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DVD Review

DVD cover

Monty Python’s Flying Circus
Complete Series 1-4 Box Set


Starring: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RRP: £44.99
Certificate: 12
Available 03 November 2008

Congratulations on your exceeding cleverness. You have discovered the complete series of Monty Python's Flying Circus is available in a DVD box set. Good for you. This gorgeously remastered, authenticated and totally complete set contains a veritable treasure trove of comedy. It's the Pythons at their best: outrageously off-the-wall and brilliantly silly...

For those who purchased last year's (2007) individually released series' of Monty Python's Flying Circus on DVD and were a little dismayed that there were no extras included... the news gets bleaker. Now fans of the show can pick up the box set of all four series, with an additional disc of extras. Not only that but instead of the £94.96 you splashed out last year, this collection is now available for the giveaway price of £44.99.

Series One, which is made up of 13 half-hour episodes, includes the classic sketches Arthur (two sheds) Jackson; The funniest joke in the world; Arthur Frampton - a man with three buttocks; musical live mouse organ; coal mining son / writer father; the mouse problem; bicycle repairman; the dirty fork in the restaurant; nudge, nudge, wink, wink; how to defend yourself against an assailant armed with fruit; the dull life of a city stockbroker; newly weds buying a bed; the parrot sketch; gangs of old ladies terrorising the streets; Lumberjack song; tunnelling to java; the upperclass twit of the year show and albatross.

Connie Booth, who was married to Cleese, also appears briefly in a few episodes. She would later co-write and co-star with him in Fawlty Towers.

The second series featured a further 13 episodes. The format of the show also shifted, with more long sketches. In fact several episodes were taken up with sketches that ran for almost half the show's running time. Highlights include the new cooker sketch; Ministry of Silly Walks; the Spanish Inquisition; It's the Mind - deja vu; slaughterhouse architect; The Bishop; Throat Wobbler Mangrove; mosquito big game hunting; Scott of the Antarctic and the Spam song.

It was interesting to see that it was actually Terry Gilliam, and not Terry Jones, was the first Python to appear as the nude organist.

The third series of Monty Python's Flying Circus features many classic moments and contains a further 13 episodes spread across two discs. This series went back to the format of the first series, with more shorter sketches.

The first episode, Whicker's World, opens with Njorl's Saga - it's obvious to see where a lot of ideas in Monty Python and the Holy Grail came from when you watch this sketch. This is a 12th century Icelandic saga which is funded by the North Maldon Icelandic Society - the result being a number of plugs for businesses and tourists to come to North Maldon. There's also a trip to Whicker's World - an island that's sole indigenous species is a race of Alan Whickers.

Other highlights in this collection include:

Mr & Mrs Brian Norris' Ford Popular, and we are off on a journey with Mr Norris who is keen to prove his theory that the inhabitants of Hounslow were created when the natives of Surbiton moved there en masse. This episode also includes the legendary Fish Slapping Dance.

The Money Programme includes the classic Argument Clinic sketch.

Blood, Devastation, Death, War and Horror has a running pantomime horse gag - which climaxes in a great Bond title sequence spoof.

The All England Summarise Proust Competition features Miss Ann Elk's theory about the Brontosaurs.

Salad Days features The Cheese Shop sketch and the gory Salad Days movie trailer.

Disc two kicks off on a totally new slant. The Cycling Tour sees a half hour tale of one keen cyclist who is cycling around North Cornwall. Michael Palin stars as the rather anal cyclist who keeps crashing his bike. This is probably the funniest episode in this collection - mainly because the characters are a little more fleshed out than usual and a lot of the ongoing gags are allowed to build over the course of the episode.

The Nude Organist kicks of with Eric Idol walking into the cockpit of a plane and announcing that he has hidden a bomb on board. He offers to tell them where it is for a £1 million. When the captain tells him that he will die too, he realises that he hasn't thought his money making scheme out very well. The rest of the episode sees him pop in and out of sketches offering to not interrupt the gags "for a £1". This episode also has one of my all time favourite sketches (one that not many people seem to remember): The Olympic Hide & Seek sketch. There's also some crazier than usual happenings when the Cheap-Laughs come to dinner.

E. Henry Tripshaw's Disease has another favourite sketch of mine - the Annoying Vicar skit.

Dennis Moore has the classic (though not that funny) Dennis Moore highwayman sketch. There is also an ironic gag in one of Terry Gilliam's animated links. Securicor are running the ambulance service. Little did Gilliam suspect that Securicor would one day be involved with the UK's prison system.

Was that an intentional gag I spotted on the menu screens? Or just poor planning? Under the "Audio Set Up" option on the main menu we don't get a choice, just a page stating that the languages are... er... English... not really much point in including this option at all really then.

Another annoying aspect is that the sound on the episodes is incredibly quiet, meaning that you have to whack the volume up to hear what is going on. However, after each episode, when the disc returns to the menu page, the recorded volume is high. This means you have to hunt for the remote control to turn the volume down before you annoy the whole street.

The fourth series of Monty Python's Flying Circus (or Monty Python as it was original broadcast as - the Flying Circus part of the title was dropped) features many more classic moments and contains just six episodes on a single disc.

John Cleese had left the group at the end of series three and his absence is felt - as would any of the team if they'd been missing. It's not that Cleese was holding everything together (personally I much prefer Michael Palin and Terry Jones's working class man comedy) it's just that he was an integral part of a well oiled machine. Take away one of those parts and the whole thing doesn't work as well as before.

That's not to say that this series dips in anyway in quality. There are a lot of great sketches, and some of the Python's greatest moments are included in this collection. There was a noticeable switch back to the longer episode stories that were present in the second series. In Series Three there was only The Cycling Tour that dared to veer from the normal run of episodes that were sketches very loosely tied together by Terry Gilliam's animation.

Highlights include:

The Golden Age of Ballooning - which has the classic: "It's not a balloon! It's an airship!" sketch.

Michael Ellis: My personal favourite episode this series, in which Eric Idol attempts to buy an ant from a large department store. He is mistaken for Michael Ellis (we never do find out who Michael Ellis is despite numerous references to him). The clichéd endings conclusion is also a great touch - and two fingers up to the Hollywood way of pigeonholing everything.

Hamlet: Which features the classic Queen Victoria Handicap Race - and Jimmy Hill dressed as Queen Victoria.

Mr Neutron: Graham Chapman is Mr Neutron - a man that can cause the world to be destroyed at a moments notice. He spends most of his time shopping and gardening, and when he falls of the radar of the American's watching him - they go into panic mode.

As I mentioned earlier, this box set is basically the season releases with an additional disc of extras - extras which are pretty impressive as they chart the rise to fame of the Python team.

Extras include: Before the Flying Circus (55 min, 32 sec feature that looks back at how the team came together. This features new interviews with all of the team (except the late Chapman) as well as David Frost, Ronnie Corbett and Denis Norden; Monty Python Conquers America (54 min, 54 sec documentary that looks at the Python's rocky road to becoming embraced by an American audience); Animated Gilliam (16 min, 20 sec featurette that sees Gilliam walking us through the opening titles to the series. It was also interesting to hear that we have Ronnie Barker to thank for the nudes used in the animation - as it was Barker who gave Gilliam his collection of saucy postcards); and Politically Incorrect (3 min, 06 sec missing sketch that was dropped when the show was rerun on the BBC - as it was a spoof Conservative ad and the BBC didn't want to be seen to be favouring one party over another close to an election).

If you didn't pick these discs up last year, then this box set is well worth buying.


Darren Rea

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