If Full Frontal Nudity is an example of Python at its best, then The Ant – An Introduction doesn’t quite hit the same heights. It does have the Llamas and the Lumberjack Song but overall it’s a little more bitty and fragmented (not an uncommon problem for Python, particularly in later series).
It opens brightly with many fascinating facts about Llamas (“The llama is a quadruped which lives in the big rivers like the Amazon. It has two ears, a heart, a forehead, and a beak for eating honey. But it is provided with fins for swimming“). The sketch is terminated by Chapman, wearing a dress and driving a moped, bursting a paper bag. Which is as good as way as any, I suppose.
Sir George Head (Cleese) is planning an expedition to scale both both peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro and Idle is keen, at first, to join him. After Idle points out it only has one peak, it becomes clear that Head sees everything in double, which explains the failure of last year’s expedition (his brother was going to build a bridge between the two peaks). It’s a nice enough sketch and does have, unusually, a punch-line. After Idle has stormed out, it’s revealed there’s another Idle in the room who’s still keen to join Head.
The Lumberjack Song is another moment from these early shows which was to remain a staple of all their live performances. The sketch which leads into it never did though, which is a pity as it has some nice moments. Palin is a hairdresser with a “terrible un-un-uncontrollable fear whenever I see hair”. Jones is the hapless customer who obviously hasn’t noticed Palin’s blood-soaked overalls and simply wants a short back and sides.
I love the part when Palin switches on a tape recorder that has the sound of hair being cut as well as the typical small talk that hairdressers seem obliged to indulge in. And even when Jones misses a comment from the recording it’s clever enough to be repeated!
Given that most of the well-known Python songs were composed by Idle, the Lumberjack Song (written by Palin/Jones) is one of the exceptions. Even though it’s incredibly familiar, it still manages to raise a smile, thanks to Palin’s enthusiasm, Connie Booth’s slow dawning realisation that Bevis isn’t quite the man she thought he was and the disgust of the Fred Tomlinson Singers (plus Cleese and Chapman).
And there’s a good follow-on, with another letter delivered in the style familiar from Points of View.
Dear Sir, I wish to complain in the strongest possible terms about the song which you have just broadcast, about the lumberjack who wears women’s clothes. Many of my best friends are lumberjacks and only a few of them are transvestites. Yours faithfully, Brigadier Sir Charles Arthur Strong (Mrs.) PS I have never kissed the editor of the Radio Times.
We then have our first sighting of a Gumby, before Idle appears as a smarmy Nightclub host. There’s not a great deal of wordplay in this episode, so Idle’s monologue is welcome.
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Refreshment Room here at Bletchley. My name is Kenny Lust and I’m your compere for tonight. You know, once in a while it is my pleasure, and my privilege, to welcome here at the Refreshment Room, some of the truly great international artists of our time. And tonight we have one such artist. Ladies and gentlemen, someone whom I’ve always personally admired, perhaps more deeply, more strongly, more abjectly than ever before. A man, well more than a man, a god, a great god, whose personality is so totally and utterly wonderful my feeble words of welcome sound wretchedly and pathetically inadequate. Someone whose boots I would gladly lick clean until holes wore through my tongue, a man who is so totally and utterly wonderful, that I would rather be sealed in a pit of my own filth, than dare tread on the same stage with him.Ladies and gentlemen, the incomparably superior human being, Harry Fink!
By the end of this, Idle is prostrate on the floor, although he isn’t particularly concerned when he’s told that Fink hasn’t turned up, as Ken Buddha and his inflatable knees is a more than adequate subsistence.
After a film sequence featuring some visual comedy of the “hunting, shooting, fishing” type, we’re into the last sketch which features Chapman and Carol Cleveland as a young couple who are keen to enjoy a quiet night in.
Naturally enough, this doesn’t happen. Firstly, Idle turns up at the door (“Remember me? In the pub. The tall thin one with the moustache, remember? About three years ago?”) playing essentially the same character from the Nudge, Nudge sketch. A three-handed sketch with Idle, Chapman and Cleveland would have been logical – but Python rarely did logical, so instead we get an ever increasing guest list of grotesques.
There’s Cleese as Mr Equator (“Good evening. My name is Equator, Mr Equator. Equator. Like round the middle of the Earth, only with an L”) and Jones as his wife (“She smells a bit but she has a heart of gold”). Gilliam’s next, acting incredibly camp and wearing little more than a cape and a pair of speedos. He’s brought a friend (Palin) who’s had to bring his goat along (“He’s not well. I only hope he don’t go on the carpet.”)
As so often, Chapman is the sensible one, cast adrift in a sea of lunatics. And the point of the sketch? Well, Chapman is shot dead by Mr Equator and Cleveland disappears, so that’s a difficult one – maybe that the world is full of lunatics and it’s impossible to stop them?
Next Up – Episode Ten