Plenty of Brits have mined this video material to settle arguments about the happy not-quite-accident that brought together the ensemble that became “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”
But now Americans can renew that debate as Tubi, one of the free TV channels you can stream through Roku and other means, has the prehistory of Python up for some fun “compare and contrast” bingeing.
The sketch shows that most of the members of the “Flying Circus” appeared on, in competition, in the last two years before they wear teamed up, are paired up on Tubi, which you an watch for free on any Smart TV, Roku equipped set or digital device with online access.
There are traces, rough versions of personas, voices, gags and sketches recycled and polished and made world famous on “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” in the 1967-69 series “Do Not Adjust Your Set” and “At Last the 1948 Show.”
“Set” starred and was partly written by future Pythons Terry Jones, Eric Idle and Michael Palin.
“1948” was built on similar double duties performed by John Cleese, Graham Chapman and break-out (non-Python) funnyman Marty Feldman.
The absurdist humor was there, the obsession with vicars, chartered accountants, cross-dressing, Aussies, “knickers” as a punchline, but spread out over two shows of uneven quality where the stand-outs in each cast were obviously the fellows who’d go on to team up and one-up one another on a series that became a global comedy brand and a calling card for British humor for generations.
Here’s a “1948” sketch you’ll recognize, in slightly more rustic (Yorkshire) form from its later Python version.
“Set” has the musical stylings of Eric Idle and Michael Palin playing annoying shopkeepers who never give the customer what he wants, and plenty of Jones pratfalls.
A key element of the “Adjust Your Set” outings was the participation (once in blackface) of the comical Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.
“1948” had Cleese, far and away the most comfortable and hilarious performer, paired with his longtime writing partner Chapman, who finds laughs in sketches that probably wouldn’t have passed “Python” muster.
Most of these programs were thought lost, as they were recorded on videotape and Thames TV “wiped” the masters. But damned if dogged researchers haven’t turned up plenty of them to show how the Pythons journeyed from college “Cambridge Footlights” phenoms into confident TV comedy creators and performers.
Cleese, sitting at a moderator’s desk hosting absurd riffs on schoolkid quiz competitions, newscasts, etc., Chapman’s constantly-ruffed feathers at various affronts to his bowler-hatted, bobby-suited dignity, make “At Last the 1948 Show” the more daft and enduring, in terms of its ability to generate laughs.
But Idle and Jones performing Scottish folk songs in kilts is a bit that could have been recycled to greater glory a few years later.
If you’ve memorized their legendary bits, know “The Lumberjack Song” by heart, have read any of their autobiographies, these competing programs are worth checking out to see them as the budding talents before Minnesotan Terry Gilliam became the glue (I jest. A little.) that turned the two “teams” into one.