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2014-10-09 02:29:15 (UTC)

Monty Python: A Retrospective

MONTY PYTHON

OBSOLESCENT AND SOON-TO-BE-FORGOTTEN DOCTRINES

Part 1:

In 1968 a group of young English comedians made a TV special called How to Irritate People. It was released on 1 January 1969 in the USA. At the time I was 24 years old and recovering after being hospitalized and institutionalized as a result of an episode of bipolar I disorder which had hit me for 6 while living on Baffin Island in Canada's Arctic. It took at least two decades for this group of five war-babies to come onto my radar; they've been fully ensconced there now for the last quarter-century.

Monty Python, sometimes known as The Pythons, was a British surreal comedy group that created Monty Python's Flying Circus, a British television comedy sketch show that first aired on the BBC on 5 October 1969. All the members of the group, which came to be known as Monty Python, began their acting and/or writing careers while I was at university in the 1960s and just starting out on my teaching career. As one media commentator once wrote: “They never had the widest audience, but they had the hippest audience.

In October 1969 I had just settled back into the teaching profession in a small rural town in southern Ontario called Cherry Valley; I was renting a room with a family in the small town of Picton where I opened a new Baha’i locality. I have never seen myself as especially ‘hip’ but, more to the point, I did not have a TV on 5/10/’69--not until sometime in 1978. So I knew nothing of Monty Python back then. The sketch continued until 1974. By then I was living in Tasmania and was a tutor in education studies at what is now the University of Tasmania. I still had no TV and still had not heard of Ponty Python.

On Sunday 6 October 1974 at 10:00pm Dallas’ public television station and program director, Ron Devillier, changed the television comedy landscape forever. It was 6 months later, in March of 1975, that Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam and Graham Chapman appeared in studio at KERA in Dallas for “Festival ’75″, part of the station's fundraising drive. Python madness had begun, but they were still not on my radar immersed as I was: in my job as a lecturer at a university, in my upcoming second marriage to one of my students who had two children. and in my activity in the Baha'i community of Melbourne.

Part 2:

Monty Python’s Life of Brian came out in 1979, the year I had four different part-time jobs. I was living in Tasmania, by then, with my second wife and our three children. I was also in the midst of another episode of bipolar disorder. I did not watch much TV that year, although my wife and children had persuaded me to get a TV. Despite the fame and notoriety of the group, they still had not arrived on my radar.

When this British surreal comedy group’s The Meaning of Life came out in 1983(1), I was working 70 hours a week as an adult educator in the Northern Territory, in a remote part of Australia. I was the secretary of the local Baha’i group, had a sick wife and was on the cusp of middle age. I don't recall now, more than 30 years later, whether this zanny, irreverant, and highly successful group and its dozens of pieces of comedy, had become part of my media experience.

On 9 October 1999, to commemorate 30 years since the first Flying Circus television broadcast, BBC2 devoted an evening to Python programmes, including a documentary charting the history of the team, interspersed with new sketches by the Monty Python team filmed especially for the event. I had just taken a sea-change and an early retirement after a 50 year student and employment life 1949 to 1999 in a little town by the Bass Strait, an extension of the Great Southern Ocean. I was just settling-in to another Baha'i group in what became the northern Tasmanian Baha'i cluster in the first years of the 21st century.

Part 3:

In 2009, to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the first episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus, a six-part documentary entitled Monty Python's Almost the Truth was released. It featured interviews with the surviving members of the team as well as archive interviews with Graham Chapman and numerous excerpts from the television series and films. When this 6-part doco was televised in the Australian winter of 2011, I had been retired from FT, PT and casual work for half-a-dozen years. My bipolar disorder had been treated and I found myself settling down on a daily basis to television’s delights after midnight and after my day of writing and editing, research and blogging, and pretensions at scholarship and journalism.

‘Monty Python Live (Mostly) – One Down, Five to Go’ went live 3 months ago now, in July 2014, for several nights, and ‘The Last Night of the Pythons’ was broadcast live to cinemas on 20 July 2014. Bill Young wrote on the website tellyspotting: Your Brit TV Pub as follows on 23/7/'14: "Dressed in white suit jackets befitting the occasion, the five surviving members of Monty Python, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, John Cleese, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, closed out their run of reunion shows on 20/7/'14 by bidding farewell with the 1979 song from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life."

I turned 70 that same day. For the 15,000-strong crowd each evening – and the thousands more who watched in more than 2,000 cinemas in 36 countries across the world – it was a moving finale. "Their status speeds past ‘comedy royalty’ into ‘godlike geniuses’" wrote Ben Williams at the website Time-Out London on 17 June 2014, and "You’d be hard-pressed to find another comedy group who have had such a profound influence on comedy, heck, even British culture at large," he added.

The career-spanning Monty Python’s Total Rubbish: The Complete Collection box set was released in June 2104 in the UK by UMC on CD and vinyl. A new Python video game also came out.-Ron Price with thanks to “Monty Python” in Wikipedia and Pioneering Over Five Epochs, 22 August 2011 to 7 October 2014.

Part 4:

1969 was a hot summer for me,
Michael, living near Toronto: &
they put a man on the moon as
you started your diary about a(1)
Monty Python world which was
a revolution--changed the course
of comedy, eh?..It made million$
and millions loved it, although the
BBC nearly killed it-little we knew.(2)

Pythonesque came into our vocabulary
& made so many other aspects of modern
life’s traditional ways & institutions
look like obsolescent and irrelevant
appendages of our society. Perhaps
what underpins the violence, & the
tempest which we all face is in these(3)
outworn doctrines and shibboleths
which these bizarre comedians have
shown to us over these last 45 years.

(1) 'Diaries 1969-1979: The Python Years' by Michael Palin, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, reviewed by Michael Palin 1 October 2006, The Telegraph, 22/8/’11.
(2) Anita Singh, “BBC nearly killed off Monty Python, says Terry Jones,” The Telegraph,3 August 2010.
(3) Reading about philosophy and Monty Python goes a long way to explaining some of the dilemmas of modernity at least in many direct and indirect ways. I leave this to readers to Google. as they try to come to grips with the imaginations of the pundits of error who now fill the air-waves.

Ron Price
22/8/’11 to 7/10/'14.

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