Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Series 1 – Review
By James Robinson
What more can be said about Monty Python’s Flying Circus? This series, first broadcast in 1969, remains one of the most important sketch shows in the history of television comedy. It would eventually turn John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terrys Jones and Gilliam into worldwide stars, as well as coin a handful of catchphrases that persist to this day (nobody expects the Spanish inquisition!).
With its innovative mixture of fast moving, irreverent sketches, pop culture parodies, and conspicuous lack of punchlines, the series effectively set the template of sketch and character comedy for the next fifty years. Without Monty Python there would arguably be no Not The Nine O Clock News, Vic and Bob or League of Gentlemen – and what kind of world would that be?
“Hit the ground running”
Of course it’s likely you knew this already. The big news is that the series has finally made it to Blu-ray. For die hard fans with deep pockets, the entire 45 episodes are already available in a handsome box-set packed with extras. For those not inclined to shell out, or who just want to savour the experience, the individual series are also being released over the next few months.
Series 1 is available now, and from the opening moments it’s clear the show very much hit the ground running, even if it took a few episodes for the audience to catch up. The first edition is characterised by a seemingly baffled audience offering subdued laughs as, for instance, Michael Palin and John Cleese demonstrate the benefits of a flying sheep in cod French, occasionally pausing to swap moustaches.
“Fantastic comedy performers”
It is often the case that the first series of a beloved comedy show isn’t quite up to the standard as the subsequent ones, but what is striking about series 1 of Python is how many of the troupe’s most iconic sketches appear here. There’s the Dead Parrot Sketch, the Lumberjack Song, Nudge Nudge and, my own personal favourite, the Seduced Milkman, which has a rare and hilarious pay off.
It’s easy to forget, too, now that they have all become national institutions as famous for travel documentaries (Palin), film-making (Gilliam) and being a grouch (Cleese) just what fantastic comedy performers the Python team were. Nobody quite inhabits the role of shrill old lady quite as well as Terry Jones, or a cheeky Cockney wide boy as well as Idle (a talent that saw him maintain a respectable film career in the US).
“Best the series has ever looked”
All of this alone is enough to justify acquiring the Blu-ray, although the extensive restoration work really makes the set worth the money. Terry Gilliam’s animations in particular really pop in this format. it is genuinely the best the series has ever looked, without compromising the old-school BBC ‘video’ look that characterises programmes from this era.
As seems to be common with Python home media releases, the individual Series 1 set is a little slim on extras – you have to fork out for the complete box for the good stuff. It does include however a smattering of interesting out-takes and behind the scenes footage, the best of which being Palin and Cleese’s capering as those two sheep-improving Frenchman.
‘Far too silly,’ as Graham Chapman’s Army Officer might complain, but silliness of this quality is hard to resist.
‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus: The Complete Series 1’ is released by Network on Blu-ray DigiPak & Standard Blu-ray and DVD editions