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The Pythons are comedians and satirists who weren’t afraid to keep pushing the boundaries of what was deemed to be acceptable in British comedy in the 60s and 70s. Completely self-contained, Monty Python had the same influence on comedy and today’s comedians as The Beatles had on music and today’s musicians.
The Holy Grail was their first feature-length film and it’s a parody of King Arthur’s quest to find the Holy Grail. It’s jam-packed with slapstick set-pieces, instantly recognisable one-liners and the Knights who say Ni. There’s song and dance, there’s the decapitated Black Knight and there’s the French. This is Python at their irreverent best, until…
…we get to The Life of Brian. Born in the stable next to Jesus and wrongly mistaken for The Messiah, Brian Cohen (Chapman) resents the occupation of Judea by the Romans (Romanus eunt Domus) and joins the People’s Front of Judea, or it is the Popular Front? Or the Judean People’s Front? Anyway, he meets Judith, escaped from Pilate (‘welease Bwian’) and in homage to Kirk Douglas’s Spartacus, everyone in the final crucifixion scene claims to be Brian in order to go free.
While The Holy Grail was undoubtedly hilariously funny and the father of hit West End show Spamalot, Life of Brian made the news for other reasons. The themes of religious satire and accusations of blasphemy spawned protests from both Christian and Jewish religious groups and 39 local authorities in the UK either banned it outright or gave it an X certificate which all but stopped the film from being shown in mainstream cinemas. The Pythons even used this notoriety to their advantage in Swedish marketing campaigns, claiming the film is ‘so funny it was banned in Norway!’
There was a debate on now long dead BBC2 programme Friday Night, Saturday Morning in which John Cleese and Michael Palin verbally sparred with veteran satirist Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark on the basis that the film was a send up of Jesus Christ himself and was intent on destroy the faith of millions. If you can, it’s certainly worth a watch on YouTube.
Life of Brian has been named in various places as the greatest comedy film of all time. It’s political, it’s brilliantly funny, decidedly odd (Gilliam’s spaceship) and it gives us modern stereotypes in historical settings so we’re not sure whether to laugh or be angry. We laughed.
We understand that not everyone is a fan of Monty Python but if you laughed at the lumberjack sketch, you know what a dead parrot looks like or your wife’s into photography (wink wink, nudge nudge), The Life of Brian and The Holy Grail are right up your alley (oo-er missus.)
Some of our favourite Monty Python quotes…
French Soldier: I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.
King Arthur: Look, you stupid bastard, you’ve got no arms left.
Black Knight: Yes I have.
King Arthur: *LOOK*
Black Knight: It’s just a flesh wound.
The Dead Collector: Bring out yer dead.
Large Man: Here’s one.
The Dead Collector: That’ll be ninepence.
Dead Body: I’m not dead.
Life of Brian
Mandy Cohen: He’s not the Messiah. He’s a very naughty boy! Now, piss off!
Reg: All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
Stan/Loretta: It’s every man’s right to have babies if he wants them.
Reg: But you can’t have babies.
Stan/Loretta: Don’t you oppress me.
Reg: Where’s the foetus going to gestate? You going to keep it in a box?
Brian’s Mother: What star sign is he?
Wise Man #2: Capricorn.
Brian’s Mother: Capricorn, eh? What are they like?
Wise Man #2: He is the Son of God, our Messiah.
Wise Man #1: King of the Jews.
Brian’s Mother: And that’s Capricorn is it?
Wise Man #3: No, no. That’s just him.
Monty Python Trivia!
Sue Jones-Davies who played Judith Iscariot in Life of Brian was elected mayor of Aberystwyth in Wales and the first thing she did was to sponsor a charity screening of Life of Brian!
Money earned by Pink Floyd’s album ‘The Dark Side of the Moon’ went towards funding The Holy Grail. The band was such fans of the show they would halt recording sessions just to watch Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Terry Gilliam dies more than any other actor in The Holy Grail, with a grand total of four deaths. His characters are the Green Knight (sword through the face), Sir Bors (decapitated by the Killer Rabbit), the Animator (heart attack), and the Bridgekeeper/Soothsayer (cast into the ‘Gorge of Eternal Peril’).
In Life of Brian, the six principals play 40 characters between them!
Beatle George Harrison mortgaged his house and office to raise $4m needed to fund Life of Brian. When asked why, he said ‘because I want to go see it’. One Python joked that it was and still is a record for the highest price paid for a cinema ticket.
To receive a ‘AA’ certificate in the UK (allowing an audience of under 18), the word ‘cunt’ had to be removed from the sequence where John Cleese blames Brian for allowing the Romans to almost discover their secret hideout.
After the first take of the scene where a nude Brian addresses the crowd from his window, Terry Jones pulled Chapman aside and said ‘I think we can see that you’re not Jewish’, referring to Chapman being uncircumcised. This was corrected in subsequent takes with the application of a rubber band.
The Stars of Monty Python – Where Are They Now?
His success snowballed after Python, writing and starring in Fawlty Towers and then appearing in A Fish Called Wanda, two James Bond films as Q and several Harry Potter films. His writing partner was Graham Chapman and together, they came up with, amongst many others, the ‘Dead Parrot’ sketch.
A ‘bizarre’ animator responsible for the Python’s unique animation, he is an acclaimed director with credits including The Holy Grail, Jabberwocky, Time Bandits, 12 Monkeys and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. He remains a sought-after director and has films slated for release in 2014 and beyond.
Terry Jones was more likely to be found behind the camera after Python than in front of it. He directed Erik the Viking, The Wind in the Willows and an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. In addition, he has written a number of historical books and political editorials condemning the war in Iraq and even supported a 2004 move to impeach Tony Blair!
Eric Idle found success in the USA post-Python as a regular in Brooke Shield’s Suddenly Susan. He was in Gilliam-inspired The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Nuns on the Run with Robbie Coltrane and has voiced characters in the Transformers movie, The Simpsons and Shrek the Third. Most recently he wrote the book and lyrics to Spamalot, the Tony award-winning theatre production.
An openly gay alcoholic doctor who struggled throughout his career, he appeared in small TV and film roles after Python before a tumour confined him to a wheelchair in the late 1980s. He had a stroke and sadly died in October 1989 aged just 48.
After Python he continued to act but his love shifted to the travel genre. His award-winning shows Around the World in 80 Days, Pole to Pole, Sahara with Michael Palin and Around the World in 20 Years’ remain interesting, informative, accurate and enjoyable and he has also written extensively about travelling the world.