Created in 1969 as the British Broadcasting Corporation's answer to America's Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In (one of its guiding forces was BBC executive and former Laugh-In writer Barry Took), Monty Python's Flying Circus was both the title of the series and the name of the comedy troupe appearing in the show. (The name was chosen precisely because it didn't mean anything!) The cast -- Cambridge and Oxford graduates all -- included John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. A sixth Python, American-born Terry Gilliam, provided the series' zany, non sequitur animated sequences and occasionally appeared on camera. Most of the female roles were handled by Connie Booth (Cleese's then-wife) and Carol Cleveland. Virtually indescribable to anyone who hasn't seen it, the series (which opened each week to the tune of John Philip Sousa's "Liberty Bell March") was a wild, irreverent collection of open-ended comedy sketches, sometimes tenuously tied in with a single theme. The individual sketches were usually connected only by the sonorous announcement, "And now for something completely different," which also served as the title for the group's first theatrical feature film. Favorite Python targets included dull BBC talk shows and documentaries, idiotic legal restrictions, bean-counting bureaucrats, incomprehensible foreigners, and venerated British traditions. For some curious reason, all of the Pythonites enjoyed dressing up in women's clothing, usually portraying frumpy, strident-voiced suburban housewives. Among the series' more famous bits were "The Pet Shop," "The Lumberjack Song," "The Spanish Inquisition," "Department of Silly Walks," "The World's Deadliest Joke," "Hell's Grannies," "The Annual Twit of the Year Awards," and a lengthy science fiction movie parody in which evil aliens (who looked like French pastries) transformed all British subjects into Scotsmen, the better to win the annual Wimbledon tennis match (a premise which, in context, makes perfect sense). Though the 45-episode series enjoyed an enormous following in England, it didn't arrive in America until 1974, when the package was picked up by PBS (ABC had evinced interest in the property, but insisted upon cutting all the "naughty bits" and arbitrarily inserting commercials). In addition to making stars out of virtually all its cast members, Monty Python's Flying Circus has spawned several comedy record albums, movie spin-offs, and many solo projects like Fawlty Towers. In 1999, the series, long available on videocassette, was picked up for yet another go-round by the Arts and Entertainment cable network.
by Hal Erickson synopsis