Thursday, 26 June 2008

Nailing Monty Python to the Cross

Not a lot of people know that I was at school with Rowan Atkinson's long-term collaborator Richard Curtis. In fact, one of my claims to fame is that I was cast as the male lead in the one-act melodrama The Bathroom Door opposite Curtis as the female lead.

I last met him in 1979 at a reunion at that same prep school, Papplewick, in Ascot. He told me that the launch of his new TV show – whose name didn't register at the time – had been delayed for some reason, but should appear in the autumn.

So while the Merton College revue represented the acme of my life as a sketch artist (my Thunderbirds-style skit about the theft of the Radcliffe Camera, which featured the immortal line "You been nosey, Parker, again?", proving to be one of the highlights of the evening), Curtis went on to bigger and better things – Not The Nine O' Clock News and Blackadder – as well as Mr. Bean and the worst film ever made, Love, Actually (which comes in just ahead of What Women Want, because it thinks it's funny).

If one sketch encapsulates all that's best about NTNOCN, indeed, all that's best about British humour, it would be "General Synod's Life of Christ", which the team performed shortly after the release of Monty Python's Life of Brian, a film as good as their earlier effort Monty Python and the Holy Grail had been indifferent.

More immediately and more pertinently, the sketch was broadcast a week after an edition of the "Friday Night, Saturday Morning" BBC2 programme, on which John Cleese and Michael Palin argued about whether their film was blasphemous with two veteran Christians, Malcolm Muggeridge and Bishop Mervyn Stockwood. (Not only did Muggers and Stockers miss the point of the film, they actually missed the first 15 minutes down the local Odeon, which was a pity for them, but a godsend to the rest of us, as it's at the start of the film that it's made clear that Brian isn't actually Jesus, but a thick bloke who's mistaken for Jesus by people nearly as thick as him).

At one level, then, "General Synod's Life of Christ" functions to take the piss out of ignorant Christians (which is never a bad thing). On another, grasped by the team with a zeal which is almost indecent, the sketch provides the team with a glorious opportunity to put the knife into the unevenness of Monty Python's output.

"Have people forgotten how Monty Python suffered for us? How often the sketches failed? These men died for us … frequently."

Comic writing gets no better than this.

11 comments:

Gorilla Bananas said...

Malcolm Muggeridge! I'll never forget the letter from Henry Root asking Muggeridge to provide a picture, "if possible, pulling one of your funny faces".

Dave said...

Nosy parker! God that's bad.

ulaca said...

You may mock, Dafydd, but the "You been nosey, Parker, again?" line got the biggest laugh of that May evening nearly 30 years ago. A lesson I never forgot in my after-dinner speaking career, which has taken me from Pontardulais to Wong Nai Chung Gap Road, and that's a hell of a walk.

s said...

Oh yes - in fact spurred by this I have just ordered from Amazon the NTNOCN DVDs and spent a couple of very happy hours on youtube. I hadn't seen Rowan Atkinson's Invisible Drum Kit sketch before but that is another piece of sheer comic genius (and the guy must be a not rubbish drummer as well)

Joyce said...

Love Actually is one of Marc's favorite rom-coms.
Ulaca, must you be so curmudgeonly to deny him even that?

ulaca said...

Chacun ses goûts, ma p'tite!

fumier said...

I'm not sure if 36B qualifies as petite, old chap.

ulaca said...

... à chacun son goût!

fumier said...

Especially in Asia. 36B is positively Amy Yippish.

Joyce said...

And you're even cheating me of a whole letter-size.
Maybe that's what everyone around here means when they say I'm fat.

fumier said...

C?