Pythonesque by Roy Smiles

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BBC Radio 4, 15 September 2010

This comedy-drama told the familiar story of the origins, growth and break-up of the Monty Python team, concentrating in particular on the erratic genius Graham Chapman (Chris Polick). Although possessed of comic genius, Chapman was also an alcoholic, an individualist and a repressed homosexual, which made him almost impossible to work with. On several occasions his partner John Cleese (Mark Oosterween) gave up on him; in later life Chapman narrowly avoided being replaced as the lead in The Life of Brian. Eventually Chapman came out and dried out, but nonetheless died at the age of 48 of cancer.

The story itself was told in the style of a Monty Python sketch, with the various members of the team assuming funny voices. For devotees of the series, there was the pleasure of hearing a pastiche of the parrot-sketch, as well as references to other famous moments in the series (e.g. Cleese's silly walks). But what actually struck me most, as Pythonesque unfolded, was just how puerile much of their humour actually was, involving the kind of horse-play characteristic of an end-of-term romp or a Footlights revue (which is where some of the team cut their dramatic teeth). I realise that the same could be applied to other once-groundbreaking comedy series (such as The Goons), but it seemed to me that the passage of time had done no favours to the Pythons. Perhaps we ought just to look back on them as products of a particular period in television history, when they offered a zany alternative to the kind of comforting domestic sitcoms dominating British television screens in the late 1960s and early 1970s (Not in Front of the Children, Bless this House, and Bachelor Father, to name but three. The producer of Pythonesque was Liz Anstee.