Monty Python and the Holy Case


Today we are going to talk about a very famous and influential group of comedians. The impact that they had is still felt today by those like Lorne Michaels of SNL which started in 1975 and even movies such as the recent Jojo Rabbit where the director Taika said he feels that when he had the Gestapo salute with “Heil Hitler” to each and every person in the room it is something that this troupe would do. We are talking of course about the Pythons and Monty Python and the Holy Grail!     

We will discuss a little history on how John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, and Michael Palin became the Pythons,  followed by the making of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and finally we will share how it was received and what it meant to us.


  • Radio
    • Although the Pythons all had many influences, one of the greatest was that of an old radio show called the Goon Show.  It starred Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, and Harry Secombe. It changed British comedy. It was unlike any other show because it was very ridiculous and silly. As says   “They burst onto the radio with surreal storylines, absurd logic, puns, catchphrases and groundbreaking sound effects. They ridiculed the pomposity of those in authority and laughed at the stupidity of mankind.”
  • Flying Circus
    • Cleese and Graham had been working together for a while and they enjoyed watching this kids show called “Do Not Adjust Your Set” which had Idle, Jones, Palin, and Gilliam in it.  Cleese and Graham decided to approach them to do a show together. They all thought it was a great idea and approached the British tv producer Michael Mills. None of them knew what they were going to do, just that they were going to have a humorous show. Michael Mills at the time trusted his gut and gave them 13 episodes without having any idea what they would come up with. 
    • This 1969 show would become known as Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It was the beginning of the Pythons and would have 45 episodes over 4 seasons. 
    • The name took a while to come up with. It was the result of a prolonged brainstorming.  The BBC seemed to like Flying Circus and in all their memos called it “The Circus.” Finally however they needed a concrete name for the show and Michael Mills told them to call it ‘something Flying Circus.’  So Cleese and Palin came up with the nonsense name Monty Python.  
    • The brilliant aspect of what they came up with was that the cast was able to play many different characters without one particular person standing out above the rest.  This was very unlike other comedies of the time where there was one star with a supporting cast. 
    • Another aspect that set it apart was that the sketches were not done to music.
    • The sketches lampooned issues of classicism and social mores, but are more dated when it comes to topics of race and gender. There was one recurring female actress, Carol Cleveland, who played the “straight woman” in many of their silly sketches. Cleveland has been referred to as the 7th Python due to her frequent appearances. Outside of her performances, most female characters were sexualized or “ditzy.” 
    • Many famous aspects of the show are considered timeless and have made a mark on modern pop culture.
      • The show was popular because it was different! It shows a disruption with authority by breaking the rules of TV at the time. It makes fun of bureaucracy, something we all still can relate to today
        • Characters constantly broke the fourth wall, sometimes a character from a previous sketch may walk into a current one and ask everyone how the show is going. 
        • Sketches rarely ended, either. Usually they flowed directly into another sketch or would end with an interruption from another character like The Colonel–he frequently dropped in to shut down a sketch for being “too silly.” 
      • One favorite sketch that all the Pythons mentioned was the Fish Slapping Dance which will be included in our blog because everyone should see it.
      • The Dead Parrot Sketch
      • The Cheese Shop
      • The Ministry of Silly Walks
    • In order to save money the BBC would often erase tapes but thanks to Terry Gilliam for buying them from the BBC before they could be erased!
    • After Season 3 Cleese called it. He was essentially getting bored and did not want to continue doing the same thing forever. The BBC therefore continued with a Season 4 without John Cleese but it only had 7 episodes and was just called “Monty Python.” It was clear that it just wasn’t the same without Cleese and so after season 4 the Circus ended.
  • Now For Something Completely Different
    • This movie was an attempt to bring in an American audience and consisted of reshot skits from the show done without a studio audience. Since it was not really the Pythons who decided to put this movie together they did not have much say in how it was made.  It ended up not being a very big box office hit. The estimated budget was $100,000 and the cumulative Worldwide Gross was only $6,979. 

Making of the Movie 

  • The budget was fairly low to begin with (only £150,000)  for the movie. They had to raise the money themselves but they were luckily able to secure some supportive donations from some famous bands such as Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Charisma.
    • On top of a low budget about two weeks before filming they were told by the Dept. of the Environment of Scotland that they could not use their castles for shooting because it may be “inconsistent with the dignity of the fabric of the building.”  This meant that they had to find privately owned castles. They found one which was Doune Castle which stands for most of the castles in the movie. For the ending thankfully they were able to find Castle Stalker. This all ended up working in their favor with time as then they did not have to run around from castle to castle filming.
  • In order for the team to get what they wanted out of it, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones directed the film.  Neither of them had any experience in directing and so it was a struggle and learning experience for all. Gilliam being the one who had done all the illustrations for the tv show was accustomed to looking closely at visuals, while Jones was good at getting the jokes to flow well and keep things going in a timely manner.
    • At times the actors would become a bit annoyed by the two directors.  Cleese gave a great example of this when he said they had hit gold with the Lancelot “Message for you, Sir!” scene.  However, when “Cut” was called Gilliam said there needed to be more smoke for the visual. 
    • Having two directors with different views caused some confusion but overall it seemed to work because the balance of visual and the whole experience was achieved.
  • The difficulty even started the first day when the camera broke on slate one take one.  It’s gears literally stripped, the only other camera had to be used because it was not an easy fix.  The problem however is that the audio did not automatically sync with the camera.
  • Lighting 
    • The lighting was minimal for the film.  Terry Bedford, the Director of Photography, said that quote “We had a couple of what we call red-heads and a small generator that you could stick 300 yards away and cover with blankets to cut the noise.”  
    • And for the cave scene they used real burning torches.
  • Black Knight Scene
    • The stand-in for Cleese was a man with one leg so he was already able to balance with one leg and an arm to his back.  The second leg was a dummy rigged by wires. The final piece was when they dug a hole for him when he was just a stump.
  • The first script 90% of it was thrown out
    • They did lots of research about the legends of KIng Arthur.
    • There were probably about 13 edits and screenings before the final finished product.  One of those changes was that they changed the music to a lot of library music and only kept new written pieces for the singing portions such as the Camelot Scene.


All the guys except Terry Gilliam graduated from Cambridge or Oxford. So basically they were all incredibly smart but just loved being silly!

  • John Cleese
    • Always the most well known because he was a tv star first in things like “The Frost Report” and “Fawlty Towers.”
    • Fun fact: HIs last name would have been Cheese but his grandfather changed the last name when he became a member of the British Army in 1915.
  • Terry Gilliam
    • The only American of the group, he was the one to do all the illustrations.
    • After directing for Monty Python Gilliam went on to direct films such as Time Bandits, Brazil, Twelve Monkeys, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
  • Eric Idle
    • He is said to be manager-like. He was not usually a writer of the jokes so he was able to judge it and change it as needed. He was also very good with songs and was why there were musical numbers in the show and movies.
    • He was also in Nuns on the Run and Casper.
  • Graham Chapman
    • Known for being late all the time
    • The first of the group to pass away in 1989.
    • He played the Colonel!! 
    • Lead in the Grail.
  • Terry Jones 
    • He is said to care about everything and was supposedly the most likely to be wearing drag for the sketches.
    • He is a major history buff who has done documentaries such as Ancient Inventions and The Crusades.
    • The second to pass away, very recently in January of 2020.
  • Michael Palin
    • Is known for his niceness and came up with the best ideas for sketches.
    • After being a Python he did world travel shows such as Around the World in 80 days, Pole to Pole, and Full Circle.
  • Carol Cleveland
    • Carol was their go to when they themselves could not play the character. She was only supposed to be in a few sketches but was quickly recruited to work with them whenever possible because she was so great at what she did.
    • She also appeared in The Avengers, The Persuaders, and Are You Being Served? 

Final Thoughts/ How it was received

  • Received very well!
  • Elvis Presley loved it and reportedly saw it about 45 times in the cinema and quoted it often!
  • To help promote Monty Python and the Holy Grail  there was a full page ad taken out offering the first 100 people at the cinema coconuts.


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