Joe Hendren

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

40 years of Monty Python and an anacdote from Idle

It was forty years ago today, a parrot sat on a perch to play...dead that is.

Oh alright, it was technically yesterday, but Britain will always be hours behind New Zealand.

On October 5 1969, one of my most favorite comedy series ever, Monty Python, first aired on TV. I wasn't even alive, but I don't know whether this means I had the same existential status as the parrot.

To celebrate their 40th anniversary, the surviving Pythons, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin have put together a documentary covering the history of Monty Python and the Python team. A not surviving Python, Graham Chapman, died in 1989.

Monty Python: Almost the Truth (the Lawyers Cut) screened in a UK cinema for one night on the 29th of September. Hopefully it will make its way here - having it on TV over Christmas would be good.

While this is being touted as the first time in 20 years the surviving Pythons have come together on a project, the team did a few sketches in an interview show hosted by Robert Klein in 1998. The Pythons apparently bought Graham Chapman along in an urn of ashes, which Gilliam 'accidentally' spilled on stage and attempted to clean the remains of Graeme with a Dustbuster. Cleese dipped his fingers in to taste it. Wonderfully tasteless!

Almost the Truth may be similar to the book, "Autobiography by the Pythons". While of course this was an very amusing read, I was interested in the mock military training young Eric Idle was forced to endure at boarding school in Wolverhampton in the early 1960s. The indoctrination started from the age of 11.

"Since I was head boy (by default) the school insisted I must be head of the CCF (Combined Cadet Force), which I didn't want to be. At the end of military training they made the mistake of sending us off on a Civil Defence Course which showed just exactly what happened when a nuclear bomb went off, and as a result I had become violently pacifist. During the Easter hols (1962) I went on the Aldermaston March, the annual Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament rally. We marched from Aldermaston in Hampshire to Hyde Park behind banners, signing protest songs, a distance of 54 miles."

"When I got back to school, the padre called me in and said, 'You're a hypocrite, Idle, you're the head of the CCF and went on the Aldermaston March'. I said 'Well I resign', and he said 'You're not allowed to resign'" (p. 40)

In response young Eric adopted an entirely reasonable attitude to enforced militarism and the insistence of its patently pathological underlying values.

"I refused to go to Military Camp at the end of term. It was just a sort of 'fuck you' to the school because they couldn't throw me out. I'd been accepted to Cambridge, I was on the Aldermaston March, I didn't take any of their fucking CCF seriously. I just went off in my own world and that was reassuring, that was really good for me because I could finally say 'Screw you'"

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