On Dec. 5, 1974, audiences said goodbye to Monty Python’s “Flying Circus” as the final episode aired on the British Broadcasting Corporation network. The popular and, at times, controversial show originally aired Oct. 5, 1969, making this year its 50th anniversary.
The group Monty Python was formed from the creative minds of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam. Gilliam was the only American in the group of British actors and writers, and he contributed the unique and recognizable animations that accompanied the show.
The British sketch comedy show was the first of its kind. The sketches were offbeat, quirky and surreal and often lacked punchlines.
“Monty Python’s free-form sketches seldom adhered to any particular theme and were alike only in their raucous disregard for convention,” said an Encyclopaedia Britannica article on the show.
The show not only entertained but also made audiences slightly uncomfortable and off balance. One such example is how sometimes there would be no opening title sequence, or it might run in the middle of the show.
“The great thing about (Monty) Python was that it was somewhere where we could use up all that material that everybody else had said was too silly,” Cleese said.
The Pythons, as the original six creators were known, played the majority of the roles in the sketches. They were joined by some supporting cast members, including Carol Cleveland, who is often referred to by the team as the unofficial seventh Python; Connie Booth; series producer Ian MacNaughton; Ian Davidson; musician Neil Innes; and Fred Tomlinson and the Fred Tomlinson Singers for musical numbers.
The Encyclopaedia Britannica article mentioned the show was “in many ways a symbol and product of the social upheaval and youth-oriented counterculture of the late 1960s.”
No one had seen anything like it at the time, and the show made many people uncomfortable.
“Once while filming, a British middle-class lady came up and said, ‘Oh, Monty Python, I absolutely hate you a lot.’ And we felt quite proud and happy,” Idle said.
However, as we all know, time changes all things. Monty Python is more widely accepted and continues to have a strong fan base for not only “Flying Circus” but for the numerous movies the group created following the close of the show.
“Nowadays I miss people who hate us; we have sadly become nice, safe and acceptable now, which shows how clever an establishment really is, opening up to make room inside itself,” Idle noted.
The show ran for four seasons before ending. Some of the sketches had been described as risqué and irreverent, leading the BBC to censor many of the episodes.
It was said the censorship is what led Cleese to leave the show after the third series and was the cause for such a short fourth and final series. The entire run of the show yielded 45 episodes, which, over time, a wider audience has grown to appreciate and enjoy.
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Monty Python fever did not reach the United States until it was rebroadcast on public television in 1974.
The show received three BAFTA nominations for best light entertainment show, best script and best light entertainment personality for John Cleese. It also received two special BAFTA awards — for production, writing and performance and for Terry Gilliam’s animations.
Personally, my family was split on how they felt about Monty Python — a common thing for the group. My father absolutely loves the group, and my mother cannot stand it. Thankfully, on this, I take after my father.