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Monty Python’s Flying Circus (known during the final series as just Monty Python) is a BBC sketch comedy programme from the Monty Python comedy team, and the group's initial claim to fame. The show was noted for its surreality, risqué or innuendo-laden humour, sight gags, and sketches without punchlines. It also featured the iconic animations of Terry Gilliam, which were often sequenced or merged with live action.

The first episode was recorded on 7 September and broadcast on 5 October 1969 on BBC One, with 45 episodes airing over four series, plus two episodes for German TV.

The show often targeted the idiosyncrasies of British life (especially professionals) and was at times politically charged. The members of Monty Python were highly educated (Terry Jones and Michael Palin are Oxfordmarker graduates; Eric Idle, John Cleese and Graham Chapman attended Cambridgemarker; and Americanmarker-born member Terry Gilliam is an Occidental Collegemarker graduate), with their comedy often pointedly intellectual by way of numerous references to philosophers and literary figures. It followed and elaborated upon the style used by Spike Milligan in his series Q5, rather than the traditional sketch show format. The team intended their humour to be impossible to categorise, and succeeded so completely that the adjective "Pythonesque" was invented to define it, and later, similar material. Despite this, Jones once commented that the fact that they had created a new word in the dictionary shows how miserably they had failed.

The Pythons played the majority of the series characters themselves, including the majority of the female characters, but occasionally they required an extra actor. Regular supporting cast members included Carol Cleveland (referred to by the team as the unofficial "Seventh Python"), Connie Booth (Cleese's first wife), Series Director Ian MacNaughton, Neil Innes (in the fourth series) and The Fred Tomlinson Singers (for musical numbers).

The series' famous theme song is the first segment of John Philip Sousa's The Liberty Bell, chosen because it was in the public domain, free to use without charge.


The title Monty Python's Flying Circus was partly the result of the group's reputation at the BBC. Michael Mills, BBC's Head of Comedy, wanted their name to include the word circus because the BBC referred to the six members wandering around the building as a "circus" (in particular "Baron Von Took's Flying Circus" after Barry Took, who had brought them to the BBC). The group added flying to make it sound less like an actual circus and more like something from World War I. Monty Python was added because they claimed it sounded like a really bad theatrical agent, the sort of person who would have brought them together, with Eric Idle suggesting Monty and John Cleese suggesting Python.

The BBC had rejected some other names put forward by the group including "Whither Canada?", "Ow! It's Colin Plint", "A Horse, a Spoon and a Bucket", "The Toad Elevating Moment" and "Owl Stretching Time".

Recurring characters

In contrast to many other sketch comedy shows, Flying Circus made up new characters for each new sketch and had only a handful of recurring characters, many of whom were involved only in titles and linking sequences, including:
  • The Reverend Arthur Belling (played by both Chapman and Palin), is the vicar of St Loony Up The Cream Bun and Jam. He is insane and in one sketch, has an appeal to the insane people of the world to drive sane people insane and in another sketch politely joins a couple and "converts" them to his insane sect of Christianity.
  • The “It’s” man (Palin), a hermit with torn clothes and a long, unkempt beard who would appear at the beginning of the programme, often after performing a long or dangerous task, and introduce the show by just saying, “It’s...” before being abruptly cut off by the opening titles, which started with a Terry Gilliam animation sprouting the words 'Monty Python’s Flying Circus'. "It’s" was an early candidate for the title of the series.
  • Historical figures, such as Julius Caesar (Chapman), Napoleon (Jones), or a Viking (usually Gilliam) and appearing randomly in the midst of a sketch to interrupt it, a quick cut-away gag or as a line.
  • A BBC continuity announcer in a dinner jacket (Cleese), seated at a desk, often in highly incongruous locations, such as a forest or a beach. His line, “And now for something completely different,” was used variously as a lead-in to the opening titles and a simple way to link sketches (though Cleese is best known for it, the first time the phrase appeared in the show it was actually spoken by Idle in Episode 2 where he introduced a man with three buttocks). It eventually became the show’s catch phrase, serving as the title for the troupe’s first movie. In Series 3 the line was shortened to simply: "And now..."
  • The Gumbys, a group of slow-witted individuals identically attired in gumboots (from which they take their name), high-water trousers, braces, and round, wire-rimmed glasses, with toothbrush moustaches and handkerchiefs on the tops of their heads (a stereotype of the English, working class holidaymaker). They hold their arms awkwardly in front of them, speak slowly in loud, low voices punctuated by frequent grunts and groans, and have a fondness for bashing bricks together. They often complain that their brains hurt. All of them are surnamed 'Gumby' (D.P. Gumby, R.S. Gumby, etc.). Even though all Pythons played Gumbies in the show's run, the character is most closely associated with Michael Palin.
  • The-Knight-Who-Hits-People-With-A-Chicken. (Gilliam) An armoured knight carrying a raw chicken, who would hit characters over the head with it when they said something particularly corny. A regular during the first series, with another appearance in the third.
  • Mr. Badger (Idle), a Scotsman whose speciality was interrupting sketches ("I won't ruin your sketch, for a pound"). He has also been seen as an airplane hijacker whose demands grow increasingly eccentric, and was once interviewed (by Cleese) regarding his interpretation of the Magna Carta, which Badger believes was actually a piece of chewing gum on a bedspread in Dorsetmarker.
  • A nude organist (played in his first two appearances by Gilliam, later by Jones) who provided a brief fanfare to punctuate certain sketches (most notably on a sketch poking fun at Sale of the Century) or as yet another way to introduce the opening titles.
  • Mr. Eric Praline, an eccentric, disgruntled man who often wears a Pac-a-Mac, played by Cleese. His most famous appearance is in the "Dead Parrot" sketch. His name is only mentioned once on-screen, during the “Fish Licence” sketch of the episode entitled “Scott of the Antarctic”, but his attire (together with Cleese's distinctive, nasal performance) distinguishes him as a recognisable character who makes multiple appearances throughout the series. "Fish Licence" also reveals that he has multiple pets of wildly differing species, all of them named “Eric.”
  • A perverted moustachioed man, referred to in the published scripts as "Mr. Nudge" (Idle) who often appears bothering other, more uptight, characters (usually Jones). He is characterised by his constant nudging gestures and tone of conversation; cheeky innuendo. His most famous appearance is in Nudge Nudge, his initial sketch, though he appears in several later ones too, such as ruining a romantic evening between a man and a woman in "The Visitors" sketch.
  • Biggles (Chapman, and in one instance Jones), a WWI pilot. Derived from the famous series of fiction stories by W. E. Johns.
  • 'Pepperpots': screeching middle-aged, lower-middle class housewives played by the Pythons in frocks, engaging in surreal and inconsequential conversation. The Pythons played all their own women, unless the part called for a younger, more glamorous actress (in which case usually Carol Cleveland, but occasionally Connie Booth, would play the part). “Pepperpot” refers to what the Pythons believed was the typical body shape of middle-class British housewives, as explained by John Cleese in “How to Irritate People”. On the rare occasion these women were named, it was often for comic effect, featuring such names as Mrs. Scum, Mrs. Non-Gorilla or the duo "Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion." Terry Jones is perhaps most closely associated with the Pepperpots, but all the Pythons were frequent in performing the drag characters.
  • Luigi Vercotti (Palin), a mafioso entrepreneur and pimp, accompanied in his first appearance by his brother Dino (Jones). His most notable appearances are as Ron Obvious's manager, and as the owner of La Gondola restaurant. With his brother, he attempts to talk the Colonel into paying for protection of his Army base.
  • Brief black-and-white stock footage, lasting only two or three seconds, of middle-aged women sitting in an audience and applauding. The film was taken from a Women’s Institute meeting.
  • Richard Baker, a well-known BBC newsreader of the 1970s, who appeared occasionally in the third series of the show to deliver short newscasts on ridiculous subjects. Another well-known BBC newsreader, Peter Woods, had a similar role in the fourth series.
  • Arthur Pewtey (Palin), a mild-mannered, extremely dull man who appears most notably in the "Marriage Guidance Counsellor", "Ministry of Silly Walks" and "Argument Clinic" sketches. His sketches all take the form of an office appointment with an authority figure (usually played by Cleese, but occasionally Chapman), which are used to parody the officious side of the British establishment by having the professional be contained in the most bizarre field of expertise.
  • The Spanish Inquisition would burst into a previously unrelated sketch whenever their name was mentioned. Their catchphrase was "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!". They consist of Cardinal Ximinez (Palin), Cardinal Fang (Gilliam), and Cardinal Biggles (Jones). They premiered in series two and had sporadic cameos in series two and three.
  • Frenchmen: Cleese and Palin would sometimes dress in stereotypical French garb (striped shirt, tight pants, beret) and speak in garbled French, with incomprehensible accents. They had one fake moustache between them, and would stick it onto the other person's lip when it was his turn to speak. Usually, the Frenchmen gave lectures, such as to explain the flying sheep (from episode 2, "Sex and Violence") and the team-up of the Ministry of Silly Walks with its French equivalent to create "La Marche Futile".
  • Nightclub Host (Palin), who wears a red suit and is always smiling. He linked sketches by introducing them as nightclub acts, and was occasionally seen after the sketch, passing comment on it. In one link, he was the victim of the aforementioned armoured knight's assault with a chicken.
  • Spiny Norman, a Gilliam animation of a giant hedgehog. He's introduced in Series 2, Episode 1 ("Face the Press") in the Piranha Brothers sketch, where Dinsdale Piranha hallucinates him whenever he becomes depressed (Norman's size is proportional to Dinsdale's depression). Afterward he appears in the background of cityscapes in certain animations shouting "Dinsdale!"
  • Cardinal Richelieu (Palin), is always impersonated or impersonating. He is seen in court but turns out to be Ron Higgins, professional Cardinal Richelieu impersonator. He is also seen later as a historical impersonator as himself impersonating Petula Clark.
  • “The Colonel”, played by Chapman, who interrupts sketches when things become too silly, or when the Pythons rip off the army's slogan (and when non-BBC broadcast repeats need to be cut off for time constraints in syndication)
  • Ken Shabby, played by Palin, who starred in his own sketch in the first series and in the second series made a few brief cameos giving his thoughts on aftershave lotion and even his own religion.
  • Raymond Luxury Yacht, a person who is apparently one of Britain's leading skin specialists (played by Chapman). He generally wears an enormous fake nose made of polystyrene and his name is pronounced "Throatwobbler Mangrove". He appeared on an interview where the interviewer called him a "very silly man".

Some other characters have proven very memorable, despite the fact that they appear in only one-two episodes . For example, two characters that were often mentioned but never seen were Ann Haydon-Jones and her husband Pip, who are mentioned in several sketches, notably for losing a seat to Engelbert Humperdinck in the "Election Night Special" sketch.

Several characters appeared multiple times, played by different Pythons. For example, the insanely violent Police Constable Pan Am was played at different times by both Palin and Chapman, and Sgt. Harry "Snapper" Organs of Q division was portrayed by both Jones and Palin. Various historical figures often changed actors, such as Mozart (Cleese, then Palin), or Queen Victoria (Jones, then Palin, then all five Pythons in Series 4)

Some of the Pythons' targets recurred more frequently than others. Reginald Maudling, a contemporary Conservative politician, was singled out for perhaps the most consistent ridicule. The contemporary Secretary of State for Education and Science, future Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was occasionally mentioned (in particular, a reference to her brain being in her shin received a hearty laugh from the studio audience). Then-US President Richard Nixon was also frequently mocked, as was Conservative party leader Edward Heath, another later PM. The British police are also a favourite target; they often act extremely bizarrely or stupidly, are depicted as drag queens or abusive with their legal powers, and frequently yell out "What's all this, then?"

Popular character traits

Although there were few recurring characters, and the six cast members played many diverse roles, each had some character traits that he had perfected.


Graham Chapman was well known for his roles as straight-faced men, of any age or class (frequently an authority figure such as a military officer, policeman or doctor) who could, at any moment, engage in “Pythonesque” maniacal behaviour and then return to their former sobriety (see sketches such as "An Appeal from the Vicar of St. Loony-up-the-Cream-Bun-and-Jam", “The One-Man Wrestling Match”, "Johann Gambolputty" and “The Argument Clinic"). He was also skilled in abuse, which he brusquely delivered in such sketches as "The Argument Clinic" and "Flying Lessons". His dignified demeanour was put to good use when he played the leading "straight man" in the Python feature films Holy Grail (as King Arthur) and Life of Brian (as the title character).


John Cleese usually played ridiculous authority figures. Gilliam claims that Cleese is the funniest of the Pythons in drag, as he barely needs to be dressed up to look hilarious (see the "Mr. and Mrs. Git" sketch). Cleese is also well known for playing very intimidating maniacs (see the skit "Self Defence Against Fresh Fruit"). His character Mr. Praline, the put-upon consumer, featured in some of the most popular sketches, most famously in "Dead Parrot." One star turn that proved most memorable was "The Ministry of Silly Walks," where he worked for the eponymous government department. The sketch features some rather extravagant physical comedy from the notoriously tall, and loose-limbed, Cleese. Despite its popularity, particularly amongst American fans, this proved to be one sketch which Cleese himself particularly disliked, feeling that many of the laughs it generated were cheap and that no balance was provided by what could have been the true satirical centrepoint. Another of his trademarks is his over-the-top delivery of abuse, particularly his screaming "You bastard!"

Cleese often played foreigners with rather ridiculous accents, especially Frenchmen, most of the time with Palin. Sometimes this is extended to the usage of actual French or German (such as "La marche futile" (end of the "Ministry of Silly Walks" sketch, "The funniest joke in the World" or "Hitler in Mineheadmarker"), but still with a very heavy accent (or impossible to understand, as for example Hitler's speech).


Many Python sketches were linked together by the cut-out animations of Terry Gilliam, including the opening titles featuring the iconic giant foot that became a symbol of all that was “Pythonesque.” Gilliam’s unique visual style was characterised by sudden and dramatic movements and errors of scale set in surrealist landscapes populated by engravings of large buildings with elaborate architecture, grotesque Victorian gadgets, machinery, and people cut from old Sears Roebuck catalogues, supported by Gilliam’s airbrush illustrations and many famous pieces of art. All of these elements were combined in incongruous ways to obtain new and humorous meanings in the tradition of surrealist collage assemblies.

The surreal nature of the series allowed Gilliam’s animation to go off on bizarre, imaginative tangents. Some running gags derived from these animations were a giant hedgehog named Spiny Norman who appeared over the tops of buildings shouting, “Dinsdale!”, further petrifying the paranoid Dinsdale Piranha, and The Foot of Cupid, the giant foot that suddenly squashed things. The foot is appropriated from the figure of Cupid in Agnolo Bronzino’s “An Allegory of Venus and Cupid”.

Other memorable animated segments include the killer cars, Conrad Poohs and his Dancing Teeth, the carnivorous houses, the old woman who cannot catch the bus, the rampage of the cancerous black spot, and a giant cat that stomps its way through London, destroying everything in its path. A hill appears with three crosses silhouetted against the setting sun to the sound of a harmonium playing in a minor key. The camera slowly zooms in to reveal that it is, in reality, three telegraph poles. The animation was cut out for American broadcasts during the show, however, at the end of the episode when the whole show is replayed in one minute the pieces of the edited animation can be seen. This is also true for the 1999 A&E DVD version of the show.

Initially only hired to be the animator of the series, Gilliam was not thought of (even by himself) as an on-screen performer at first. However, the others felt they owed him something and so he sometimes appeared before the camera, generally in the parts that no-one else wanted to play (generally because they required a lot of make-up or involved uncomfortable costumes). The most recurrent of these was The-Knight-Who-Hits-People-With-A-Chicken. A knight in armour who would walk on-set and hit another character on the head with a plucked chicken when they said something really corny. Some of Gilliam's other on-screen portrayals included:
  • A man with a stoat through his head
  • Cardinal Fang in The Spanish Inquisition sketch
  • A dandy wearing only a mask, bikini underwear and a cape, this in "The Visitors" sketch from episode 1.09
  • A hotel clerk in The Cycling Tour episode.

Despite (or, according to Cleese in the DVD commentary for Life of Brian, perhaps because of) an obviously deficient acting ability in comparison to the others, he soon became distinguished as the go-to member for the most obscenely grotesque characters. This carried over into the Holy Grail feature film, where Gilliam played King Arthur's hunchbacked page "Patsy."


Eric Idle is perhaps best remembered for his roles as a cheeky, suggestive, slightly pervert, upper middle class “playboy” (see sketches such as “Nudge Nudge"), a crafty, slick salesman (see the “Door-to-Door Joke Salesman”, “Encyclopedia Salesman,” and the shop keeper who loves to haggle in Monty Python’s Life of Brian). He is acknowledged as 'the master of the one-liner' by the other Pythons. He is also considered the best singer/songwriter in the group, for example writing and performing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” from The Life of Brian. Unlike Jones' high level in drag, he often played female characters in a more straightforward way, only altering his voice slightly, as opposed to the falsetto shrieking used by the others. His appearances as upper-class, middle-aged females (such as the main woman in the "Reenactment of the Battle Of Pearl Harbor" sketch or the sexually-repressed Protestant wife in the "Every Sperm" sketch from "The Meaning of Life") are his most notable.

Younger than his colleagues and not from an already-established writing partnership prior to Python, Idle wrote his sketches alone.


Although all of the Pythons played women, Terry Jones is renowned by the rest to be 'the best Rat-Bag woman in the business'. His portrayal of a middle-aged housewife was louder, shriller and more dishevelled than that of any of the other Pythons (see “Dead Bishop” sketch or his role as Brian's mother Mandy in Life of Brian, Mrs. Linda S-C-U-M in “Mr. Neutron” or in "Spot The Brain Cell," or as the restauranteur in “Spam"). He also often played upper-class reserved men, such as in the famous “Nudge, Nudge” sketch and the "It's A Man's Life" sketch, and incompetent authority figures (Harry "Snapper" Organs). Generally, he deferred to the others as a performer, but proved himself behind the scenes, where he would eventually end up pulling most of the strings.


While all of the Pythons excel at comic acting, Michael Palin was regarded by the other members of the troupe as the one with the widest range, equally adept as a straight man or wildly over the top character. He portrayed many working-class northerners, often portrayed in a disgusting light (see “The Funniest Joke in the World” sketch, or the “Every Sperm Is Sacred” segment of Monty Python's The Meaning of Life). On the one hand, he played weak-willed, put-upon men such as the husband in the Marriage Guidance Counsellor sketch, or the boring accountant in the “Lion Tamer” sketch. However, he was equally at home as the indefatigable Cardinal Ximinez of Spain in The Spanish Inquisition sketch. Another high-energy character that Palin portrays is the slick TV show host, constantly smacking his lips together and generally being over-enthusiastic (as in the "Blackmail" sketch) but with an underlying hint of self-revulsion (as when, in one sketch, he wipes his oily palms on his jacket, makes a disgusted face, and then continues). One of his most famous creations was the shopkeeper who attempts to sell useless goods by very weak attempts at being sly and crafty, which are invariably spotted by the customer (often played by Cleese) because the defects in the products are inherently obvious (see the “Dead Parrot”, the “Cheese Shop"); his spivvy club owner, Luigi Vercotti, in the “Piranha Brothers” and “Army Protection Racket” is another classic variant on this type. Palin is also well known for his leading role in the The Lumberjack Song.He also often plays heavy-accented foreigners (mostly French (as in "La marche futile") or German ("Hitler in Minehead")), usually alongside Cleese. In one of the last episodes, he even delivers a full speech, first in English, then in French, then in German (with an even heavier accent).Despite his wide range, Palin is the Python who probably played the fewest female roles. This is perhaps due to the suggestion that Palin in drag was a more convincing woman than the rest. (Among his portrayals of women are: Queen Victoria in the Michael Ellis Episode, Debbie Katzenberg the American in Monty Python's The Meaning of Life or as a rural idiot's wife in the Idiot in rural society sketch)

The ‘lost’ sketches

John Cleese was reportedly unhappy with the use of scatological humour in Python sketches. The final episode of the third series of the show included a sketch called ‘Wee-Wee Wine Tasting’, which was censored following the BBC's and Cleese’s objections. The sketch involves a man taking a tour of a wine cellar where he samples many of the wine bottles' contents, which are actually urine. Also pulled out along with the ‘Wee-Wee’ sketch (for reasons unknown) was a sketch where Cleese had hired a sculptor to carve a statue of him. The sculptor (Chapman) had made an uncanny likeness of Cleese, except that his nose was extremely long, almost Pinocchio size. The only clue that this sketch was cut out of the episode was in the “Sherry-Drinking Vicar” sketch, where, towards the back of the room, a bust with an enormously long nose sits.

Some material originally recorded went missing later, such as the use of the word “masturbation” in the Summarize Proust sketch (which was muted during the first airing, and later cut out entirely) or “What a silly bunt” in the Travel Agent sketch (which featured a character [Idle] who has a speech impediment that makes him pronounce "C"s as "B"s), which was cut before the sketch ever went to air. However, when this sketch was included in the "Live at the Hollywood Bowl" film, the line remained intact.

Some sketches were deleted in their entirety and were only recently recovered. One such sketch is the Political Choreographer sketch, where a Conservative Party spokesman (Cleese) delivers a party political broadcast before getting up and dancing, being coached by a choreographer (Idle), and being joined by a chorus of spokesmen dancing behind him. The camera passes two Labour Party spokesmen practicing ballet, and an animation featuring Edward Heath in a tutu. Once deemed lost, a home recorded tape of this sketch, captured from a broadcast from a Buffalo, New Yorkmarker PBS TV station, recently turned up on you tube. It can be seen as an extra on the new Region 2/4 eight-disc "The Complete Monty Python's Flying Circus" DVD set.

Another is the "Satan" animation following the "Cartoon Religion" piece and preceding to "How Not To Be Seen", which had been edited out of the official tape. Three frames of the animation can be seen at the end of the episode, wherein that particular episode is repeated in fastforward. A black and white 16 mm film print has since turned up (found by a private film collector in the USA) showing the animation in its entirety.

At least two references to cancer were censored, both during the second series. In the sixth episode ("It's A Living" or "School Prizes"), Carol Cleveland's narration of a Gilliam cartoon suddenly has a male voice dub "gangrene" over the word cancer (although the word "cancer" was used unedited when the animation appeared in the movie And Now for Something Completely Different). Another reference was removed from the "Conquistador Coffee Campaign" sketch in the second series' eleventh episode "How Not to Be Seen", although a reference to leprosy remained intact. This line has also been recovered from the same 16 mm film print as the above mentioned "Satan" animation.

A restored Region 2 DVD release of Series 1-4 was released in 2007, with no additional features.

Stage incarnations

At several stages during and after the television series, the members of Monty Python embarked on a series of stage shows. These mostly consisted of sketches from the series, but also included other famous sketches that had preluded them, such as the Four Yorkshiremen sketch, which Cleese and Chapman had written, and performed, for At Last the 1948 Show. It subsequently became part of the live Python repertoire. The shows also included songs from collaborator Neil Innes.

Recordings of three of these stage shows have subsequently appeared as separate works:
  1. Monty Python Live at Drury Lane (aka Monty Python Live at the Royal Theatre, Drury Lane), released as their fifth album in 1974
  2. Monty Python Live at City Center, released in 1976
  3. Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl, released as a film in 1982.

In 2005 a troupe of actors headed by Rémy Renoux, translated and 'adapted' a stage version of Monty Python’s Flying Circus into French. Usually the original actors defend their material very closely, but given in this case the 'adaptation' and also the translation into French (with subtitles), the gang supported this production. The adapted material sticks reasonably close to the original text, mainly deviating when it comes to ending a sketch, something the Python members themselves changed many times over the course of their stage performances. Language differences also (understandably) occur in the lyrics of several songs. For example, ‘sit on my face’ (which, translated into french would be “Asseyez-vous sur mon visage") becomes 'come in my mouth'. Reviews: BBC Online News The Times Online

The landing of The Flying Circus

John Cleese left the show after the third series, so he did not appear in the final six episodes that made up series four (other than a brief voice-over for one of Gilliam's animations in episode 41 "Michael Ellis"), although he did receive writing credits where applicable (for sketches derived from the writing sessions for Holy Grail). Neil Innes and Douglas Adams are notable as the only two non-Pythons to get writing credits in the show — Innes for songs in episodes 40, 42 and 45 (and for contributing to a sketch in episode 45), and Adams for contributing to a sketch about a doctor whose patients are stabbed by his nurse, in episode 45. Innes frequently appeared in the Pythons' stage shows and can also be seen as Sir Robin's lead minstrel in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and (briefly) in Life of Brian. Adams had become friends with Chapman, where they later went to write the failed sketch show pilot Out of the Trees.

Two episodes were produced in German for WDR (Westdeutscher Rundfunk), both entitled Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus (the literal German translation of the English title). The first episode, advertised as Monty Python’s Fliegender Zirkus: Blödeln für Deutschland, was produced in 1971, and performed in German. The second episode, advertised as Monty Python’s Fliegender Zirkus: Blödeln auf die feine englische Art, produced in 1972, was recorded in English and later dubbed in German. The original English recording was transmitted by the BBC in October 1973.

Although Cleese stayed for the third series, he claimed that he and Chapman only wrote two original sketches (“Dennis Moore” and “Cheese Shop"), whereas everything else derived from previous material. Either the third series, or the fourth series, made without Cleese, are often seen as the weakest and most uneven of the four series, by both fans and the Pythons themselves. However, with the fourth series the Pythons started making episodes into more coherent stories which would be a precursor to their films, and featured Terry Gilliam onscreen more.

The final episode of Series 4 was recorded on 16 November and broadcast on 5 December 1974. That year Devillier-Donegan Enterprises syndicated the series in the United States among PBS stations, and the show premiered on KERA-TVmarker in Dallas, Texas. It was an instant hit, rapidly garnering an enormous loyal cult following nationwide that surprised even the Pythons themselves, who did not believe that their humour was exportable without being tailored specifically, even without a language barrier.

When several episodes were broadcast by ABC in their “Wide World of Entertainment” slot in 1975 the episodes were re-edited, thus losing the continuity and flow intended in the originals. When ABC refused to stop treating the series in this way, the Pythons took them to court. Initially the court ruled that their artistic rights had indeed been violated, but it refused to stop the ABC broadcasts. However, on appeal the team gained control over all subsequent US broadcasts of its programmes. The case also led to their gaining the rights from the BBC once their original contracts ended at the end of 1980 (a unique arrangement at the time).

In April 2006, Monty Python's Flying Circus returned to non-cable American television on PBS. In connection with this, PBS commissioned Monty Python's Personal Best, a six-episode series featuring each Python’s favourite sketches, plus a tribute to Graham Chapman, who is deceased. Starting in 2008, BBC America started to air the series, extended to 40 minutes in order to include commercials, and in 2009, the series moved, without commercials, to the Independent Film Channel, which also presented a six-part documentary Monty Python: Almost the Truth , produced by Terry Jones' son, Bill Jones.

Awards and honours

In a list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted for by industry professionals, Monty Python’s Flying Circus placed fifth.

TIME magazine included the show on its 2007 list of the "100 Best TV Shows of All Time."

In a list of the 50 Greatest British Sketches released by Channel 4 in 2005, five Monty Python sketches made the list:

Dead Parrot is the number 1 sketch in's 50 Greatest Comedy Sketches of All Time. The Four Yorkshiremen sketch also made the list, at number 46. Though the sketch originated on At Last the 1948 Show, the Pythons have used the sketch during live shows.


The Monty Python troupe produced a number of other stage and screen productions together following the production of this series. See Monty Python for a comprehensive list.

In computing, the terms spam and the Python programming language are both derived from the series.


See also



  • Larsen, Darl. Monty Python's Flying Circus: An Utterly Complete, Thoroughly Unillustrated, Absolutely Unauthorized Guide to Possibly All the References From Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson to Zambesi. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2008. ISBN 0810861313


  1. The term flying circus first being applied to Baron von Richthofen's Jagdgeschwader 1
  2. General Python FAQ

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