BBC's Monty Python Night

Dateline: December 13, 1999

On October 9, 1999, BBC-2 celebrated 30 years of Monty Python's Flying Circus, with an entire evening devoted to the comedy troupe, as well as brand new sketches reuniting the entire team for the first time in years. Here's a look at what was shown.

John Cleese kicked things off, with a suitable rant about how they were now relegated to minority channel BBC-2 from the prestigious main channel BBC-1. He also introduced the first special of the night, Its: The Monty Python Story, and was outraged by how much Eddie Izzard had been paid to host it.

This was followed by five minutes of new linking sketches, including the return of the "Gumbys," still standing in the middle of a street with napkins on their heads, chanting in a monotone. World traveler Michael Palin then presented Pythonland, visiting the original locations around London that were used to film street scenes for the series. Often he would knock on the door of some unsuspecting person (who of course immediately recognized the famous Palin from his many travel series), tell them about the "historic" importance of their particular door or house, and then put up an official looking blue plaque saying something like "Monty Python's Silly Walk sketch filmed here 1971." Not surprisingly, many of the locations were within spitting distance of the BBC Television Centre in West London (although I recall being shown a street in Norfolk once as the location of "France" for a particular Python sketch; clearly the boys had managed to persuade the Beeb to spend a little extra money on that episode).

More new sketches followed including a parody of Mastermind, some talking apes (definitely using language that would not have been allowed on television back during the series' original run back in the 1970s), and send-ups of BBC-2's famous logo links. The 1979 Python film Life Of Brian was then screened.

Eric Idle (whose participation for the night was mostly done remotely from Los Angeles) then narrated the "true" story of the actual "Monty Python." The BBC then rounded up some celebrity tributes to the series, and then managed to dig up a clip of Python history unseen since 1971! It was a short segment filmed for a Europe special about May Day, and although the Pythons recycled a bit of material for it, it represented sketch material that hadn't been shown since the original broadcast.

Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of South Park, then got in the act, and did their own version of the "Dead Parrot Sketch" using (of course) "a dead Kenny." In true Python fashion, this quickly devolved to a live action segment with Parker and Stone holding Terry Gilliam's mom hostage!

Meat Loaf then presented From Spam to Sperm, chronicling the use of music and songs by Monty Python, from the lumberjack song to the elaborate musical number in The Meaning Of Life.

Finally, at 12:30 A.M., was the "highlight" of the evening, which had been promoted all night, the very important and historic Peter Sissons interview, assembling all the surviving Pythons (with Eric Idle via satellite). And of course, it only lasted 15 seconds!

I noted that many of these were co-productions between the BBC and A&E, which would give hope some or all of this evening will either be run in the US soon by them, or released on home video.

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