Monty Python’s lost comedy roots in BFI film vault

Open, general discussion of old-time radio and early television
  • Author
  • Message
Offline
User avatar

Mike Gebert

Site Admin

  • Posts: 5275
  • Joined: Sat Dec 15, 2007 3:23 pm
  • Location: Chicago

Monty Python’s lost comedy roots in BFI film vault

PostSun Mar 19, 2017 6:58 pm

Michael Palin discovers Monty Python’s lost comedy roots in BFI film vault

Read more at: https://inews.co.uk/essentials/michael- ... ilm-vault/

The historical sketch, featuring Michael Palin as a frazzled Saint Augustine failing to steer a pagan British couple towards Christianity, is pure Python.

But the black-and-white footage is actually from The Complete And Utter History of Britain, a 1969 satirical series that predates the famous troupe and was feared lost forever after the original tapes were wiped.

Fortunately, television archivists tracked down the director of Utter Britain, which paired Palin with Terry Jones, in Australia. He had kept the original tapes of two episodes, which an unimpressed London Weekend Television had merged into one show before airing and erasing.

Palin is watching his youthful antics at the British Film Institute’s National Archive in Berkhamsted, where the episodes are now preserved, along with some 180,000 films and 750,000 television programmes in a state-of the-art facility.

“Doing a TV show was just one of those things you churned out. When we did a show, the tape was wiped after,” reflects the comedy legend. “You never really thought anyone would want to see this stuff in the future.”

Palin will introduce the clips, along with restored excerpts from another “lost” cult show, Do Not Adjust Your Set from 1968 (which starred Eric Idle and David Jason alongside Palin and Jones), at the BFI and Radio Times festival in London next month.

When Monty Python’s Flying Circus slipped on to late night BBC1 later in 1969, the group took drastic action to preserve the programmes for posterity.

“The feeling among various people was that this something a bit special but at that time the BBC was still wiping tapes,” Palin told the i. “They wiped a lot of Spike Milligan and a lot of Pete and Dud’s material so we got quite worried.”

“Terry Jones said ‘We’ve got to record these’ and he got a clunky old Phillips reel-to-reel recorder and taped all the old Python shows just in case the BBC got rid of them.”

“And they were all in his garage waiting to be brought out at a suitable time.”

Palin added: “There was no video then, only repeats, which we prayed for. It was more cost-effective to use the tapes again.”

The pre-Python shows are a testing ground for innovations which the troupe would later expand upon. A surviving Do Not Adjust… Christmas special included the first animation from Terry Gilliam, an anarchic cartoon depicting murdered angels, which may have shocked the programme’s intended children’s audience.

Palin said: “The Christmas Card is still my favourite Gilliam animation after all these years. It’s very English but there’s an aggression and edge to it which was very American too. You can see why it was such an important element to Python later on.”

Utter Britain…featuring sketches in which characters from the Battle of Hastings give post-match dressing-room interviews, was both a precursor to Python’s historical feature films but also Horrible Histories, Palin said.

In the bowels of the BFI archive, conservationists are racing to digitise 100,000 television programmes from the 1970s and 80s before the videotape they are currently stored on becomes obsolete.

Recent discoveries include an early television appearance from Mary Berry, baking an Easter cake with Judith Chalmers on the 1974 ITV programme Good Housekeeping and Cooking Price-wise, an unsettling cookery show presented by horror film star Vincent Price.

Palin said it was “poignant” to see East of Ipswich, an autobiographical 1987 BBC film he wrote, which dramatises a miserable teenage holiday, enlivened by meeting the girl who remains his wife, which will be screened in full at the festival.

With warehouse-style floors stacked floor to ceiling with tapes and reels – “It’s quite extraordinary how much stuff there is. You’d need a mountaineer to get to the top shelves,” Palin marvels.

A new BFI Master Film Store in Warwickshire will house 190,000 canisters of volatile nitrate film and 240,000 acetate reels at -5 degrees Celsius, and at controlled humidity.

“One of the wonders of the internet is that it's a totally open forum. The world's greatest expert—or greatest idiot—is free to post.” —David Shepard, quoted by Richard Bann
Offline
User avatar

Spiny Norman

  • Posts: 1085
  • Joined: Tue Mar 18, 2008 8:21 am

Re: Monty Python’s lost comedy roots in BFI film vault

PostMon Mar 20, 2017 1:03 am

For those who can't make it: The entire (remaining) Utter History and most of Do Not Adjust are available on DVD.
This is nøt å signåture.™
Offline
User avatar

Penfold

  • Posts: 1305
  • Joined: Mon May 26, 2008 2:03 pm
  • Location: Bwistol, England.

Re: Monty Python’s lost comedy roots in BFI film vault

PostTue Mar 21, 2017 12:53 am

I could use some digital restoration myself...
Offline
User avatar

Spiny Norman

  • Posts: 1085
  • Joined: Tue Mar 18, 2008 8:21 am

Re: Monty Python’s lost comedy roots in BFI film vault

PostFri Mar 24, 2017 8:44 am

But for the sake of completion: There are 3 unreleased DNAYS episodes.
This is nøt å signåture.™

Return to Talking About Broadcasting

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests