Monty Python’s Exploding Circus

❉ Former BBC Visual Effects Assistant Peter Logan talks exploding babies, bishops and orchestras….

Peter Logan was assigned by BBC Visual Effects Designer John Horton to work on several filmed items for ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ in 1970 and 1971 as a Visual Effects Assistant. Here, he kindly takes time to share some memories of his contributions to the sketches…

‘The Bishop’ (Series 2, Show 5)

“I was assigned by John Horton to make a bishop’s crozier light up and become a telephone for the Bishop sketch. The brief for the crozier was to produce a realistic staff which would stand up to knocks and still be able to detach to make it look like he was on a phone, this was my first job as an assistant on a proper programme so I had to make an impression.

“The head of the crozier was constructed from sections of a cheap standard lamp and lamp bracket purchased in Shepherds Bush Market (where most of our props were bought) and glued together with a wire running through to the bulb at the tip and joined by a PO plug at the other end. A socket connected to a battery and push switch in the staff completed the whole effect but with only one prop it had to be repaired a few times! The exploding pulpit and baby doll were down to John Horton. The baby was my mutilation of a doll from the market with a spring clip and ‘gubbings’ inside.”

‘Man Powered Flight’ (Series 2, Show 2)

“I will never forget the cyclist sketch, going down the cliff face of Beachy Head on the Birling Gap. Wearing a harness I was fixed to a cable that stretched back from the cliff face the same distance down, you get the idea, it was a hot day and I was in shorts and the stinging nettles had to be endured. When all was set up (on the beach) I had to run back across the top, warning walkers to avoid the wire, then on a cue from the walkie talkie (which I was also carrying) I had to run as fast as I could to the cliff edge and hope I could stop in time. The bike and dummy were fixed to two parallel wires hanging off a scaffold and pulley vertically down the cliff. Having proved my competence on the previous sketch, John Horton basically left me to it while he sat on the beach and enjoyed the results.”

‘How Not To Be Seen’ (Series 2, Show 11)

“The actual explosions were ‘soft’ flashes where artists were in close proximity otherwise it was a cut shot with the explosion in place of the artist. In those days loud explosions were tolerated by the nearby residents – not like the action taken when I did my bit on Brainiac at Pinewood! At that time, I was not allowed to wire up pyrotechnics but I was in charge of the firing box and laying out the firing lines. I think the explosions with the bushes were done in the woods behind Pinewood but I can’t be certain.”

‘The Exploding Version of the Blue Danube’ (Series 2, Show 13)

“The exploding Blue Danube was another wonderful experience, a very hot day after a field had been cut, and photographic ‘cut-outs’ of ourselves with instruments mounted on plywood with moving arms, were wired up to with explosives on the back and cables attached to the arms to make them move back and forward. On the start of the music over a loudspeaker several of us tugged at the numerous cables to start a rocking motion then John H fired off the explosions in time to the music, the downside of this was at the finish everyone on the team was then in a panic as the pyrotechnics had set fire to the stubble and was in danger of spreading out of control so an emergency beating session began.”

‘Sam Peckinpah’s Salad Days’ (Series 3, Show 10)

“I don’t remember being on the location for the Salad Days sketch but I was involved in making some of the pumps and rigging for the blood. Quite often the major blood effects were fire extinguishers filled with blood and then pressurised with a foot pump, polythene tubes fed to false limbs etc. Lots of these were used as you can guess!”

Keep following We Are Cult for more Monty Python memories, in this, the team’s fiftieth anniversary year…

❉  Editor of WE ARE CULT, James Gent wrote the biography for the official Monty Python website. He also acted as consultant for the documentaries ‘Monty Python: And Now for Something Rather Similar’ (BBC) and ‘Monty Python: The Meaning of Live’ (GOLD). James has also contributed to several acclaimed publications devoted to cult and popular television including 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die and is the co-editor of ‘Me and The Starman’, coming soon in 2019.

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