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Monty Python's Flying Circus

Marcia Landy

Publication Year: 2005

One of the most innovative comedic programs to air on television, Monty Python’s Flying Circus was a mix of the carnivalesque and the critical. The show has become famous for eschewing many of the conventions of situation comedy, the fully formed and coherent script, narrative closure, predictable characters, and the decorum associated with presentation. Its curious transatlantic popularity defied the assumption that comedy is regional and exclusive, and the show’s cult status still lives on in the United States and United Kingdom through reruns, videos, DVDs, and continual reappearances by the show’s now iconic stars. Most written accounts of Monty Python’s Flying Circus focus solely on members of the Pythons, histories of the sketches, or the development of other Monty Python projects, leaving a dearth of scholarly and contextual analysis on the television show itself. Marcia Landy’s book is one of the rare studies available examining the Flying Circus within the context of its time, analyzing the show’s influence on 1960s and 1970s British television as well as British cultural influence on the show’s legendary material. Landy explores not only why the series’ complex form of comedy was important but also why it was so well received, citing the Pythons’ amalgam of comedic material: the unruly treatment of sexuality, the mockery of religion and class, and the critique of the medium of television. The Flying Circus parodied both the lowbrow and the highbrow, throwing many previously untouchable topics into the ring, and here Landy deconstructs the impact of the show’s risks and reception. As informative as it is engaging and entertaining, this book will appeal to film and media scholars, popular culture enthusiasts, and Monty Python fans alike.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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pp. vii-viii

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The Flying Circus and the Wide World of Entertainment

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pp. 1-4

In 1975, a compilation of episodes from Monty Python’s Flying Circus was scheduled for broadcast on the American Broadcasting Company’s (ABC) Wide World of Entertainment. The Pythons’ American manager, Nancy Lewis, was verbally assured that episodes....

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The Pythons

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pp. 4-15

The first season of the Flying Circus, containing thirteen half-hour programs, began airing on BBC television on October 5, 1969. The second and third seasons also contained thirteen programs of the same length as the first, whereas the fourth contained only...

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The Flying Circus in a Changing British Culture

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pp. 15-19

The specific cultural moment of the show’s appearance was also intrinsic to its success. The particular irreverence and radical forms of the Pythons’ performance on television flourished in the social and political climate of the 1960s and 1970s. This milieu-...

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The British Broadcasting Corporation

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pp. 19-25

The style and motifs of the Flying Circus are closely tied to the changing character of the BBC during the 1960s, its “increasing break away from the cosy image of the 1950s.”17 The BBC had long been a major influence in the development of radio and...

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The Pythons and American Television

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pp. 25-30

Monty Python’s Flying Circus represents a significant moment in the study of the crossover from British to American television, but, as J. S. Miller in his discussion of connections between British television...

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Antecedents and Influences

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pp. 30-35

The comedy of the Flying Circus, although distinctive, did not arise by spontaneous generation: it had important antecedents in the music hall and in British cinema. The series relied on existing...

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Situating Comedy

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pp. 35-39

The Flying Circus struck at the heart of what certain critics have termed postmodernity via the “society of the spectacle,” where the image and the sound byte reign and are seemingly unchallenged by “reality....

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Television Time

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pp. 40-44

Beyond the Pythons’ explorations of the various forms of programming, the overall form of the series is con-“E. Henry Thripshaw’s Disease,” “The Spanish Inquisition,”and “Njorl’s Saga”). The chronological or linear sense of the of experience.”59 This “flowing river” is characterized also by the segmentation of units of time and by “interruption,” all...

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Television Forms and Genres

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pp. 44-62

The comedy of the Flying Circus relies on the tropes of explosions and physical mutilation that expand in meaning to include dismemberment of cultural forms. The...

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Animals, Insects, Machines, and Human Bodies

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pp. 62-70

In keeping with the propensity of Python comedy to focus on the physical body, and particularly on cultural taboos and restraints on language and behavior, many of the Python sketches involve images of and allusions to nudity, sexual practices, and forms of censorship.-...

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Cross-Dressing and Gender Bending

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pp. 70-79

In the context of British comedy, drag is not unusual, but in the 1960s and 1970s, during what has come to be known as the “sexual revolution,” the use of cross-dressing took on a spectacularly subversive...

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Hyperbole, Excess, and Escalation

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pp. 79-83

Melodrama is excessive, relying on d

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Recycling Literature, Drama, Cinema, and Art

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pp. 83-86

The Flying Circus’ sketches drew heavily on canonical works of drama, literature, and film by such authors as Shakespeare, Proust, and Brontë, but emptied them of their revered mode of presentation and...

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Language, Words, Sense, and Nonsense

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pp. 86-94

The uses and abuses of language play a prominent role pin most of the sketches. Often the play on words seems nonsensical, bearing no relation whatever to meaning. In some instances, the words are...

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Common Sense and Audience Response

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pp. 95-99

Woven throughout the Flying Circus are the “Vox Pops,” the voices of the “people” designated by the Pythons as representing commonsensical responses to events. These responses are associated in the series with a commonsense view of the world...

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The Flying Circus Revisited

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pp. 99-104

Monty Python’s Flying Circus continues to be rebroadcast, and videos and DVDs of all of the episodes have been released for consumer purchase. The series has maintained its cult status...

NOTES

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pp. 105-108

VIDEOGRAPHY AND FILMOGRAPHY

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pp. 109-110

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

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pp. 111-114

INDEX

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pp. 115-120


E-ISBN-13: 9780814336519
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814331033

Page Count: 128
Illustrations: 25
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: TV Milestones