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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future