At Last The 1948 Show – BFI DVD Review

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Background

Broadcast in 1967 on ITV (Rediffusion London) At Last The 1948 Show is one of a handful of shows which laid the groundwork for Monty Python’s Flying Circus (Do Not Adjust Your Set is another key pre-Python programme which I’ll be taking a look at next week).

Earlier in the sixties, John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Tim Brooke-Taylor had been part of the Cambridge Footlights team who took the revue A Clump of Plinths/Cambridge Circus first to the Edinburgh Festival and then onto the West End, Broadway and a tour of New Zealand.  Some of the best of their revue material would later be pressed into service in At Last The 1948 Show.

Cleese and Brooke-Taylor were also integral members of the radio series I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again from 1964 whilst Cleese and Chapman also kept busy writing for The Frost Report.  Feldman was another key Frost Report contributor (he co-wrote the Class sketch which featured Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett). And like the others, Feldman was also enjoying considerable radio success (co-writing Round The Horne with Barry Took).

David Frost was something of a television powerhouse during this period. Although he would be the subject of harsh (but loving?) ridicule in both At Last The 1948 Show and Python, there’s no denying that he pushed the careers of many of his contemporaries forward (something which both Cleese and Brooke-Taylor are happy to acknowledge today).

Produced by Frost’s company Paradine Productions, At Last The 1948 Show ran for two series in 1967 (six episodes during February and March with a further seven following between September and November). Joining the four writers and performers was the lovely Aimi MacDonald who managed to wring the absolute maximum out of the small amount of material she was given.

Although At Last The 1948 Show had a more convential format than Python (sketches with punch-lines for instance) MacDonald’s fractured linking material does echo the way that Terry Gilliam’s animations would later be used in Python to provide a brief interlude between the sketches.

The likes of Bill Oddie, Barry Cryer and Eric Idle also pop up from time to time (Cryer having the smallest of small parts in probably the most famous sketch the series produced – Four Yorkshiremen).

Archive Status

Like a great many shows made during the sixties and early seventies, most of At Last The 1948 Show was wiped during periodic archive purges.  By the time that the remaining Rediffusion archive was donated to the BFI, it was found that only two episodes (four and six from series one) remained.  That most of the series now exists is testament to the tenacity of several key people (notably Steve Bryant and Dick Fiddy).

The first breakthrough was the return in 1990 of five compilation programmes broadcast in Sweden (these were issued on DVD in 2007).  Over time, several other shows were also located whilst fragments of footage have been obtained from disparate sources which include the Australian censor and Marty Feldman’s widow, Lauretta.

Most recently, two virtually complete editions (including series one, show one) were donated from Sir David Frost’s archive. For this release, where no video footage exists (the second episode of series one is the most incomplete) off-air audio has been synchronised to the camera script in order to fill the gaps.

The Series

Right from the off, the comic personas of the four main players are deftly established. John Cleese displays the type of manic intensity which would be his signature performance style for the next decade or more. Graham Chapman has a nice line in authority figures (albeit ones who have some fatal flaw – such as the Minister who literally falls to pieces). It also has to be said that he gives good yokel.

Tim Brooke-Taylor is always perfect as the hapless sufferer but also, like Cleese, does manic intensity very well. His clockwork hospital visitor (attempting to comfort a bed-bound Bill Oddie) is a wonderfully energetic spot of nonsense.

And although Marty Feldman had far less performing experience than the others, he impresses right from the off.  His boggle-eyed stare (something which David Frost thought would be offputing for the viewers) means that he’s perfect casting as the more eccentric characters, although he’s equally able to play the straight man when required.

Series one is stuffed with memorable sketches, a number of which were later recycled by the Pythons. For example, in the first show we see Graham Chapman’s solo wrestler in addition to the Secret Service sketch (which later appeared on the Python’s Live at Drury Lane album).

The Undercover Policeman sketch in show four is a delightfully ramshackle piece which saw all four struggle (and fail) to keep a straight face. In his interview on the third disc, Brooke-Taylor fills in some of the background – what was transmitted appears to be a second take and the others, for whatever reason, decided to devitaite from the script the second time around. This initially leaves Tim a little at sea ….

Several of the Cleese/Feldman two-handers, especially the bookshop sketch (Feldman as a customer requesting more and more unlikely books, Cleese as the increasingly ticked off proprtieter) are top notch. This one was recycled several times, both by Feldman and the Pythons, but the original is hard to beat.  The Wonderful World of the Ant is another which gets the thumbs up from me.

I also like the way that the hostesses increase by one each week, meaning that by the sixth and final show there are half a dozen glamourous girls all vying for attention. The lovely Aimi always comes out on top though.

She has a slightly increased role in the second series, which continued very much in the vein of the first.   Highlights include the period drama The Willets of Littlehampton and Tim Brooke-Taylor’s fairly savage parody of David Frost (The Marvin Bint Programme). The Four Yorkshiremen sketch is the undoubted jewel of show six, but Tim Brooke-Taylor’s chartered accountant dance is also worthy of a mention.

The seventh and final show has another classic Cleese/Feldman sketch and whilst it’s a shame that this edition isn’t quite complete (the final skit – a performance of The Rhubarb Tart Song – is missing) at least the end credits (which feature Ronnie Corbett gatecrashing proceedings to trail his new show) do still exist.

Special Features

The three disc set contains a generous amount of supplementary content.  Copies of the two scripts which feature the most missing material are included on the first two discs, along with a handful of other brief features.(such as photo galleries and John Cleese’s 2003 introduction from the BFI Missing Believed Wiped event).

The bulk of the special features are on the third disc.  Two newly shot interviews with John Cleese (31 minutes) and Tim Brooke-Taylor (38 minutes) are both of interest.

Cleese’s comments on his increasingly distant relationship with Feldman and his fondness for performing with Brooke-Taylor (who he likens, in performance style, to Michael Palin) were a few highlights from his interview whilst it’s hard not to love the all-round good egg that is Tim Brooke-Taylor. Indeed, rather like Michael Palin it’s difficult to imagine anyone ever having a bad word to say about him.

Also included is a 2006 interview with Cleese at the BFI (36 minutes) and 25 minutes of rushes from a 1969 interview with Marty Feldman which was never broadcast. Several audio features – Reconstructing At Last The 1948 Show (44 minutes) and a chaotic Dee Time interview (12 minutes) are also worthy of investigation.

Picture Quality

The previous DVD release (of the Swedish compilations) was incredibly grotty so any upgrade would have been welcome. The picture quality is certainly much improved, although given that several episodes were patched together from various sources it’s not surprising that some sections look better than others.

Given the age and condition of the telerecordngs, there may have only been a finite amount of restoration work which could have been carried out. So you can expect to see tramlining and other picture defects from time to time. But these are only intermittent issues, so in general the picture quality is quite acceptable.

Conclusion

Whilst At Last The 1948 Show will probably always be viewed as a son of Monty Python, it’s a series that really deserves to be appreciated on its own merits. Like every sketch show it doesn’t have a 100% strike rate, but when it clicks (as it so often does) the results are simply glorious.

It’s also very pleasing that after a great deal of hard work by the BFI, we have the series reconstructed in as complete a form as possible. Together with a raft of impressive contextual extras, it results in a very impressive package which comes highly recommended.

The Prince of Denmark – Simply Media DVD Review

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Although largely forgotten today, Barry Cryer and Graham Chapman had a lengthy sitcom partnership with Ronnie Corbett (they ended up penning three different comedy shows for him).  First, along with Eric Idle, they created No – That’s Me Over Here, which ran for three series between 1967 and 1970 on ITV.  The first two series no longer exist, although one episode is possibly held in private hands.   Series three is available from Network.

After Corbett and Barker moved from ITV to the BBC in the early seventies, Corbett’s sitcom career continued with Now Look Here (1971 – 1973).  Rosemary Leach, who had also appeared in No – That’s Me Over Here, returned, although since she was now playing Laura, rather than Rosemary, the series clearly wasn’t a direct continuation.  Mind you, Ronnie was still playing Ronnie and to all intents and purposes was pretty much the same character (unlike his long-time comedy colleague, Ronnie Barker, Corbett tended to stick with a very similar comic persona).

Something of a precursor to Sorry!, Corbett’s most popular sitcom success, Now Look Here saw Ronnie attempting to break free from the stifling influence of his mother.  The difference was that in Now Look Here he does (albeit his new house is just a few doors away) and by the second and final series he was married to Laura.  Although a release from Simply was announced, it was then pulled due to unspecified rights issues.  Hopefully these problems can be ironed out and it’ll reappear on the schedule at a later date.

The Prince of Denmark (1974) followed on directly from Now Look Here.  This series saw Ronnie and Laura running a pub (hence the series’ title) which Laura had inherited.  Ronnie, despite knowing nothing about the pub game, blithely assumes he knows best and frequently overrides the good advice offered by those around him, with inevitably disastrous comic results.

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Ronnie Corbett & Rosemary Leach

The pub setting is a fruitful one, since it allows new comic characters to keep popping up in each show.  Making appearances were a host of familiar faces, including Derek Deadman, Richard Davies, Harold Goodwin, Mary Hignett, Claire Neilson (also a regular on The Two Ronnies) and Geoffrey Palmer. Penny Irving adds a touch of glamour as the pneumatic barmaid Polly.

The dependable David Warwick appeared in all six episodes as the long-suffering barman Steve whilst the pub also boasted several semi-regulars.  These included Mr Blackburn (Tim Barrett) who never manages to catch his train due to the fact he always stays for one more drink and a crossword addict (played by Michael Nightingale) who only talks in riddles.  The unmistakable Declan Mulholland, playing the abusive Danny, also helps to enliven a couple of episodes.

The first episode opens with Ronnie and Laura visiting their new pub incognito. Ronnie’s pedantic, uppity and pompous (complaining about the service and the fellow customers whilst also muttering darkly that there’s going to be changes) whilst Laura is much more patient and understanding. These traits will be repeated across the series time and time again.

And the price of Ronnie’s half a bitter and Laura’s small sherry? Twenty five pence, which is a bargain!

The start-up screen displays the following disclaimer. “Due to the archive nature of this material, modern audiences may find some of it editorially challenging. In order to present the content as transmitted, no edits have been made. We ask that viewers remain mindful of the period in which it was commissioned and transmitted”.

This seems to be due to the moment in the opening episode where we see a black customer, Reg (Lee Davis), tell the departing licensee, Mrs Bowman (Maggie Hanley) that her pies are disgusting (she suggests he eats a missionary instead). That’s the only slightly off-key joke I can find, which makes the disclaimer seem a little anti-climactic.

Since the first episode went out at 7:40 pm, it’s surprising to hear Declan Mulholland’s truculent troublemaker call Ronnie a bastard several times. Another interesting point is the later scene where Ronnie mistakes an ordinary customer for a Brewery bigwig and fawns over him whilst roundly abusing the real Brewery man.  Given Graham Chapman’s involvement, it’s highly likely that his old comedy partner John Cleese would have tuned in. Could this have inspired Cleese to pen the later Fawlty Towers episode The Hotel Inspectors?

By the third episode things are ticking along nicely. This one boasts a strong guest cast – Richard Davies, Claire Nielson, Geoffrey Palmer – and sees Ronnie cast as a confidant and sage to his customers. The only problem is his total lack of understanding.  For example, when Davies’ character mentions that he believes in a benign oligarchy, all Ronnie can do is nod sagely. Ronnie’s increasing desperation as he’s quizzed about his views on democracy is nicely done.

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Ronnie Corbett & Geoffrey Palmer

Ronnie’s exuberant cheeky-chappy persona is precisely what Martin (Geoffrey Palmer) doesn’t need as he’s suffering from marriage problems. And when Martin’s wife, Alison (Claire Nielson), turns up, Ronnie once again puts his foot in it. Corbett and Palmer play off each other very well (is it just another coincidence that both Palmer and Nielson would later check into Fawlty Towers?). Although Corbett overplays somewhat, Palmer is a model of restraint and it’s probably their differing styles which helps to make this one flow nicely.

Show four opens with Ronnie in the kitchen, attempting (but failing disastrously) to make Laura a snack whilst she enjoys a quiet bath. Whilst it offers a change of pace from the bar scenes, the visual comedy on offer is somewhat laboured (and subject to some hard edits – one moment the pan is on fire, the next it isn’t).

Elsewhere, Ronnie’s prejudices are on display. He declares that all football supporters are hooligans unlike followers of rugby, who are gentlemen. Given this set-up, no prizes for guessing what happens when a large crowd of rugger fans turn up. The highly-recognisable Michael Sharvell-Martin pops up as Gerry, captain of the rugby team, whilst the equally-recognisable Harry Fielder and Pat Gorman (familiar background faces from this era of television) are also present.

Ronnie’s jukebox jiving in show five is a highlight and seems to briefly amuse what is otherwise a very muted audience. When Ronnie treats a couple of customers to his regular joke about the Irishman in the restaurant, the punchline doesn’t raise a titter either from them or the studio audience. This episode also seems to have the strongest Graham Chapman feel, as what begins as a quiet night quickly spins out of control. The comic escalation we see is a touch Pythonesque.

Although Ronnie’s character remains highly smackable throughout, Corbett’s timing ensures that he makes the most of the material he’s given. It’s just a slight pity that Rosemary Leach didn’t have more to work with.

This was an era where female members of comedy couples were often dominant (Terry & June, George & Mildred) and although Laura is clearly much more sensible and level-headed than her husband, she’s less well drawn than either June or Mildred. More often than not Laura isn’t called on to do much more than show exasperation at Ronnie’s latest flight of fancy.

No lost classic then, but The Prince of Denmark should be of interest to both Ronnie Corbett fans and devotees of seventies British sitcoms. Although the scripts can be a little weak in places (surprising given Cryer and Chapman’s track record) it’s still enjoyable fare, thanks to the familar faces guesting and Corbett’s energetic performance. Recommended.

The Prince of Denmark is released by Simply Media on the 17th of July 2017.  RRP £19.99.  It can be ordered directly from Simply here

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Monty Python’s Flying Circus – Series One, Episode Thirteen – Intermission

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First up is a Restaurant sketch with Cleese and Idle as husband and wife.  Idle is good value as the complaining wife (“Ooh I don’t like this, Ooh I don’t like that. Oh I don’t think much to all this. Oh fancy using that wallpaper. Fancy using mustard. Oo is that a proper one? Oo it’s not real. Oh I don’t think it’s a proper restaurant unless they give you finger bowls. Oo I don’t like him. I’m going to have a baby in a few years”).

The sketch then goes off into several different directions, best of which is Jones offering himself as the dish of the day (“I hope you’re going to enjoy me this evening. I’m the special. Try me with some rice”).

I love the authentic looking cinema adverts (“After the show why not visit the La Gondola Restaurant. Just two minutes from this performance”) which is followed an intermission with Cleese as a cinema usherette who’s only got an albatross for sale (“Course you don’t get bloody wafers with it”). For such a typically throwaway moment it enjoyed a long life, right up until the farewell shows at the O2 earlier this year.

The historical impersonations sketch (“I would like to see John the Babtist’s impersonation of Graham Hill”) really belongs to Palin, both for his suitably smarmy host and his turn as Cardinal Richelieu impersonating Petula Clark.

Also good is the police sketch (“Yes, we in Special Crime Squad have been using wands for almost a year now. You find it’s easy to make yourself invisible. You can defy time and space, and you can turn violent criminals into frogs. Something which you could never do with the old truncheons”).

A long sketch brings the series to a close. Cleese is a psychiatrist who finds Palin a difficult case to solve. He keeps hearing guitars playing and people singing when there’s no one around and what’s worse is that it’s mostly folk songs (“Oh my god”).  He’s sent along to see Chapman’s surgeon, who happily slices him open and discovers he has squatters inside him.

Squatter: Too much man, groovy, great scene. Great light show, baby.
Surgeon: What are you doing in there?
Squatter: We’re doing our own thing, man.
Surgeon: Have you got Mr Notlob’s permission to be in there?
Squatter: We’re squatters, baby.
Surgeon: What? (to nurse about Notlob) Nurse, wake him up. (she slaps his face)
Squatter: Don’t get uptight, man. Join the scene and other phrases. Money isn’t real.
Surgeon: It is where I’m standing and it blows my mind, young lad. (looks inside Notlob) Good Lord! Is that a nude woman?
Squatter: She’s doing an article on us for ‘Nova’, man.
Girl: (her head also appearing through slit) Hi everyone. Are you part of the scene?
Surgeon: Are you rolling your own jelly babies in there?
Notlob: (waking up) What’s going on? Who are they?
Surgeon: That’s what we are trying to find out.
Notlob: What are they doing in my stomach?
Surgeon: We don’t know. Are they paying you any rent?
Notlob: Of course they’re not paying me rent!
Squatter: You’re not furnished, you fascist.

Apart from a brief Gilliam animation and a Cleese voice over (“When this series returns it will be put out on Monday mornings as a test card and will be described by the Radio Times as a history of Irish agriculture”) that’s the end of the series.  Not having seen it for a good few years, it still stands up very well.  Whilst the groundswell of opinion that Python is overrated does seem to have increased over the last ten years or so, there’s still more than enough across the thirteen episodes to justify the reputation that Python has always enjoyed.  The strike rate of decent sketches is good and even the things that don’t quite work are lifted by the Pythons themselves.

(With thanks to the Monty Python – Just The Words website for the script extracts)

Monty Python’s Flying Circus – Series One, Episode Twelve – The Naked Ant

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The Naked Ant opens with Idle and Cleese as two office workers who watch as their colleagues jump to their deaths.

Idle: Did you see somebody go past the window?
Cleese: What?
Idle: Somebody just went past the window. That way. (indicates down)
Cleese: Oh. Oh.
Idle: Another one.
Cleese: Huh?
Idle: Another one just went past downwards.
Cleese: What?
Idle: Two people have just fallen out of that window to their almost certain death.
Cleese: Fine, fine. Fine.
Palin: Look! Two people (another falls) three people have just fallen past that window.
Cleese: Must be a board meeting.
Idle: Oh yeah. (another falls past) Hey. That was Wilkins of finance.
Cleese: Oh, no, that was Robertson.
Idle: Wilkins.
Cleese: Robertson.
Idle: Wilkins.
Cleese: Robertson.
(Another falls.)
Idle: That was Wilkins.
Cleese: That was Wilkins. He was a good, good, er, golfer, Wilkins.

Next up, Palin is good as a hyperactive television presenter (“Too early to tell’ … too early to say… it means the same thing. The word ‘say’ is the same as the word ‘tell’. They’re not spelt the same, but they mean the same. It’s an identical situation, we have with ‘ship’ and ‘boat’ but not the same as we have with ‘bow’ and ‘bough’, they’re spelt differently, mean different things but sound the same. But the real question remains. What is the solution, if any, to this problem? What can we do? What am I saying? Why am I sitting in this chair? Why am I on this programme? And what am I going to say next?”).

Mr Hilter and the Minehead by-election is one of my favourite Python sketches.  It opens with Idle as a monumentally boring man who, along with his wife, has arrived at a boarding house run by a nice lady (Jones).  Idle had a knack for writing long droning monologues, of which this an excellent example, as he describes in great detail exactly how they traveled down.

Johnson: Well, we usually reckon on five and a half hours and it took us six hours and fifty-three minutes, with the twenty-five minute stop at Frampton Cottrell to stretch our legs, only we had to wait half an hour to get onto the M5 at Droitwich.
Landlady: Really?
Johnson: Then there was a three mile queue just before Bridgewater on the A38. We usually come round on the B3339 just before Bridgewater, you see…
Landlady: Really?
Johnson: Yes, but this time we decided to risk it because they’re always saying they’re going to widen it there.
Landlady: Are they?
Johnson: Yes well just by the intersection, there where the A372 joins up, there’s plenty of room to widen it there, there’s only grass verges. They could get another six feet…knock down that hospital… Then we took the coast road through Williton and got all the Taunton traffic on the A358 from Crowcombe and Stogumber …

This could have made a decent little sketch on its own, but when the Johnsons enter the dining room they meet three strange characters who spin the sketch into a totally different direction.  Mr Hilter (Cleese), Ron Vibbentrop (Chapman) and Heimlich Bimmler (Palin).  All three are dressed in full Nazi regalia, which makes their attempts to hide their identities by slightly changing their names even more ludicrous.

Chapman has the least the do, Palin has a great monologue (“How do you do there squire, also I am not Minehead lad but I in Peterborough, Lincolnshire was given birth to, but stay in Peterborough Lincolnshire house all during war, owing to nasty running sores, and was unable to go in the streets play football or go to Nürnberg. I am retired vindow cleaner and pacifist, without doing war crimes“) but the bulk of the sketch rests on Cleese’s shoulders who is suitably manic as Adolf Hitler, forced to be polite to people he obviously considers to be his inferiors.

I love the concept of Hitler relaunching his quest for power via the Minehead by-election, as well as the puzzled stares of passers-by (who I assume weren’t extras and were just members of the public) as Hilter’s election campaign makes its way through the streets.

The 127th Upperclass Twit of the Year Show is another well known early Python sketch (it was re-filmed for And Now For Something Completely Different).  Cleese is a suitably hysterical commentator and he starts by introducing the runners and riders.

Vivian Smith-Smythe-Smith has an O-level in chemo-hygiene. Simon-Zinc-Trumpet-Harris, married to a very attractive table lamp. Nigel Incubator-Jones, his best friend is a tree, and in his spare time he’s a stockbroker. Gervaise Brook-Hampster is in the Guards, and his father uses him as a wastepaper basket. And finally Oliver St John-Mollusc, Harrow and the Guards, thought by many to be this year’s outstanding twit.

|n order to be crowned champion they have to complete a number of demanding tasks, such as walking in a straight line, kicking the beggar, reversing their sports car into an old woman, insulting the waiter and finally shooting themselves.

Palin is suitably grotty as Ken Shabby, who has come to ask Chapman for his lovely daughter’s hand in marriage.

Father: Mr Shabby… I just want to make sure that you’ll be able to look after daughter…
Shabby: Oh yeah, yeah. I’ll be able to look after ‘er all right sport, eh, know what I mean, eh emggh!
Father: And, er, what job do you do?
Shabby: I clean out public lavatories.
Father: Is there promotion involved?
Shabby: Oh yeah, yeah. (produces handkerchief and cleans throat horribly into it) After five years they give me a brush… eurggha eurgh … I’m sorry squire, I’ve gobbed on your carpet…

The final sketch (featuring Chapman as a politician who has fallen through the Earth’s crust and is forced to continue his broadcast whilst swinging upside down on a rope) doesn’t really engage, although Chapman is game to dangle about.  But overall this a strong show, particularly with the Minehead by-election and the Upper-Class Twits.

Next Up – Episode Thirteen – Intermission

Monty Python’s Flying Circus – Series One, Episode Eleven – The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Goes To The Bathroom

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So far, we’ve seen a variety of linking devices used throughout the series – this one features a group of undertakers (with Terry Jones as a suitably ghoulish one – “Are you nervy, irritable, depressed, tired of life? Keep it up”) who pop up between the sketches with a series of mostly visual sequences that are certainly memorable.  Are they funny?  Mmm, I can’t say they’re particularly rib-tickling, but some of the rather crude stop-motion footage has its moments.

There’s one stand-out sketch in this show, which kicks off with Cleese as Inspector Tiger.  Upon entering a Agatha Christie type drawing room, he launches into the following monologue.

This house is surrounded. I’m afraid I must not ask anyone to leave the room. No, I must ask nobody … no, I must ask everybody to… I must not ask anyone to leave the room. No one must be asked by me to leave the room. No, no one must ask the room to leave. I … I … ask the room shall by someone be left. Not. Ask nobody the room somebody leave shall I. Shall I leave the room? Everyone must leave the room… as it is… with them in it. Phew. Understand?

After some more mangled dialogue and a lobotomy, Tiger recreates the crime.  The lights go out and when they come on again he is dead (with a bullet hole in his forehead, an arrow through his throat and a bottle of poison by his side).  Then several of his colleagues turn up, each with a sillier name than the one previous.  Such as Chief Inspector Lookout (“Look out? What where?”) and Assistant Chief Constable Theresamanbehindyer (“Theresamanbehindyer? Ah, you’re not going to catch me with an old one like that”).

One-note though this sketch is,  it’s worth it just for Cleese’s Tiger.  And just as it begins to run out of steam, we move away with the undertakers promising that we’ll return to it as soon as something interesting happens.  Next up is some football chat with Idle as an interviewer and Cleese as Jimmy Buzzard, his none-too-bright interviewee.  I love Idle’s opening piece to camera.

From the plastic arts we turn to football. Last night in the Stadium of Light, Jarrow, we witnessed the resuscitation of a great footballing tradition, when Jarrow United came of age, in a European sense, with an almost Proustian display of modern existentialist football. Virtually annihilating by midfield moral argument the now surely obsolescent catennachio defensive philosophy of Signor Alberto Fanffino. Bologna indeed were a side intellectually out argued by a Jarrow team thrusting and bursting with aggressive Kantian positivism and outstanding in this fine Jarrow team was my man of the match, the arch-thinker, free scheming, scarcely ever to be curbed, midfield cognoscento, Jimmy Buzzard.

Cleese’s Buzzard (“Well Brian… I’m opening a boutique.”) is totally unable to respond to any of Idle’s questions and instead falls back onto a series of stock phrases.  It’s another nice performance from Cleese, particularly the expression of joy on his face when he thinks he’s thought of something interesting to say, which tends not to be anything worth waiting for.

We cut back to the drawing room (piled high with bodies) and then it’s onto Interesting People, which is odd.  There’s a basic premise (Palin as the host of a show which introduces us to interesting people) but that’s merely an excuse for a grab-bag of strange characters such as Jones as Mr Ali Bayan, who’s stark raving mad and Cleese as Mr Ken Dove, twice voted the most interesting man in Dorking. He shouts a lot.

As Python progressed, it tended to get stranger and more free-form and this is certainly one of the first series episodes that points the direction that the show would be heading in the future. Like many other episodes, it’s a bit like the Beatles’ White Album – there’s plenty to enjoy but it does feel bitty and fragmented. Not everything works, but at this point the hits outweigh the misses.

And with Professor R.J. Gumby lecturing on why he believed the Battle of Traflgar was fought near Cudworth and the Batley Townswomen’s Guild re-enacting the Battle of Pearl Harbour, there’s certainly something for everyone.

Next Up – Episode Twelve – The Naked Ant

Monty Python’s Flying Circus – Series One, Episode Ten

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There’s more playing with the conventions of television at the start of this one – the first sketch can’t begin until a plumber (Palin), who’s relaxing at home, has traveled to television centre to take part in the sketch.  After his totally irrelevant walk-on, we’re into the sketch proper which sees Cleese as a bank robber unsuccessfully attempting to find large piles of cash in a lingerie shop.

Continuity announcer David Uncton (Chapman) seemed to enjoy it (“Well that was a bit of fun wasn’t it. Ha, ha, ha“).  He’s then able to tell us about the evenings entertainment.

Well, let’s see what we’ve got next. In a few moments ‘It’s A Tree’ and in the chair as usual is Arthur Tree, and starring in the show will be a host of star guests as his star guests. And then at 9.30 we’ve got another rollocking half hour of laughter-packed squalor with ‘Yes it’s the Sewage Farm Attendants’. And this week Dan falls into a vat of human dung with hilarious consequences.

It’s A Tree really is a tree – with more than a passing resemblance to David Frost (“Ha, ha, ha, ha, super”).  Although Frost had employed most of the Pythons (The Frost Report/At Last The 1948 Show) there was always a slight needle between them – some of the Pythons had a fairly jaundiced view about how Frost would use the talent of others to advance his own career.

The Vocational Guidance Counselor sketch is the best thing in this show.  Palin’s a chartered accountant who seeks a change of career from chartered accountant to lion tamer.  Cleese is the counselor who’s more cautious (“It’s a bit of a jump isn’t it? I mean, chartered accountancy to lion taming in one go. You don’t think it might be better if you worked your way towards lion taming, say, via banking?”).

As previously discussed, when they went to University some of the Pythons faced possible careers as solicitors or chartered accountants – a career in comedy seemed like a distant dream.  So they never miss an opportunity to mock the grey little men, as Cleese does here.

Your report here says that you are an extremely dull person. You see, our experts describe you as an appallingly dull fellow, unimaginative, timid, lacking in initiative, spineless, easily dominated, no sense of humour, tedious company and irrepressibly drab and awful. And whereas in most professions these would be considerable drawbacks, in chartered accountancy they are a positive boon.

I also love Ron Obvious (Jones) who attempts a series of impossible feats (jumping the channel, eating Chichester Cathedral, tunneling to Java) egged on by his unscrupulous manager (Palin).   There’s another pet shop sketch with Palin and Cleese, although it has a darker tone than Dead Parrot.  Cleese wants a cat, but Palin only has dogs – but he suggests a neat conversion (“Listen, tell you what. I’ll file its legs down a bit, take its snout out, stick a few wires through its cheeks. There you are, a lovely pussy cat”).

And just as the show started with everybody hanging about waiting for Palin to arrive, so the last sketch ends in a similar way.  Palin is the husband with an unattractive wife (Jones) who attracts an unfeasibly large number of admirers.  Mid-way through the sketch, Palin pops off for a tinkle, which brings the proceedings to an abrupt halt (“Oh no you can’t do that. Here, we haven’t finished the sketch yet!”).

Next Up – Episode Eleven – The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Goes To The Bathroom

Monty Python’s Flying Circus – Series One, Episode Nine – The Ant, An Introduction

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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