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First Episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus Airs on BBC (1969) Options
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First Episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus Airs on BBC (1969)

A highly influential British sketch comedy show, Monty Python's Flying Circus ran until 1974 and subsequently spawned four movies and several live shows. With scenes such as "The Dead Parrot Sketch" and "The Spanish Inquisition," the innovative, disjointed, non-traditional show became a cult favorite noted for its surreal, sarcastic, innuendo-laden humor. Interspersed throughout the show were Terry Gilliam's iconic animations, including a giant, crushing foot taken from what painting? More...
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Monty Python's Flying Circus
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Monty Python's Flying Circus
Monty Python’s Flying Circus
DVD cover – Monty Python members (left to right):
Back: Terry Gilliam, John Cleese, Graham Chapman
Front row: Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Eric Idle
Format Sketch comedy, Surreal Comedy
Created by Graham Chapman
John Cleese
Terry Gilliam
Eric Idle
Terry Jones
Michael Palin
Starring Graham Chapman
John Cleese
Terry Gilliam
Eric Idle
Terry Jones
Michael Palin
Carol Cleveland
Opening theme "Liberty Bell" by John Philip Sousa
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of series 4
No. of episodes 45 (List of episodes)
Running time approx. 25–30 minutes
Original channel BBC1 (1969–1973)
BBC2 (1974)
Original run 5 October 1969 – 5 December 1974
Followed by And Now for Something Completely Different

Monty Python’s Flying Circus (known during the final series as just Monty Python) is a British sketch comedy series created by the comedy group Monty Python and broadcast by the BBC from 1969 to 1974. The shows were composed of surreality, risqué or innuendo-laden humour, sight gags and observational sketches without punchlines. It also featured animations by Terry Gilliam, often sequenced or merged with live action. The first episode was recorded on 7 September and broadcast on 5 October 1969 on BBC One, with 45 episodes airing over four series from 1969 to 1974, plus two episodes for German TV.

The show often targets the idiosyncrasies of British life, especially that of professionals, and is at times politically charged. The members of Monty Python were highly educated. Terry Jones and Michael Palin are Oxford University graduates; Eric Idle, John Cleese, and Graham Chapman attended Cambridge University; and American-born member Terry Gilliam is an Occidental College graduate. Their comedy is often pointedly intellectual, with numerous erudite references to philosophers and literary figures. The series followed and elaborated upon the style used by Spike Milligan in his ground breaking series Q5, rather than the traditional sketch show format. The team intended their humour to be impossible to categorise, and succeeded so completely that the adjective "Pythonesque" was invented to define it and, later, similar material.

The Pythons play the majority of the series characters themselves, including the majority of the female characters, but occasionally they cast an extra actor. Regular supporting cast members include Carol Cleveland (referred to by the team as the unofficial "Seventh Python"), Connie Booth (Cleese's first wife), series Producer Ian MacNaughton, Ian Davidson, Neil Innes (in the fourth series), and the Fred Tomlinson Singers (for musical numbers).

The series' theme song is the first segment of John Philip Sousa's The Liberty Bell, chosen because it was in the public domain and thus could be used without charge.

The title Monty Python's Flying Circus was partly the result of the group's reputation at the BBC. Michael Mills, BBC's Head of Comedy, wanted their name to include the word "circus" because the BBC referred to the six members wandering around the building as a circus, in particular "Baron Von Took's Flying Circus", after Barry Took, who had brought them to the BBC.[1] The group added "flying" to make it sound less like an actual circus and more like something from World War I. The group was coming up with their name at a time when the 1966 Royal Guardsmen song Snoopy vs. the Red Baron had been at a peak. Manfred von Richthofen, the WWI German flying ace known as The Red Baron, commanded a squadron of planes known as "The Flying Circus." The words "Monty Python" were added because they claimed it sounded like a really bad theatrical agent, the sort of person who would have brought them together, with John Cleese suggesting "Python" as something slimy & slithery, and Eric Idle suggesting "Monty".[2] They later explained that the name Monty "...made us laugh because Monty to us means Lord Montgomery, our great general of the Second World War".[3]

The BBC had rejected some other names put forward by the group including "Whither Canada?", "The Nose Show", "Ow! It's Colin Plint!", "A Horse, a Spoon and a Basin", "The Toad Elevating Moment" and "Owl Stretching Time".[4] Several of these titles were later used for individual episodes.
Recurring characters

In contrast to many other sketch comedy shows, Flying Circus had only a handful of recurring characters, many of whom were involved only in titles and linking sequences, including:

Arthur Pewtey (Palin), a socially inept, extremely dull man who appears most notably in the "Argument Clinic", "Marriage Guidance Counsellor", "Vocational Guidance Counsellor", and "Ministry of Silly Walks" sketches. His sketches all take the form of an office appointment with an authority figure (usually played by Cleese, but occasionally Chapman), which are used to parody the officious side of the British establishment by having the professional employed in the most bizarre field of expertise.

The Reverend Arthur Belling (played by both Chapman and Palin) is the vicar of St Loony-Up-The-Cream-Bun-and-Jam. He is known for his bizarrely eccentric behaviour. In one sketch he makes an appeal to the insane people of the world to drive sane people insane, and in another sketch politely joins a couple and "converts" them to his loony sect of Christianity by smashing plates on a table, shaking a baby doll, bouncing a rubber crab from a ping-pong paddle, and spraying shaving cream all over his face.

The "It's" man (Palin), a Robinson Crusoe-type castaway with torn clothes and a long, unkempt beard who would appear at the beginning of the programme. Often he is seen performing a long or dangerous task, such as falling off a tall, jagged cliff or running a long distance towards the camera before introducing the show by just saying, "It's..." before being abruptly cut off by the opening titles and Terry Gilliam's animation sprouting the words 'Monty Python’s Flying Circus'. It's was an early candidate for the title of the series.

Historical figures, such as Julius Caesar (Chapman), Napoleon (Jones), or a Viking (usually Gilliam), entering in the midst of a sketch to interrupt it, appearing randomly in a quick cut-away gag, or delivering a non sequitur in a cut-away shot.

A BBC continuity announcer in a dinner jacket (Cleese), seated at a desk, often in highly incongruous locations, such as a forest or a beach. His line, "And now for something completely different," was used variously as a lead-in to the opening titles and a simple way to link sketches. Though Cleese is best known for it, Idle first introduced the phrase in Episode 2, where he introduced a man with three buttocks. It eventually became the show’s catch phrase and served as the title for the troupe’s first movie. In Series 3 the line was shortened to simply: "And now..." and was often combined with the "It's" man in introducing the episodes.

The Gumbys, a group of slow-witted individuals identically attired in gumboots (from which they take their name), high-water trousers, braces, and round, wire-rimmed glasses, with toothbrush moustaches and knotted handkerchiefs worn on their heads (a stereotype of the English, working class holidaymaker). They hold their arms stiffly at their sides, speak slowly in loud, throaty voices punctuated by frequent grunts and groans, and have a fondness for pointless violence. All of them are surnamed Gumby: D.P. Gumby, R.S. Gumby, etc. Even though all Pythons played Gumbys in the show's run, the character is most closely associated with Michael Palin.

The Knight with a Raw Chicken (Gilliam), who would hit characters over the head with the chicken when they said something particularly silly. The knight was a regular during the first series and made another appearance in the third.

Mr. Badger (Idle), a Scotsman whose speciality was interrupting sketches ("I won't ruin your sketch, for a pound"). He has also been seen as an aeroplane hijacker whose demands grow increasingly eccentric. He was once interviewed, in a sketch opposite Cleese, regarding his interpretation of the Magna Carta, which Badger believes was actually a piece of chewing gum on a bedspread in Dorset.

A nude organist (played in his first appearance by Gilliam, later by Jones) who provided a brief fanfare to punctuate certain sketches, most notably on a sketch poking fun at Sale of the Century or as yet another way to introduce the opening titles. This character was addressed as "Onan" by Palin's host character in the ersatz game show sketch "Blackmail".

Mr. Eric Praline, an eccentric, disgruntled man who often wears a Pac-a-Mac, played by Cleese. His most famous appearance is in the Dead Parrot sketch. His name is only mentioned once on-screen, during the "Fish Licence" sketch, but his attire (together with Cleese's distinctive, nasal performance) distinguishes him as a recognizable character who makes multiple appearances throughout the series. "Fish License" also reveals that he has multiple pets of wildly differing species, all of them named "Eric".

Mr. Cheeky, a well-dressed moustachioed man, referred to in the published scripts as "Mr. Nudge" (Idle), who pointedly annoys uptight characters (usually Jones). He is characterized by his constant nudging gestures and cheeky innuendo. His most famous appearance is in "Nudge Nudge", his initial sketch, though he appears in several later ones too, including "The Visitors" sketch, where he claimed his name was Arthur Name.

Biggles (Chapman, and in one instance Jones), a WWI pilot. Derived from the famous series of fiction stories by W. E. Johns.

The "Pepperpots" are screeching middle-aged, lower-middle class housewives, played by the Pythons in frocks, and engage in surreal and inconsequential conversation. The Pythons played most of the female roles themselves, unless the part called for a younger, more glamorous actress. "Pepperpot" refers to what the Pythons believed was the typical body shape of middle-class, British housewives, as explained by John Cleese in "How to Irritate People".[citation needed] On the rare occasion these women were named, it was often for comic effect, featuring such names as Mrs. Scum, Mrs. Non-Gorilla, or the duo Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion. Terry Jones is perhaps most closely associated with the Pepperpots, but all the Pythons were frequent in performing the drag characters.[citation needed]

Luigi Vercotti (Palin), a mafioso entrepreneur and pimp featured during the first season, accompanied in his first appearance by his brother Dino (Jones). He appears as Ron Obvious's manager, the owner of La Gondola restaurant and as a victim of the Piranha Brothers . With his brother, he attempts to talk the Colonel into paying for protection of his Army base.

Brief black-and-white stock footage, lasting only two or three seconds, of middle-aged women sitting in an audience and applauding. The film was taken from a Women’s Institute meeting and was sometimes presented with a colour tint.

The Spanish Inquisition would burst into a previously unrelated sketch whenever their name was mentioned. Their catchphrase was "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!" They consist of Cardinal Ximinez (Palin), Cardinal Fang (Gilliam), and Cardinal Biggles (Jones). They premiered in series two and Ximinez had a cameo in "The Buzz Aldrin Show".

Frenchmen: Cleese and Palin would sometimes dress in stereotypical French garb, e.g. striped shirt, tight pants, beret, and speak in garbled French, with incomprehensible accents. They had one fake mustache between them, and each would stick it onto the other's lip when it was his turn to speak. They appear giving a demonstration of the technical aspects of the flying sheep in episode 2 ("Sex and Violence"), and appear in the Ministry of Silly Walks sketch as the developers of "La Marche Futile".

The Compère (Palin), a sleazy nightclub emcee in a red jacket. He linked sketches by introducing them as nightclub acts, and was occasionally seen after the sketch, passing comment on it. In one link, he was the victim of the Knight with a Raw Chicken.

Spiny Norman, a Gilliam animation of a giant hedgehog. He's introduced in Series 2, Episode 1 in the Piranha Brothers sketch as an hallucination experienced by Dinsdale Piranha when he's depressed. Later, Spiny Norman appears randomly in the background of animated cityscapes, shouting "Dinsdale!"

Cardinal Richelieu (Palin) is impersonated by someone or is impersonating someone else. He is first seen as a witness in court, but he turns out to be Ron Higgins, a professional Cardinal Richelieu impersonator. He is later seen as himself impersonating Petula Clark.

"The Colonel" (Chapman), a British Army officer who interrupts sketches that are "too silly" or that contain material he finds offensive. The Colonel also appears when non-BBC broadcast repeats need to be cut off for time constraints in syndication).[citation needed]

Ken Shabby (Palin) appeared in his own sketch in the first series. In the second series he appeared in several vox populi segments. He later founded his own religion and called himself Archbishop Shabby.

Raymond Luxury-Yacht (Chapman) is described as one of Britain's leading skin specialists. He wears an enormous fake nose made of polystyrene. He proudly proclaims that his name, "is spelled 'Raymond Luxury-Yacht', but it's pronounced 'Throatwobbler Mangrove'."

A Madman (Chapman) Often appears in vox pops segments. He wears a bowler hat and has a bushy moustache. He will always rant and ramble about his life whenever he appears and

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