Radio: A Python far too slippery for a canon

We didn't learn much about Monty Python that we didn't already know from Long Live the Dead Parrot Tues, R4), but it confirmed a couple of suspicions. The first is that they were never that subversive or original - the wacky approach had been pioneered by the Goons - and their subversion was hardly the stuff that made the establishment quake in its shoes. ("This Monty Python," said Margaret Thatcher, after being shown the dead- parrot sketch so she would at least have some idea of the joke her speech- writers had gingerly lifted for her, "is he one of us?")

John Cleese recalled being rounded on by a tea lady in the BBC canteen and abused (here he put on his best Mrs Pepperpot voice, the shrieking, lower-middle-class old bag beloved of Python) for wasting licence-payers' money and so on.

But apart from that - and the tea lady hadn't even seen any shows, they hadn't at that point been broadcast - no one really minded much what they did until The Life of Brian. It must be hard, these days, to find people in this country who still consider that film blasphemous, but some managed it. "I love zany humour," began a voice, free of self-doubt, "that's my sort of humour."

It was Michael Saward, canon at St Paul's Cathedral. "There are some wonderful bits in Brian," he went on, "and I have to say that I've seen lots of clips of Brian, but I wouldn't go and see it as a film. Because I did actually find that that argument for me did not stand up."

This argument being the one that the film mocks credulity and stupidity rather than Christianity. His reasoning: "They would never have made the film had it not been for Jesus ... The film is actually an attempt to undermine something that is, as far as I'm concerned, very serious." But as, of course, he has not seen it, not "as a film" at any rate, he is taking his own view of it on trust, as it were.

Stephen Fry came up with the most intelligent comment: that the characters they tended to play were versions of what they might have ended up doing had they not got into comedy.

Terry Jones pooh-poohed the idea that they were all a bunch of Oxbridge intellectuals. They had the furniture of the intellectual life around them, he admitted, but that was it.

"I mean I haven't read Proust, ha ha ha, we know what we ought to have read even if we haven't read it." No, Terry, you haven't read Proust, but you've written a book on Chaucer's The Knight's Tale, haven't you?

The charge that will stick against Python is its complete inability to do anything with women. The show was narrated by Carol Cleveland, the least-remembered member of the troupe. Women, she reminded us, were for the Pythons either "young silly ladies, to be played by me", or "old silly ladies, to be played by them".

"I don't think that anybody was really trying to put the boot in," said Neil Innes. "I mean somebody said something rather nice about me. He said, `You don't really put the boot in, but you're deadly accurate with the pom-pom slipper'."

Innes, said Cleveland, was "known to some as the seventh Python, and whose musical contributions are definitely part of Python history". "Funny," she added after a pause, "I thought I was the seventh Python."

Anyway, it did get me thinking about innovative comedy. It is in the nature of innovations, of course, that they do not come along very often. But things are dire at the moment. There is the News Quiz on Fridays, and that's pretty much always funny, especially when Jeremy Hardy and Andy Hamilton are giving their contributions. It's not, nowadays, groundbreaking, but at least it makes you laugh.

Unlike the new series of Life, Sex and Death with Mike and Sue. I have a vague memory of this having had a few laughs the last time it came round, but this time - well, here's a sample joke: "Owning a house can have its ups and downs - unless you live in a bungalow." Oh, my aching sides.

There is some promise in a new series called The Routemasters, also on Radio 4. In this, a young estuary-ish bloke called Bernie, thinking he's getting on a night bus to Mitcham, actually steps on to a Routemaster which flits back and forth through time, undoing the wrongs and anomalies perpetrated by a pair of malicious time-travellers called Raymond (played by Andrew MacGibbon, who also wrote the series) and Hildegard (Amanda Donohue). The sound effects are great, and the acting is fine. They play it a bit rushed, though, as if in tacit acknowledgement of the absurdity of the premise.

And it is hardly original. It is Doctor Who crossed with The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and that's it - and while, with the latter, you instantly worked out that you were listening to something different and strange (its success never came as a surprise), you didn't quite get the same frisson with this. Still, there were some nice exchanges:

"I've just sent the bus 50 years forward through time."

"Well, it doesn't look any different outside."

"Of course it doesn't, it's Mitcham."

And jokes about Sigmund Freud appearing on Just a Minute (which is just what his grandson Clement does, remember) should keep the show trundling along nicely.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?