The Emperor's New Clothes (03/02/13)

The dead parrot! Mrs Sartre!! How did we manage before 'Monty Python'? Very well indeed...

Share
Related Topics

My experience of totalitarianism is limited. Too young to have known Nazi Germany or Mussolini's Italy, I was certainly old enough to have visited Franco's Spain, but insufficiently Spanish to have lived there. And by the time I got to Russia, the geriatric state corruptees had been replaced by younger corporate ones. For some faint inkling of what it is to be in an oppressive, near-fascist, atmosphere, I have to reach back to Cambridge in the early 1970s and the evening of the week when Monty Python's Flying Circus was broadcast. This may seem a trivial – even tasteless – parallel, but allow me to explain.

Monty Python, now part of the citizenship syllabus and still worshipped by many, was one of the least funny programmes ever made. Its humour was often cruel, and seemed to largely consist of squawking repetitive catchphrases at the top of their Oxbridge voices. It was The Goon Show stripped of warmth and invention; a show peopled with characters so lacking in character that they might as well have been played by puppets. And its sketches so clearly telegraphed in advance their laboured journey towards the lack of a punchline that no intelligent person could watch the opening exchanges of the famous "Dead Parrot" item and not know the avalanche of synonyms that would follow.

None of this would have amounted to much, to anything more than one insignificant undergraduate's opinion, had it not been for the fact that in the Cambridge of that time, Python was a cult. To be in college when the massed fans of the show held their weekly rallies in front of the television was frightening; all that uncritical adoration, all those hoots and shrieks of synchronised laughter. You could stay in your room, but you had to emerge some time, and run the gauntlet of endless braying of excerpts and phrases from the thing. But worst of all was the faithful's reaction to us few dissidents, made to feel, with our straight faces and lack of hysteria, like the sole citizen of Pyongyang who doubted mountains danced at the birth of a Kim, or like the only teetotaller at the drunkards' ball. It really was a cult; a complete cult.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

There is far too much sexism in the UK - but a point scoring system against other countries won't help to tackle it

Victoria Richards
 

Upmarket and downmarket – why the modern consumer loves a bit of both

Sean O'Grady
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal