A Buyer's Guide To The Wider World Of Python
Where next after you've finished the series and the movies?
So you've got the complete Flying Circus box set. Which is nice – although not as complete as you may have been led to believe, suckers. Where next? We'll assume you have the films…
The Best Of Monty Python's Flying Circus (2Entertain)
Python compilations are best avoided. The thing about Python was not so much how the sketches worked in their own right but how they fitted into the manic flow of each episode, complete with callbacks and contrasts, no matter how ratty or uneven the episodes were. But, this does contain a longer version of The General Public Are Idiots/BBC Programme Planners from series four than can be found anywhere else, and all the extra stuff from BBC2's Monty Python Night broadcast in 1999 including the very rare Euroshow 1971 sketch in which the Fish Slapping Dance originated.
Ripping Yarns (Network)
A splendid package from the ever-reliable Network - all nine episodes of Palin and Jones' pitch-perfect homage to Boys' Own adventure serials, with some handy extras and a detailed booklet.
Fawlty Towers (2Entertain)
Reissued and repackaged in various media ad infinitum, the most current DVD box set is the one to go to for, digitally remastered and with various extras culled from Gold's Fawlty Towers: Reopened weekend including contributions from the reclusive (and still snoggable) Connie Booth.
How To Irritate People (Prism)
A one-off 1969 TV special, produced by David Frost for the American market, starring John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Tim Brooke Taylor and Michael Palin. Lots of proto-Python stuff here, including many mother-baiting sketches, the Car Salesman skit (which was retooled as the Dead Parrot sketch), two sketches tweaked for Python (Take Your Pick, Silly Job Interview) and the classic Airline Pilots sketch ("I'll do the worried walk").
Monty Python Live! (A&E, US)
An American DVD box set, rather handily containing Parrot Sketch Not Included (20th anniversary compilation that does actually work, thanks to some skilful editing and inspired clip selection), the Hollywood Bowl film, and the first of two absolutely superb and incredibly surreal TV specials the Pythons made for ZDF-TV Bavaria (German with English subtitles).
Life Of Python (A&E, US)
Another American DVD release (sometimes included in the NTSC boxed set) – duplicates the Monty Python Night material but also contains the second of the two German shows made for ZDF-TV, which is essential.
The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash (Second Sight)
Eric Idle's finest hour and a half, thanks in no small part to the talents of Neil Innes. A pitch-perfect pastiche of the Beatles story, with every Pathe interview, film clip, interview and knowing voiceover - a study in detail of how to tell the Beatles story with affection. Rent out Tony Palmer's All You Need Is Love for a cue by cue pointer sheet for influences on key scenes.
The Secret Policeman's Ball: Complete Edition (ILC, 2005)
Bumper box-set of all the Amnesty International comedy and music galas, from 1976's Pleasure At Her Majesty's to The Big 3-0 (1991). A rich crop of live performances by various Pythons and fellow Oxbridge luminaries such as Peter Cook, alongside then-rising stars from the alternative comedy circuit and members of the rock aristocracy. Across the six discs on this (now deleted) collection are legendary performances of crowd pleasing classics (Dead Parrot, Cheese Shop, Four Yorkshiremen) and more obscure delights such as a medley of Python courtroom sketches (with Peter Cook standing in for Eric Idle, the only Python conspicuous by his absence from these charity shows), Top Of The Form and the 1948 Show sketch Bookshop, with Connie Booth in the role originally performed by Marty Feldman.
OF HISTORICAL INTEREST:
At Last The 1948 Show (Boulevard)
In 1990, five compilation episodes of this sketch show, written by and starring Cleese, Chapman, Marty Feldman and Tim Brooke Taylor, were found. These appear (in very pants NTSC quality) on this DVD. The show is raw proto-Python, with Cleese at his "deranged headmaster" best, Brooke-Taylor inventing the pepperpots, and sketch after sketch defining Python tropes before Python existed. It's not the DVD it could have been; most of the episodes exist as off-air audio recordings, many exist half-complete, and several have been reconstructed (one even aired on BBC4's Missing Believed Wiped season), so we're hoping someone else has a crack (come on, Network!).
Do not Adjust Your Set (Boulevard)
In 1969, schoolkids waiting for their beans on toast got Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, David Jason and Denise Coffey arsing about without even once condescending their juvenile audience, while the Bonzo Dog Band provided the music weekly. Kids today! As with the 1948 DVD, a handful of shows (or bits thereof) were put out onto DVD, but the Do Not Adjust Your Stocking (where Terry Gilliam debuted with his "Christmas Cards" animation) is notable by its absence, as is anything from the second series.
The Magic Christian (Universal)
Cleese and Chapman had a hand in getting this adaptation of Terry Southern's novel to the screen, and while a lot of the scenarios are Southern's own, there's a lot of business here that filtered into the first season of Python which went into production soon after. Cleese and Chapman turn up in the Sotheby's and Boat Race scenes respectively.
The Rise & Rise Of Michael Rimmer (Digital Classics)
More Cleese/Chapman-script doctored insanity. A project David Frost lumbered them with, before star, Peter Cook, turned it into a thinly-veiled satire of Frost himself (predating Python's own attacks on the man who rose without a trace); the Election Grandstand scene is a very tame first draft of Election Night Special from Python series one.
The Best Of Marty Feldman (2Entertain)
The very skimpy highlights here are Cleese and Chapman's classic Bishop sketch ("You get up there and tell Him you're agnostic, He'll smash your teeth in, in His infinite mercy!") and a bit of Gilliamation and Palin and Jones in a football sketch. Plus those interminable Day In The Life Of silent movie sketches Python spoofed as The Dull Life Of A City Stockbroker.
Frost On Sunday (Network)
Part of David Frost's triumvirate of LWT progs, Sunday was a testing ground for sketches that ended up in Python, to Frost's detriment: both Nudge Nudge and The Mouse Problem were offered for, but rejected from, this show. But you do get to see Michael Palin as early Python staple, LF Dibley, in this case claiming to be Julie Andrews.
Six Dates With Barker (Network)
A series of one-off comedy plays (with Ronnie Barker assuming a number of roles) of note to Python fans is the Chapman-penned The Odd Job Man, later retooled into a film with Chapman taking Barker's part, and John Cleese's Come In And Lie Down starring Michael Bates, with Barker as an insecure psychiatry patient who is a blatant dry-run for Basil Fawlty's defensiveness and paranoia.
The Two Ronnies, Series 1-4 (2Entertain)
The various Pythons gave a helping hand to their Frost Report muckers, Ron and Ron. Palin and Jones co-authored Slap Up Party, Library, Grublian and Hello, and Cleese appears in a remix of The Three Classes and New Fads. Cleese, Chapman, Idle, Palin and Jones contributed various bits to early shows (some new, some recycled from Cambridge days) but nothing notable for the Two Ronnies "classic" era.
Doctor At Large (Network)
LWT's Humphrey Barclay picked up the option to turn the Doctor In The House franchise into a sitcom and it ran and ran. Cleese and Chapman wrote the pilot episode just before cracking on with Python, but contributed to later seasons, with Chapman's experiences as a medical student providing some inspirations. This set includes No Ill Feeling, about a ratty hotelier and his shrewish wife, inspired by the Pythons' experiences staying at the Hotel Gleneagles while filming Python series two in Torquay. And thus Fawlty Towers was born…
Monty Python's Personal Best (Sony)
Another American produced unit shifter, it does at least include the uncensored Prince And The Black Spot animation and Terry Jones' new edit of The Killer Joke (basically the same as the movie version, so ho-hum). Tends to use the NTSC dubs of Python shows, so picture quality is not always great.
Romance With A Double Bass (Liberation)
John Cleese. Connie Booth. Chekhov. Nudity. More fun than it sounds, but Cleese is inodordinately proud of it. Possibly 'cos his then-missis is in the nip.
The Strange Case Of The End Of Civilisation As We Know It (White Star, US)
Cleese as Holmes with Arthur Lowe as Watson. Not as good as you'd think, and this was Cleese's second crack at the super sleuth. Not as bad as the Cook/Moore Baskervilles but what is, short of an aneurysm?
Monty Python: Almost The Truth: The Lawyer's Cut (Eagle Rock)
The concept is great, a Python documentary in the style of the Beatles Anthology, and to be fair the Pythons themselves are never less than fascinating talking heads, being the most intelligent, witty, sharp and thoughtful people to ever create and discuss comedy, but you can get all that undigested on the bonus disc of extended interviews, and in truth it doesn't tell you much that the 50 minute 1989 Omnibus Life Of Python did more economically. And what about the albums?
(Editor's note: By the way, I just to want to say that I massively disagree with James here, and think that this documentary series is stonkingly good, even though it does totally ignore the albums)
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