Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Series 2 – Review
By James Robinson
Series 2 is probably the most iconic of the original Monty Python’s Flying Circus, which arrives on Blu-Ray this month. Even viewers who have never seen the programme will recognise many of the sketches. This is home to the cafe that mainly sells Spam, the Ministry of Silly Walks, the Blackmail game show and Spiny Norman the giant hedgehog, all of which are now firmly lodged in the public imagination.
It’s sillier, saucier and more subversive than its predecessor; the sketches weirder and more disjointed, the team having fully embraced a ‘no punchlines’ rules. Yet at the same time there’s a greater sense of structure, many episodes following a sort of dream-logic narrative in which characters from previous sketches will re-appear throughout an episode.
“Subvert the televisual language”
Memorable episodes in this vein include the ‘Spanish Inquisition’, in which a hapless trio of inquisitors invade sketches to implement ludicrous tortures such as drying a dish-rack; and ‘Live From the Grill-o-Mat Snack Bar’, in which John Cleese’s supercilious host, in full dinner jacket and bow tie, introduces sketches from a greasy spoon cafe, much to the dismay of Graham Chapman’s irritable tea lady.
This is also the series in which the team began to seize every opportunity to parody and subvert the televisual language of the era. The old BBC1 globe reappears frequently, and the show is filled with parody title-sequences and documentary spoofs.
“Most of it is still funny”
The series closer, a supposed ‘Royal’ episode in which we are informed the Queen is due to tune in, even features a cut to the actual ITV News studio of the early 1970s. In this way the series has become something of a time capsule for early 70s pop culture (and it’s also a joy to observe the old streets of London in Blu-ray clarity during the many on-location sketches).
The old-school TV formats of dry discussion programmes and cheesy game shows have more or less vanished, and sometimes the satirical targets can zoom straight over the contemporary viewer’s head. It’s nevertheless tantamount to the quality of the material that most of it is still funny even if the references are long forgotten: watching the programme in 2020 is possibly, in some ways, a similar experience to the first American audiences who discovered the programme, and may have been bewildered by this curious world of bus conductors, weird corner shops and men in bowler hats comfortable with using phrases like ‘Crikey’ and ‘My Good Man’.
This box set features a more generous amount of out-takes and previously cut material than Series 1, including – always a joy – restored animation from Terry Gilliam. However, the most intriguing of the supplementary material is Vic Jamison’s student film about the troupe from 1970, which features characteristically mischievous yet candid on-location interviews with the Pythons. There is also a fascinating audio-only interview with the team’s favoured director, Ian MacNaughton, recorded at the time of the programme’s transmission in 1971.
‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus – The Complete Series 2’ is out on Deluxe Edition Blu-ray DigiPak (£39.99) & standard DVD (£14.99) via Network