Study Guide

Monty Python and the Holy Grail Screenwriter

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Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin

In a time before everyone's favorite Arthurian parody there were five British comedic writers known in the real world as Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin.

The young men were from Cambridge and Oxford, where they wrote and acted in the university theater (or theatre, as the Brits would write it). They'd all been writers and performers in a number of British comedy shows, including "The Frost Report" and "Do Not Adjust Your Set." In 1969 Cleese had an offer from the BBC-TV to create a comedy series; he brought on the rest of the five, plus Terry Gilliam, an American animator whose work he admired.

Fortunately for us and the rest of the world, the result was "Monty Python's Flying Circus," a show that, in their own words, would be "unpredictable, aggressive, and irreverent, each episode a thirty-minute stream of consciousness, reflecting the revolutionary times of the late '60s" (source).

The show, consisting of sketches tied together by Gilliam's brilliant animations, ran for forty-five episodes, became a cult classic, and won tons of awards (source). The Pythons continually pushed the boundaries of intelligent, absurdist comedy, mixing pure silliness with references to existential philosophers and correct conjugation of Latin verbs. Like The Holy Grail, the sketches lampooned authority figures and the status quo—appealing perfectly to the rebellious youth movements of the '60s.

In 1971, the Pythons produced their first film, And Now for Something Completely Different, which was basically a collection of sketches from the TV show. Encouraged by the success of that film, they went on to create Monty Python and the Holy Grail, their first real, original feature film, followed by the controversial Bible parody Life of Brian, and their final film, The Meaning of Life.

Why "Monty Python?" The guys gave different explanations for the group's name over the years, but generally it's just a name that they thought was silly, senseless, and slippery, like their comedy.

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