‘Monty Python’ Series 1 Early Drafts

A close look at how early scripts of Python Series 1 differed from the broadcasts.

“I think they cut one line from the first series which was a very silly sketch about a policeman dumping some hashish on a guy. This guy pulls out a brown envelope and he’s got his sandwiches in it. the guy then says “Blimey what’s the wife got for lunch. It then cuts to the wife serving lunch who says, “No matter what it is, it’s better than lunch.” They cut that.”

The first series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus went through many changes.  Here’s what some early versions of the first series looked like at various stages of scripting.

SERIES 1, SHOW 1:

In original rehearsal scripts, the It’s The Arts sequence also included an early, abbreviated version of the Johann Gambolputty…. von Hautkopf of Ulm sketch. The sequence was apparently recorded as part of this studio session, but dropped when the show was edited for transmission, and remounted from scratch for Show 6.

It appears that the item was pencilled in for the episode at an earlier stage of script planning, with the film inserts already recorded Tuesday 8 July 1969, until the episode was found to be over-running, with a memo from John Howard Davies to Ian MacNaughton during the directors’ handover (JHD produced the first four episodes in studio), noting: Also we have retained the film of Gampol Putty in Episode 2 because we cut it out of the show, again due to time, but it could slot in very easily when an interview set appears again should you so wish.”

The War Room scene which acts as screened as a seuge into the Killer Joke (“Porker, eh? Swine”) was originally followed by an early version of the Lingerie/Bankrobber sketch which eventually appeared in Series 1, Show 10. In the broadcast version of the War Room link, one can see a maquette of a bank-robber, with mask and striped jersey.

It appears that this was intended as an obscure continuity link – in the original camera script, this scene was followed by an early version of Lingerie/Bankrobber sketch where Cleese plays a ‘Burglar Bill’ cartoonish bank robber, dressed identically to the figurine. The sketch was recorded as part of this episode (complete with ‘So Much For Pathos’ end card, as per Marriage Guidance Counsellor), but dropped at the editing stage. The sketch was remounted for Series 1, Show 10 as John Howard Davies notes in a memo to co-director Ian MacNaughton: “The sketch in Episode 2 [as recorded] called Lingerie, which although on tape, John Cleese would like to do again.  It was cut again because of time but it was very short, running about 2 to 2 ½ minutes.”

SERIES 1, SHOW 2:

In original rehearsal scripts, Epilogue: Wrestling was longer than broadcast, with a cutaway to a voting panel including a black vampire (Henry Raynor), three nuns, three bunny girls, and Head of Religious Broadcasting (James Harwell).

The Dirty Fork/Restaurant sketch was recorded as part of this show (introduced in the original draft script as by “two boys from London town”) but retained to be used for Show 3 and as an early submission for Christmas Night With The Stars.  Its inclusion in the episode as recorded presumably accounts for Carol Cleveland’s erroneous credit in this episode.

The Whizzo Butter vox pops (filmed Thursday 17 July 1969) included more pepperpot banter. As well as the ‘Descartes’ discussion heard on the 1970 BBC LP and seen in the recent outtakes footage, there’s also a scripte sequence called ‘Competitive Pepperpots’, where they discuss different things that they can’t tell the difference between, including “my husband and a dead crab”, “ordinary household dust and special household dust”, “Mervyn Stockwood* and a quality carpet”, concluding with one Pepperpot exclaiming, “I can’t tell the difference between Marcel Marceau and solid boredom!”, to which the other Pepperpots commiserate, “She hasn’t been educated, poor soul.” An additional hand-written piece of film script also includes a separate piece of Pepperpot vox pops: “I always use new Miracle Whizzo with ZK2 the mystery additive, because it’s just like a dead crab”.

* The Mervyn Stockwood reference would come back to haunt them, ten years later, when Cleese and Palin found themselves facing-off against Stockwood and self-styled intellectual Malcolm Muggeridge on the infamous Friday Night, Saturday Morning debate about Monty Python’s Life Of Brian.

SERIES 1, SHOW 3:

The Abducted Milkmen sketch was originally followed by the Irving C Salzberg sketch, initially conceived for At Last The 1948 Show and with a direct handover into the Stolen Newsreader sketch (filmed Tuesday 15 July 1969).  Thelatter sketch was abandoned during rehearsals, re-written and used during a later episode, and replaced with the previously recorded Bicycle Repair Man sketch, filmed in Sussex Tuesday 8 and Monday 14 July 1969, with close-ups of Palin filmed Tuesday 19 August 1969. Vocational Guidance Counsellor sketch was originally recorded for this episode but abandoned after an internal complaint about the use of David Frost’s home address. The original broadcast version of Series 1, Show 1’s sketch The Mouse Problem had already used David Frost’s home telephone number, resulting in an official complaint by the GPO’s Postmaster General, causing this second act of mischief to be speared by producer John Howard Davies, stating that “the Postmaster General has already had my balls” and that JHD had no wish to be “castrated again”.

Terry Jones’ scripts notes that an original rehearsal script sequence for the episode was: Courtroom/Pub (nudge nudge)/Boardroom (Salzburg)/Jackanory (Storytime)/Vocational Guidance Counsellor/Stolen Newsreader.

SERIES 1, SHOW 4:

The original sequence according to the rehearsal script was as follows: Bookshop/Secret Service Dentists/Storytime/The Colonel Interrupting (with Kathy Kirby joke)/Clothes Off At The Beach/Art Gallery/Buying A Bed (longer version than in the scripts)/Bicycle Repair Man/Hermits/Colonel Interruption/Self Defence.

This is a very early draft of the show, as by the time the shows had gone into production, Storytime and Bicycle Repair Man had been used for Show 3, and The Hermits was yet to be filmed (at Cow and Calf rocks, Ilkley Moor on September 23 1969), but Buying A Bed was almost certainly recorded (with additional dialogue about pesos) – the Art Gallery/Buying A Bed link from Show 9 betrays its origins as Katya Wyeth is wearing her costume from the un-used show 4 version of the former sketch in the filmed insert.

SERIES 1, SHOW 5:

Original sequence: Confuse A Cat/Customs/Vox Pops/PC Henry Thatcher/Newsreader Arrested/Silly Job Interview/Burglar-Encyclopedia Salesman/Ron Obvious.

Another early, rehearsal script sequence.  Ron Obvious (filmed Monday 15 September 1969) was five minutes longer as filmed and edited, and had a whole chunk of Chichester Cathedral material trimmed from its eventual use in Show 10, which boasts some hilariously devious shilling from Ron’s sponsor (Possibly indirectly inspired by Crowhurst and the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race).

The episode as scripted and broadcast boasts the first BBC censor cut before the episode aired, in the case of the PC Henry Thatcher sketch inspired by the then-current issue of Detective Sergeant Norman “Nobby” Pilcher, who built his drug squad career targeting musicians, earning the tabloid nickname the ‘pop cop’ . He’s the “semolina Pilchard” of the Beatles’ I Am The Walrus, and almost certainly the namesake of the Piranha Brothers’ nemesis, Spiny Norman, as well as an inspiration for the Pythons’ Harry ‘Snapper’ Organs who kept abreast of the  Brothers’ antics by “reading the colour supplements”…

SOTCAA: A sketch in Series 1, Show 5 (02/11/69) features a policeman (Chapman) who enters a flat and plants some drugs on an innocent man (Idle). Idle notices his actions, and investigates the package discovering it to contain sandwiches. “Blimey!” exclaims Chapman. “Whatever did I give the wife?” This then cuts crudely into the middle of a huge audience laugh. The sketch was scheduled to end with a shot of an inebriated woman (Palin) saying ‘I don’t know, but it was better than sandwiches…’ while hitting eggs around the kitchen with a frying pan as if it was a tennis racket. This never made it to tx, on the insistence of the BBC. The censorship has been alluded to in several places, including the American version of the 1989 documentary Life Of Python in which Idle quotes the punchline as “I don’t know, but it was better than lunch!”

Of the edit, Eric Idle told Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine, Volume VII Number 6, July 1975:

“I think they cut one line from the first series which was a very silly sketch about a policeman dumping some hashish on a guy. This guy pulls out a brown envelope and says the policeman, ‘here what’s this you’ve got there. the policeman opens it up and he’s got his sandwiches in it. The guy then says “Blimey what’s the wife got for lunch. It then cuts to the wife serving lunch who says, “No matter what it is, it’s better than lunch.” They cut that.”

SERIES 1, SHOW 6:

The only episode of the first block of six episodes to be as prepared, although the You’re No Fun Any More blackouts included more blackout material, including a camel.  Terry Gilliam animation involving the ‘Stars and Stripes’ played on bagpipes was cut at a very late stage, as the use of source music is included in the BBC’s PasB (Programme as Broadcast) paperwork, BBC paperwork which records all usage of footage and recordings incorporated into a show.

SERIES 1, SHOW 7:

Kim Howard Johnson’s mighty tome The First 200 Years notes, “In the original BBC rehearsal script, the show leads off with the ‘Barber’, a version in which the entire cassette is allowed play out through the end of the haircut without the customer wising up.” Sure enough, the original rehearsal script saw the episode begin with Barber/Lumberjack Song, leading into Sir George Head, Kenny Lust, the hunting film (then known as The Aristocrats) and ending with a longer version of The Visitors – all recorded at Golders Green Hippodrome, 5 November 1969, due to a wildcat strike. The Visitors was a much longer version with a very different premise, featuring Fanny Carby (Spike Milligan’s regular stooge, and part of Joan Greenwood’s repertory) as Mrs. Equatol.  Technical issues meant that half of this episode, included the revised The Visitors, as broadcast with Eric Idle’s Arthur Name, was re-recorded at TV Centre on the same night as Full Frontal Nudity (Show 9) and Christmas Night With The Stars inserts.

SERIES 1, SHOW 8:

The original rehearsal script of this show began with Arthur Figgis in the corner of “A bar in a public house near Esher”, with fellow patrons attempting to guess his identity – as Kim Howard Johnson notes, “three men in a pub… ask (Figgis) to repeat phrases to jog their memories, but he turns out to be Arthur Figgis, an accountant, rather than Jimmy Stewart, Eddie Waring, Anthony Newley, David Frost or their other guesses, and leads into Johann Gambolputty…”

SERIES 1, SHOW 9:

The episode, best known as Full Frontal Nudity, features in its preparatory scripts the famous Dead Parrot sketch as broadcast, only with some minor extra dialogue regarding a Dodo.  It also featured the all-film Hell’s Grannies (minus the material involving baby-snatchers and keep left signs), but also including a cutaway item about a handbag featuring a “young gay man” (see wearecult.rocks/monty-python-christmas-night-without-the-stars), leading into the Colonel interrupting and introducing a sketch that he has written, Interesting People (featuring Herbert Arkwright wrestling with a buffalo), and ending with a version of the aforementioned The Visitors (alt version).

SERIES 1, SHOW 10:

The Accidents Room sketch (used in the Grillomat episode of Series 2) was rehearsed and recorded for this episode, with Carolae Donoughue as the French maid, who told We Are Cult: I do recall playing a maid on one episode of the series.  If I remember correctly, I played the part of a French maid and couldn’t speak English.  For whatever reason, they cut it out and the rationale could have been for timing reasons, but not sure.”

As originally scripted this sketch was preceded by Ron Obvious, with the two old ladies speaking over the ending linking to Accidents Room, and was followed by Gorilla-Librarian.

Vocational Guidance Counsellor was a late addition, having been originally recorded for an earlier show and then junked due to the Frost faux pas – in this instance, the sketch made the cut and can be seen in the episode as broadcast, with Cleese offering a mea culpa by substituting Frost’s address for his own, ’55 Basil Street’.

SERIES 1, SHOW 11:

The main difference between the rehearsal and camera script is the Jimmy Buzzard interview is accompanied by a sketch with punch-drunk boxer Henry Pratt, who who ‘combines a lack of ability with extreme physical cowardice’, and which has been presented in ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Hidden Treasures’.

SERIES 1, SHOW 12:

This episode is more or less as broadcast, as the team were behind schedule at this point, with this particular show going out a mere week after it had been taped. SOTCAA notes that, “Neither ‘Ken Shabby’ nor ‘Upper Class Twit Of The Year’ were in the original script, although the latter was hastily hand-written.”

SERIES 1, SHOW 13:

Magic Police included an additional scene involving a Scotland Yard seance with David Ballantyne, and a longer version of Historical Impersonations, including additional contestants and a judging panel consisting of Carol Cleveland, David Ballantyne and Katya Wyeth.

David Ballantyne vividly recalls some of the additional material, recorded but not broadcast, in conversation with We Are Cult’s James Gent:
“One of the scenes I remember clearly from the ‘mad psychiatrist’ episode was a whole preamble about the police using magic to detect crime. (A very Cleesian notion, if I may say so). I was sitting at a desk in a police uniform with my ridiculously long hair staring into a crystal ball. My line was something along the lines of: “I see a cyclist proceeding along the Balls Pond Road without a rear light”, which was more Terry Jones-ish.”

I’m indebted to having been allowed access to Terry Jones’ script collection and the resources of the BBC Written Archive Centre in Caversham, Reading, for the compilation of this article.


❉ James Gent is editor of We Are Cult, and co-editor with Jon Arnold of Me And The Starman. In 2014, James Gent wrote the biography for the official Monty Python website. He also acted as a consultant for the documentaries ‘Monty Python: And Now for Something Rather Similar’ (BBC) and ‘Monty Python: The Meaning of Live’ (GOLD).

❉  Material from “Monty Python’s Flying Circus ” © Python Productions. Reproduced for review purposes according to Section 30 (Criticism, review and news reporting) of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA)

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