MONTY PYTHON AT WORK: extracts from the diaries of Michael Palin
Edited by Geoffrey Strachan
NHB – Nick Hern Books
ISBN: 978 1 84842 360 2
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 20 07 14
An up-close look at an endlessly fascinating creative team.
There’s a lot of Python about at the moment; and I write this review on the day the team are doing their final (very final) live performance at the O2 in London. Their comedy was brilliant, their influence is gigantic, their longevity is awe inspiring.
NHB’s publication of extracts from Michael Palin’s diaries are a welcome addition. Geoffrey Strachan has judicially edited so that we get a coherent understanding of the workings of the Python team – TV series, live performances, records and films. It’s really a peek into the Private Life of Monty Python.
This isn’t a book of great revelations; but there are surprises. The biggest of which, perhaps, is the growing understanding that Python could so nearly not have happened. The team seems to have come together almost by happy chance. Oxbridge influence is strong – reflecting the times when Oxbridge fed the Establishment. And although the MP team were knocking the Establishment, it was the Oxbridge connection that, even if it didn’t enable it, certainly oiled the wheels. But the team wasn’t entirely Oxbridge either.
It’s also clear that the freshness of the Python approach, which they developed as they went along, was enabled by being given a free hand by the BBC. Something, it must be regretted, that would never happen today. In fact, the more famous MP became, the more the BBC censor management was brought into play.
Palin’s simple matter-of-fact diary entries also chronicle the complex working relationships of this incredibly talented team. Much of their work seemed to be a great joy – despite the ups and downs. For a large part of the time, in the background, is the sad account of Graham Chapman’s alcoholism – and at a terrifyingly young age.
Palin’s account is, by its very nature, detailed in day to day minutiae. This may be to do with getting up to date financial accounts (real life must intrude), who is writing with whom (fascinating detail of the creative processes), filming (chance and planning play their parts), where ideas come from and how they’re developed (the most interesting elements of all).
MONTY PYTHON’S FLYING CIRCUS must rank with the greatest comedy creations of modern times – all times possibly. Palin here, gives us an intimate view of its workings.