Sunday, 9 April 2017

THE LEIGH SPENCE MOMENT: MONTY PYTHON’S FLIEGENDER ZIRKUS


27. “I’ve been breeding doctors for ten years now…”



09/04/2017




Let’s face it, you cannot be a speaker of English and not know about Monty Python from the inside out, so I will instead start with Alfred Biolek, a producer for the (then West) German regional broadcaster WRD, who invited the comedy group to make a show for them, to show how it should be done – Biolek had noted they were good actors, as well as comedians. Initial misgivings from the team, who accepted a trip to Munich for Biolek to try and convince them further, melted after they arrived, seeing how well their work was already going down.


During their trip, the Pythons also visited Oktoberfest, the Dachau concentration camp, and the stadium built for the upcoming Olympic Games, to have a good understanding of German culture before they started. The first of the two 45-minute episodes, shown at the beginning of 1972, incorporated the previous year’s 500th anniversary of the birth of painter Albrecht Dürer, attempting to present a documentary that veers off in wild directions, stopped by John Cleese as a TV executive, in place of Graham Chapman’s army general, trying to stop the show from becoming silly. The second show, shown at the end of 1972, features a philosophers’ football match – Germany versus Ancient Greece, with the real-life Franz Beckenbauer as a ringer on the German side.


Other highlights include John Cleese as Little Red Riding Hood, with Granny’s cottage turning out to be the base for NASA; a “Bavarian Restaurant Sketch,” involving spurious customs that take the piss of an American tourist couple; “The Tale of Happy Valley,” an extended sketch where princes vie to win the heart of an air-headed princess (played by Connie Booth, in place of Carol Cleveland); and Graham Chapman fighting himself, reprising his audition piece for the Cambridge Footlights. In fact, while most of both shows feature new material, and new animations by Terry Gilliam, some sketches were repurposed from “At Last the 1948 Show,” a sketch show that co-starred Chapman and Cleese, thought to have been completely wiped – thankfully, eleven out of thirteen episodes have been found, with the initial two being found in co-star Marty Feldman’s will.


These shows are not just for Python completists – they are very funny, with “The Tale of Happy Valley” almost a precursor to their “Holy Grail” film. However, they should be treated as films, and not TV shows, as the pacing is different – a little slower than their TV work – with no audience laughter. The first episode was also recorded with the cast speaking German phonetically which, while a little discombobulating, is easy to get past, although the thicker British accents of Terry Jones and Eric Idle meant that, while they were subtitled in English when shown by the BBC, they were also subtitled in German by WRD. The second show was recorded in English.

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