On this day in 1969, the first episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus appeared on BBC One. I remember when I first discovered it, although I’m unclear what year it was — 1977 most likely. It was astounding. But I have to admit that a lot of it worked for me just because it was silly. I especially remember, Climbing the North Face of the Uxbridge Road. How could I not love that?
As I got older, I turned off to it. I started getting more of the inside humor and it seemed somewhat pretentious and always overdone. But about a year ago, I decided to revisit it. I watched the entire series in a short period of time. My first take on it was right: astounding. It’s more the subtle points that impress me now. For example, the first episode of the second season, “Face the Press.” It is most known for The Ministry of Silly Walks. But right at the start of that sketch, Cleese walks by a long line of delivery men — a payoff to the earlier New Cooker Sketch. It’s a marvel, even today; but at that time, this approach to comedy just wasn’t done.
There are things that have become so ingrained in the culture so as to be annoying. I really do find the Cleese “list” sketches hard to take. They depend entirely upon Cleese’s acting, which is superb, but old hat now. These include some of the “best loved” sketches like the Dead Parrot sketch and Cheese Shop sketch. The Dead Parrot sketch has a bit right in the middle where Terry Jones says, “It’s not easy to pad these up to 30 minutes.” Exactly! People remember the beginning of it, but not all the wasted time of going to the brother’s shop and all that. As for the Cheese Shop sketch, it ends stupidly. But I must admit it’s brilliant when Cleese loses it with the musicians.
What works best for me now is when episodes hang together. I didn’t know what to make of “The Cycling Tour” when I was young, but now it is one of my favorite episodes. It reminds me very much of what Palin and Jones would go on to do in Ripping Yarns. But the main thing is that in any episode — Any! — there is a tremendous amount to love. And then, of course, they went on to make three great films. Although, if you ask me, they’re horrible live.