Culture Re-View: A look back on the formation of Monty Python

11 May 1969: He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!

The 11th of May is a particularly silly day in history. Here’s to some of the silly billy’s for whom this is a significant day in the calendar.

First up, it’s the British/American wits that are frequently named the greatest comedy group in history. On this day in 1969, according to one version of the story, British comedians John Cleese and Graham Chapman went to a tandoori restaurant in Northern London following the taping of comedy show ‘Do Not Adjust Your Set’ by Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and featuring the animation of final Python member and American injection Terry Gilliam.

The sixsome formed Monty Python and began running the incredibly successful sketch show ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’, followed by four films including 1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1979’s controversial Monty Python’s Life of Brian and 1983’s Monty Python’s Meaning of Life.

If you’ve not seen any of these, or the films and TV shows that they’ve made individually, you’re missing out on some of the most surreal and wacky pieces of humour ever made. For most Brits, Monty Python is their introduction to humour, cutting a perfect sarcastic tone with ridiculous imagery, linguistic bravado, and untold silliness.

For a taster, here’s my favourite Monty Python sketch. Taken from their first film 1971’s And Now for Something Completely Different, the self-defence class sketch has Cleese as an militant teacher, providing a masterclass in how to defend yourself against an attacker armed with… different varieties of fruit.

Goodbye to an associate Python

Besides the six members, only two other people were ever credited with writing for ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’. The first was Neil Innes and the second was Douglas Adams. Taking the place of Cleese for the show’s final series, Adams wrote a sketch and had two cameo experiences.

Over a decade younger than most of the Pythons, Adams went on to great success with his legendary radio and book series ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. His trilogy of five books followed the hapless Arthur Dent on his explorations of the universe after Earth was destroyed. Bringing together the same silliness and literary wit of the Python universe to a galactic setting, he became a national darling.

Sadly, he died young. On this day in 2001, Adams had a fatal heart attack aged just 49.

We’ll remember him today by my favourite quote from the first ‘Hitchhiker’s’ book, describing an armada of alien spaceships. “The ships hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t.”

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