Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Cleese, Python, Marmite - and Selwyn Froggitt

The news that one of Bath’s newest residents – John Cleese – is to have a five-night stint at the Theatre Royal as part of his 'Alimony Tour' is a real joy for all those local fans of this remarkable and enduring character.

For many people, John Cleese will be remembered mainly as the amazing Basil Fawlty but for still more – and I suspect mainly male people of a certain age – he will be forever truly immortalised because he was one of the leading lights of the fantastic Monty Python team.

Monty Python as an entity is something which truly divides people in the way so often ascribed to Marmite – ie, you either love it or hate it. The Pythons were alternative comedy before alternative comedy actually existed and, like 'alt-com' it had the had the ability to have one person in convulsions of laughter as they sat next to another whose face looked like granite.

Put simply with Python, you either got it or you didn’t. But if you got it, you usually really did get it. Indeed, it was once almost regarded for example as the 11th Commandment that: “It is written that where several sixth form boys are gathered together, at some point one of the number will beginneth the Four Yorkshiremen or Dead Parrot sketches and behold the others wouldst duly complete it.”
I certainly fitted into that bill and it is ironic that as a teenager I saw the Python team as being a real “kick in the establishment’s wotsits”, when in reality most of the team’s back- grounds actually made them the establishment.

Tally ho to the revolution!

Looking at it all again, you can see that some of the Python’s early TV work was, shall we say, “patchy” and is now a bit dated but when they were good, boy oh boy, were they good. In some ways you could argue that their best work was confined to the big screen – the films The Holy Grail and Life of Brian are quite simply two of the funniest ever made – but even their sometimes confused and confusing TV series produced dozens of classic moments which, as aforementioned, livened up many a dreary sixth form or office.

And still, I can vouch, they still do now - only last week I re-acquainted colleagues to Arthur Two Sheds Jackson and Eddie Baby. Both are very silly - but both are beautifully so.

And to be fair, although some of their comedy is a tad dated, the vast majority has lasted the test of time well – and not everything can claim to be the same. In the 1970s you may have laughed hysterically at On The Buses, Mind Your Language or Man About The House, but try watching them now on the ‘UK-Any-Old- Hoary-Programme-You Can Find’ station and I suspect you will laugh far more at the fashion and the moustaches than any of the “jokes”. And, if you are unlucky enough to come across Oh No, It’s Selwyn Froggitt, that is what you should shout when you see it in the schedule rather than watch it.

So, as Mr Cleese, who we’re all very proud to have as a citizen of this city, steps on to the boards in the spring, it will be a good way for us all to learn more about the man behind some of the best comedy creations of the last 40-odd years.

You don’t have to ask what have the Pythons ever done for us because it’s all there in glorious colours on the DVD racks and so I hope the Theatre Royal is packed to salute the knight who says 'ni'. Oh, and don’t mention the war.

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