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on 25 January 2013
Sorry, I couldn't resist that title. I was anticipating tearing into this book so much, really immensely looking forward to it, but when it arrived the problem became apparent. I shall now explain it in a rather roundabout way. Luke Dempsey wants to annotate the already published scripts of the Flying Circus television series, and so realises his annotations can fall into the following categories -

1. Information that was left out of the original published script book (descriptions of It's Man sequences, animations, etc.)
2. Ways in which the recorded programme differed from the original and published script (cuts, fluffs, additions)
3. References encyclopaedia
4. Production trivia (anecdotes, sketches that were removed)

And also plop in bits of criticism when he feels necessary. That's fine. So... why all the blank spaces in the margin? There are loads of sketches which go uncommented on, and this is exacerbated by a lot of the comments taking up so much space being very poorly written. Many opportunities for fascinating and important pieces of information to be included are denied in favour of repeating certain entries (Reginald Maudling and Eton are described unnecessarily alongside every mention) and overblowing the hilarity of supposed bloopers (did Chapman really bump into a teenage boy during the Olympic Hide and Seek Finals sketch? Nope) Saying that Palin has to wait for laughter to die down before saying his next line in Interesting People is entirely needless. Some entries are also just plain inaccurate. Dempsey that the word 'mentch' as used in Biggles Dictates A Letter is an abbreviation of mention, when it's plain to anyone watching that he Chapman is saying 'mensch' in the Jewish sense, i.e. somebody who borrows from those around them. The line 'hate to be a mensch, but can I borrow that lawn-mower' (only slightly paraphrased, as the book is out of reach) should have made this clear.

To give an example of something that was left out, I have always been intrigued by a caption saying "Sandy Wilson's version of 'The Devils'" during the silly song at the end of the Language Laboratory sketch (Proust episode). This wasn't explained. Looking it up, I find out this brief joke relies on knowledge of both the sombre films of Ken Russell and the camp musicals of Sandy Wilson. Apparently Russell directed a version of Wilson's musical The Boyfriend much to Wilson's umbrage, making it rather grittier than it was intended to be. And so the gag implies that was as ridiculous as getting Wilson to direct a version of one of Russell's films. I find this fascinating and believe it was the sort of information that should have been included! Rather than espousing on almond cakes and saying a certain beard is funny, although both activities are of course fine in moderation. There is also an incident in which David Frost's telephone number was flashed up as a prank then later edited out, which could well have been included and there would have been much rejoicing. (For more information on how the shows were put together, search 'SOTCAA Python edits' with Google)

The final point to make is that Dempsey's writing style in the other sections feels very rushed. And why would somebody who has bought an in-depth analysis of Python need a quick-fix bio of each of the members anyway? I also feel there's far too much bashing of the British. Mr Dempsey, now living in Australia, begins the book by apologising for being British which is surely bizarre and unnecessary. His other comments on Britain read like something from the type of 1950's schoolbook that Palin and Jones would go on to mock. We could also do without Dempsey's prissy apologies for more daring material. 'The sight of the critic strangling his wife seems, to modern audiences, rather crass' Really? Wow. I'm sure it was at the time. He also quotes from Wikipedia an awful lot. Also, at second glance, many of the stills from the episodes are very blurry and could have been improved by waiting a few seconds before selecting the image.

BUT! Here's the thing. I still love this book, in an odd way. It's great as a reference guide, the colourful images making 'which bit is from where' queries easily resolved and some snippets of information reaffirm why I admire Python so highly. Yes, some of the information is very interesting. The derivation of the Northern expression 'I'll go to the foot of my stairs' meaning 'I'm so excited I could wet myself' for one thing, and the reason a reference to lampshades doesn't get a laugh in the Mr Hilter skit made me cringe. Ultimately people who are less obsessive than myself will surely delight in the book as it stands. All the shows, y'know. It's great, it's bright, it's massive. It's just a shame it isn't as good as it so easily could have been.
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on 9 January 2015
I was greatly looking forward to this, being a lifelong Python fan and also the sort of nerd who likes to know where jokes come from. (Among my other favourite annotated books are Alfred Appel's The Annotated Lolita and Martin Gardner's The Annotated Alice.)

So this came as a bit of a disappointment. As far as I can tell, Luke Dempsey has annotated the Python scripts from the perspective of an English person who's assuming that American people won't get the jokes. However, his annotations tend to sketchy and tentative, rather than authoritative, and a riffle through the acknowledgements soon reveals that he owes a major debt to a much less attractive but far more magisterial and comprehensive work, a mighty, unauthorised two-volume companion to the Python scripts by a professor of media studies in Utah's Brigham Young University named Darl Larsen. Intrigued, I bought just the first volume of Larsen's work (can't be too careful) and sure enough, Larsen has done the spadework that Dempsey couldn't quite be bothered to do. Larsen is a specialist in Eng Lit of the Renaissance period and his doctoral thesis, which he later reworked into a book, draws parallels between Python and the Elizabethan tradition of college wit. His Python companion continues that tradition, but also shows the extent to which he's really researched the historical background of Python sketches such as the Architect Sketch, with its references to the Ronan Point disaster.

The difference between them is in part one of presentation: Dempsey gives you the scripts plus his notes (which draw upon Larsen but also upon his own knowledge of English popular culture, which isn't negligible, but which isn't as wide-ranging as Larsen) whereas Larsen just gives you the notes, without the scripts and without the apparently Python-sanctioned artwork and images. Dempsey's book therefore looks a lot more handsome than Larsen's, even if Larsen's is a good deal better-written and more useful. I will haul Dempsey off the shelf for those days when I feel peaky and just want to revel in Python, but if you are a serious Python scholar, this much-hyped volume is strictly for the fans: the canonical texts are the shows themselves, and the most authoritative commentary so far is Larsen's.
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on 28 November 2013
Oh dear -- I love annotated books, I love Monty Python but this was a bit of a disappointment all round. First, and less important, the scripts themselves are printed in a way that makes them harder to read than they need to be. Secondly, and more to the point, the annotations are generally minor things, mostly intended for non-UK readers and generally facile. As a random instance, "Hire Purchase is equivalent to the layaway plan." Is it? I didn't know that but I do know what Hire Purchase is and a straight explanation might have been useful and informative. Much that is interesting is omitted including basic information like casting not in the scripts (who plays the jury in the multiple murder sketch?), location (where was the cycling tour,really?), music (we all know it's "The Liberty Bell" but that simple note's not in here, or if it is I've not found it) or filming notes. Many sketches are not notated at all and some notes are plain wrong (eg the explanation of why the pepperpots were so called).

Despite this,it's a nice book to have, does contain some useful and interesting information (possibly inadvertently) and is a satisfying thing to have about the house.

I wonder if we could persuade Andrew Pixley to have a go at a Python book?
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on 14 June 2013
Everything I expected and more! Perfect for a die hard Python fan. If I feel the need to quote or correct someone on a quote I can easily do that now! Not only that, it makes for a wonderful read. Just as funny to read as to watch. The pictures and annotations are entertaining and informative, I just cant fault it! 97 out of 5! :)
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on 11 September 2014
Brilliant addition to the long list of titles by and about the Pythons. Brings back lots of memories of the past TV watching and interesting to have annotations which are obviously aimed mostly at non-GB readers/viewers. Well written and well illustrated too.
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on 29 May 2013
Completeley as advertised. I have no complaints whatsoever.
I you are interested in this subject, this is one for you.
Couldn't be more satisfied
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on 19 April 2013
Always loved Monty Python and so this is great for any fan. Looking forward to reading through it all. Great
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on 27 July 2015
Great doorstop and fun to read the scripts. Margin comments a little trite and unnecessary at times?
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on 8 December 2012
I believe this is the ultimate Monty Python book - around nine hundred pages of text, lavishly illustrated in full colour and containing every script and tons more stuff about the Pythons and the ground-breaking TV programme that turned British TV on its heaf in the 1960s. Black Dog have produced something extraordinary here - a magnificent tribute to the greatest comedy-sketch show that ever existed - there's so much material contained in this brilliant book that I can't help but make it my joint Nonfiction Book of the Month. A slice of TV heaven, a slice of cultural history the like of which has never been seen since - the inspiration for so many people, and so complete it's awesome. This review appears in the Christmas issue of Books Monthly [...]
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on 14 August 2014
Bought for a 60th birthday gift - recipient enjoyed it very much.
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