John Cleese, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam and Eric Idle. Also known as Monty Python's Flying Circus.
When I first saw Python, I assumed these hilarious and intelligent men were all really great friends, but this is not the case. Cleese and Chapman met the first time after a Footlights audition; both reeling from embarrassment, went for coffee together. John recalls that he really didn't like Graham at all, but that soon after that they began writing together and that dislike was forgotten. Though I'm not sure it was forgotten forever. Cleese eventually quit the Monty Python team, leaving the remaining 5 to complete the fourth and final series without him. Terry Jones and Michael Palin didn't like Terry Gilliam at all the first time they met him - this is actually one of my favourite stories about their meeting - Gilliam had worked with Cleese previously, and when Gilliam asked Cleese to introduce him to anyone (anyone being the operative word!) in TV, Cleese obliged. Gilliam walked into a meeting with the rest of the Python boys wearing a full-length Afghan coat putting Jones and Palin's noses out of joint. Idle, on the other hand, saw something in Gilliam (and his coat) that he instantly warmed to.
This sketch is actually (allegedly) the reason that we call email and internet rubbish, 'spam'. I for one pretty much know the Dead Parrot sketch backwards, forwards and inside out.
In 1974 after 5 years and 4 series, the Pythons called it a day. They did, however, go on to make their amazingly brilliant films; Holy Grail in 1975, Life of Brian in 1979, and The Meaning of Life in 1983. All of them continued to work with each other in various ways, be it in movies such as Time Bandits, A Fish Called Wanda, Jabberwocky, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen or Brazil (some of these amongst my favourite films of all time) or with writing commitments.
Sadly, a mere 6 years after The Meaning of Life came out, Graham Chapman passed away (died, went to meet his maker, was no more, ceased to be, became a late Chapman) from cancer. Graham really didn't cope well with the life of a Python or with life in general. He finally came out when he was 25, much to the surprise of his fellow Python members (not because they had an issue with him being gay, but because he was always the more rugged one; smoked a pipe, played rugby, climbed trees and mountains etc.), and was an alcoholic. Being a "jovial drunk" (as Barry Cryer described him) it took a very long time for his illness to be discovered. It was, finally, when they were looking for a missing script and Palin, looking in the small suitcase Chapman (or Gray as he was affectionately known) used to carry, found not only the script, but a very LARGE amount of vodka. Chapman told Michael Parkinson, during a 1980 television interview that he was drinking 4 pints of gin a day. He decided to sober up following the making of the Holy Grail and went cold turkey.
The Pythons became incredibly popular among the rich and famous; apparently, Paul McCartney would cease recording in order that he could watch, and a fair amount of the budget for Monty Python and the Holy Grail was provided by Pink Floyd, Genesis and Led Zepellin. Elvis Presley apparently loved the movie so much that he could quote the entire movie back to front. He even used the immortal line "it's just a flesh wound" once when he broke his finger.
I could wax lyrical about the Python lads for days on end; I truly love them all and I'm forever grateful for them because of all the joy and laughter they have and will continue to provide, not just to me, but to others. I hope to be able to introduce my niece and nephew to them when they're older and I hope they give them the same mirth and merriment.
So, yes, I want the Pythons at my dinner party. I want to hear more about their relationship; love, hatred, indifference. I want to hear about Michael Palin's trips around the world, I want to talk to Terry Gilliam about art and his movies which I adore, I want to sing and play the guitar with Eric Idle, I want to force John Cleese to do a silly walk and do one of his amazing screamy rants, and I want Terry Jones to do his hilarious striptease with nipple and arse tassels. If Graham Chapman could spend a bit of time too, I'd like him to just stop the whole conversation whilst dressed as a Colonel because it was all just too silly.
I'll leave you with a YouTube video of a small compilation of sketches and I'm off to eat a wafer-thin mint and tell my dog that he's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy.
Stay Hep, Cats
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