The Stone Roses aren't the only fondly remembered combo reuniting for the first time since the Nineties. The cast of Monty Python's Flying Circus (minus, of course, the late Graham Chapman) is reportedly reassembling for the first time since 1998 to voice a 3D part-animated sci-fi comedy called Absolutely Anything, to be directed by Terry Jones. Absolutely anything to do what? we may be forgiven for asking, while giving thanks that animation will conceal the worst ravages of age.
Let's not forget that a paunchy John Cleese was recently fund-raising in a one-man show called the Alimony Tour, to help pay for a £20m divorce settlement. And that way back in 1971, Michael Palin wrote in his diary that, "John and Eric (Idle) see Monty Python as a means to an end – money to buy freedom from work". But let's suppose that the film is not just a belated whip-round for the Pythons' pension pots. Would it be such a good idea? And will it actually happen?
After all it rather supposes that Eric Idle will re-join the fold. Echoing George Harrison's words about a Beatles reunion – that there "won't be one as long as John Lennon remains dead" – Idle once quipped that there would be a Python reunion "just as soon as Graham Chapman comes back from the dead". But a more serious fissure seems to have opened in 1998 over Cleese's refusal to take part in a mooted sequel to their 1975 movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Idle eventually cooked up a hit musical from the bones of Holy Grail; Spamalot, itself a cause of recent rancour after Idle excised John Cleese's voice from the part of God – thus saving on paying Cleese extra royalties. In a Twitter spat Cleese dubbed his former comedy partner "Yoko Idle", in reference to Yoko Ono's alleged role in splitting up the Beatles. In fact Monty Python reunions have become rather like the Dead Parrot sketch in which the parrot's purchaser says it's dead, while the pet-shop owner insists it's just resting.
Resting or deceased, during that famous 1979 TV debate in which Palin and Cleese defended Life of Brian against Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark, Mervyn Stockwood did at least make one good point when he called the Pythons' humour "undergraduate". Indeed it was probably the most successful-ever example of undergraduate humour, with a strong appeal to anyone aged between eight and 28. It feels a bit odd, cynical even, coming from the over-70s, which is the age that all the cast members will be by the time Absolutely Anything is released.
But the real point about Monty Python's Flying Circus is surely that it was of its time. It's hard to overstate the excitement triggered by the opening beats of "The Liberty Bell", the American marching music that doubled as Monty Python's theme tune, when the show first aired between 1969 and 1974. I know because I was there. It revolutionised TV comedy, and its descendants are everywhere, from Craggy Island to Royston Vasey, The Mighty Boosh to This Is Jinsy – although it can't just be a coincidence that, unlike the almost nightly Fawlty Towers repeats on the digital TV station Gold, Monty Python is rarely re-shown. Unlike Cleese's Torquay hotelier sitcom, in other words, it is not a show that rewards repeated reviewing. Few things date faster than out-and-out silliness.
It's easy to forget that Monty Python sketches were often hit-and-miss, and so familiar have the hits – the Dead Parrot, Cheese Shop and Spam sketches – become by repetition that they have evolved more into liturgies than comedy routines. Absolutely Anything will apparently not be a Monty Python film as such, but Pythonesque "in tone". How could it not be? Thanks, guys, you were great, but time for something completely different.
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