Pythons annoyed by 'inaccurate' portrayal of debate in BBC drama


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The Independent Culture

It was supposed to be a tribute to one of Monty Python's most famous moments, when the comedians took on religious figures incensed by their 1979 satire The Life of Brian. But the writers and producers behind the BBC's forthcoming comedy drama Holy Flying Circus have angered rather than flattered them.

The programme, to be screened on 19 October, focuses on incidents including the 1979 television debate between Pythons John Cleese and Michael Palin, and the Bishop of Southwark and Malcolm Muggeridge.

Over 30 years later, Holy Flying Circus, written by Tony Roche, co-writer of In the Loop, is billed as a "fantastical reimagining" of those events. However, Cleese and Iain Johnstone, who produced the original TV debate, have now protested against historical inaccuracies in the show.

A source close to Cleese said he offered to meet Holy Flying Circus's producers, Talkback Thames and Hillbilly Television, at an early stage but the meeting never occurred. The source said Cleese had subsequently seen a copy of the script and was "disappointed by its content", given it was "not a fair reflection of the facts" and was "full of inaccuracies".

Another former Python Terry Gilliam, speaking in an interview published in The Independent today, said some members of the group disliked the idea of the new drama, "because it's not us". Johnstone said: "Michael Palin didn't want to be involved in the project. John would have liked to have been consulted but wasn't."

He added that he was "annoyed" he was originally told by the producers that Holy Flying Circus would be along the lines of Peter Morgan's meticulously researched 2006 play Frost/Nixon. He raised concerns about the script's accuracy, including the portrayal of the Pythons' dealings with the Christian watchdog Nationwide Festival of Light, which he felt was exaggerated.

"Why bother to put in made-up material? They could've researched it properly and it would've been just as funny," he said. Palin and Talkback Thames refused to comment.