Miles Kington: How a few Idle moments led to the birth of 'Monty Python'

After we had waited for three hours, John got very cross. Instead of waiting for Barry Took, why didn't we just create a show by ourselves?

Share
Related Topics

Like everyone else this week, we too are serialising Michael Palin's diaries, The Palin Years. In this first instalment, we learn how Monty Python got started ...

May 1969. Arrived at the BBC with Terry Jones, and explained that we had an appointment to see Barry Took. We were put in a waiting room while someone went to see if anyone knew who Barry Took was. While we were waiting, three other young men came in, who turned out to be Eric, John and Graham, whom we did not know at all, even though we had often worked with them before, on shows such asDo Not Adjust Your Clothes. They also had come to see Barry Took. After we had waited for three hours, John got very cross and said this was ridiculous. Instead of waiting for Barry Took, why didn't we just create a show by ourselves?

Eric said he wanted nothing to do with it. Terry and I said it might be fun to do a sitcom about five writers waiting so long to see Barry Took, that they ended up marrying each other and settling down in Esher. John said he hated sitcoms. Graham got out a hip flask and started drinking heavily. This is our first major quarrel. And we haven't even formed a team yet! I am not sure if this bodes well.

June 1969. We had a meeting to decide on the name of the programme. Eric wanted to call it Idle Moments. Terry wanted to call it Jones Moments. I wanted to call it Waiting for Barry Took. John wanted to call it Aspects of Humour, Based on Notes by Henri Bergson. Then Graham Chapman turned up, very drunk, so we all went home.

September 1969. John sprang a bombshell on us all today. He wants to leave Monty Python. We were stunned. We haven't even made the programme yet. We didn't even know it was called Monty Python. And yet John wants to leave already! We persuaded him to stay until we had created a golden age of TV comedy, and then he could go. He agreed.

February 1970. I went round to Terry's house to do some writing. He had gone round to my house. To while away the time, I wrote the "Spanish Inquisition" sketch, though it started life in a very different form, with someone saying to the Pope: "This is a dead cardinal! You have created a dead cardinal! This cardinal has gone to limbo!" and the Pope saying: "He is not dead! He is merely meditating!", and so on.

March 1971. Meeting at TV Centre. Trouble with BBC censorship. They say we cannot use the word "Inquisition" on air. Terry says, why the f*** not? Well, says the BBC man, the Spanish Inquisition is something that comes within the remit of a BBC history programme, and the sketch would therefore have to be done by a history producer, not a comedy producer. If we agreed to change it to "Nobody expects the Spanish Customs and VAT Service!" it would be quite all right. John explodes. "I do not believe it!" he says. "I do not believe it!" This catchphrase later becomes the backbone of another TV series, though John never bothers to sue.

May 1972. Eric came up with an interesting idea today. He says we should invent a missing Python member. He says that all the most famous groups have a missing member. Pete Best, the fifth Beatle, for instance. Then there was the Fourth Man in the Cambridge spy ring. Why didn't Python have a missing member? Terry said we did; it was Graham Chapman. Terry Gilliam asked why he couldn't be the sixth Python? We told him not to be silly, as he was American and had never been to Oxford or Cambridge.

June 1973. John sprang a bombshell on us today. He wants to leave Python. Terry sprang a bombshell on John today. He said: "OK, John, piss off, then!" I sprang a bombshell on them both. I said I wanted to leave and go travelling around the world. Could this be the beginning of the end? As the meeting breaks up, Graham arrives. He is drunk. He tries to cast the casting vote, but misses.

Michael Palin's 'The Palin Years' is available in good bookshops in the Sahara, the Himalayas, South Pole etc etc.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Recruitment Genius: Development Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

I saw the immigration lies a mile off - and now nobody can deny it

Nigel Farage
The Uber app allows passengers to hail a taxi with a smartphone  

Who wouldn’t like a sharing economy? Well, me, for one

Mary Dejevsky
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game