Sunday, July 29, 2007

Monty Pythons Flying Circus

John Cleese's eulogy at the memorial to Graham Chapman who died in October 1989 after a pneumonia during treatment for cancer of the throat and spine.

Monty Pythons Flying Circus is always described as being "uniquely British" in its humour format, maybe it is, maybe it isn't , I don't know as I'm too close to it to make the call - is British humour unique enough to be a genre on its own ? If so why do I like so many American comedians ?

On the other hand we certainly didn't see many good American comedy's on British TV back in the 1960's and 70's, Bilko obviously stands out head and shoulders and we got to see Lucille Ball of course, and the Beverley Hillbillies, but these were sitcoms rather than comedy sketch shows and so the only such American programming that I can recall watching in that far distant time was Rowan and Martins Laugh-in, which of course was groundbreaking in both countries.

As kids in the late 1960's we had seen the likes of Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones in the childrens tv show "Do Not Adjust Your Set" which followed a very similar format to that which Monty Python would tread, and the other huge influence at such an early age was a left over morsel from the earlier generations "Goon Show", Spike Milligans "Q" series of sketch programmes - both the "Q" series and "Do Not Adjust Your Set" containing suprisingley adult material for the 5.30pm tea time childrens tv slot.

I'm proud to say that I watched the very first Monty Python series on the BBC, can't say that I watched the first one but after that first episode the grapevine at school worked exceedingly swiftly and I certainly watched the rest of it although the Monday night 10pm time slot caused some problems in persuading our mother to let us stay up and watch, especially as she had no sense of humour whatsoever and thought the programme to be "bloody rubbish".

She was partly correct - most people view Monty Python with rose tinted spectacles but in truth there was a lot of dross in the half hour episodes and time has not revised that opinion with most of it seeming, well, just a little bit silly now (back to Graham Chapman again).

But there was enough good stuff in the first few series to produce a bloody good live touring show which came to Leeds in 1973-ish and which virtually the whole of our year at school went to see one night, I wish I had still kept the programme which was in the form of a huge A0 sized poster, I still had it when I cleared out my dads house in 1998 but I fear it found its way to the skip that day.

To those who find the above video clip of John Cleese speaking so irreverently at a friends funeral to be shocking in its content then I expect that you've touched on an essence of "British humour" - it is not wrong to take the piss out of an old friend, its not wrong to speak in shocking terms to make people laugh at their memory, it just means that you knew and loved them enough to know that they wouldn't mind.

And on that note the best way to leave this post is with a comment made by Spike Milligan when attending fellow Goon Show singer and comedian Harry Secombe's funeral - "I'm glad he died before me because I didn't want him singing at my funeral".


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting that video. I enjoyed watching it, and hadn't seen it before. I'm no expert but I think American humour has moved much closer to British humour in the last ten years or so?

Anonymous said...

And did you/do you watch The Simpsons? Probably you are saying "Hell No" but I think you might like it.

Gary said...

Have watched The Simpsons since it started in the UK 'bout twelve or so years ago - 'tis very good and the humour in it is very subtle sometimes.