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on 4 November 2003
Over the years, Monty Python's Flying Circus has been elevated to a stellar status far beyond the expectations of its creators. Much of that has been achieved through continuing popularity with Americans, who didn't start to get the joke until long after the final TV episode had been screened here in the UK. And even the Pythons themselves do not quite realise their impact on the world: on this CD, Michael Palin talks about the creation of the 'Spam' sketch and the bizarre injection of some Vikings into the scene, with no inkling of the significance of spam in today's Internet world.
If you don't know Monty Python's humour, this is not the place to start. Go and buy 'Another Monty Python Record' on CD, or 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' on DVD.
This double-CD set is aimed at Python completists, and anyone interested in how great creative teams come together, get their ideas and work together. There's nothing here that isn't also in the bumper coffee-table book of the same name, which also has many magnificent, previously unseen photos. But on this CD, you get the Pythons' own voices, so it's more intimate, and the format enables those of us who spend more time in the car than reading books, to absorb some of the material.
Sound quality is variable. Michael Palin is very clear, though the interview is frequently interrupted by phone calls (presumably from BBC producers wanting to send him off to the Amazon). At the other end of the sonic scale, John Cleese is inteviewed in what seems to be a cavern, about 30 feet from a puny microphone, and his cutlery is sometimes more audible than his voice. Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones come somewhere in between.
All the contributors put some effort into dredging up memories from the distant past, i.e. 1960s and earlier. They know this book/CD, while maybe not the definitive biography, isn't going to be yet another fanzine. By and large, they're pretty serious. (The Pythons seem to have found it harder and harder to be funny, or at least zany, since about 1980.) And they're remarkably honest -- all of them admit that 'The Meaning of Life' was not as good a film as it should have been.
There's a lot of giving credit and taking credit -- originally the entire show was billed as a total team effort, but this CD reveals a certain paradox: having first said that every sketch was subject to team review and enhancement, each writer then goes on to say of certain sketches, "That was one of mine" or "That was one I wrote with John".
The influence of 'The Goon Show' and 'Beyond the Fringe' becomes apparent from these recordings. (So much so that I went out and bought a BtF CD.) Of particular interest is the immediate predecessor to Python, namely the children's programme DO NOT ADJUST YOUR SET, written by Michael, Terry J and Eric, with cartoons added by Terry G. For me, that series is just a distant memory in black and white. But the way the Pythons refer to it here makes it seem like it was pretty much Version zero of Monty Python. Terry Jones admits that they wrote it for themselves, not for children, and it just happened to be scheduled during the children's TV slot on Wednesday afternoons. In the absence of any DVDs, videos or script-books from that series, we will just have to take their word for it.
It's fascinating to hear Eric Idle talk about the writing process: he wrote mostly on his own, but occasionally wrote with others. He comments that whereas he likes to hop around, trying to create more highlights in a sketch, John Cleese works in a very linear fashion, only progressing to the second line in a sketch when he has worked out the first line in immense detail. John Cleese talks about his dislike of puns, the lowest form of wit, in his words. Terry Jones comments on the stream-of-consciousness feel to each episode.
Hopefully this CD will enhance Michael Palin's status in the comic pantheon. John Cleese is always regarded as a god because he also created 'Fawlty Towers' and because of his previous work on 'The Frost Report'. But most of his best sketches work as well on radio as they do on TV. It's clear from this CD that Palin (as well as Gilliam) was the genius behind much of the visual humour that made Python something completely different from 'Beyond the Fringe' et al. Cleese could never be described as 'zany', if that means lovably ridiculous. Even on this CD, Cleese comes across as coldly analytical, whereas Michael is just so damned affable!
So there you go, five stars for content, minus one for sound quality. I wish it had been much longer!
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on 10 August 2004
This is by far the best book ever written about monty python. Even if you haven't seen everything they did or even you are a die hard fan (like me) here is every detail anyone could want to know. You need hours, weeks, months to see all the pictures and read everything. You can find out everything about their lives, the situation in british comedy in the sixties, how they met, the extremely detailed story of the flying circus, all the movies, the books, the albums and an enormous amount of unseen fhotos. A true achivement. Nothing less could satisfy the fans of those geniouses who made us laugh, made us think, made us better people, gave us great memories and now finaly... talk about it.
Thank you John,Eric,Graham,Terry,Michael and Terry.
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on 15 October 2003
Like the book with same name, the audio version of "The Pythons Autobiography by The Pythons" is a delight for Monty Python fans. It's really like listening to a big radio show where the Pythons tell all the story in their own words, with the writer Bob McCabe, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam popping up between Python interviews and sound clips of sketches and movies to comment on what we're hearing. It's not pure comedy - there are funny moments in the interviews, but the Pythons talk seriously about their work and life. A very original and unique audiobook.
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on 27 June 2009
The first thing I should warn potential buyers about is the size and weight of this book if you buy the hardcover edition. I did not realise that something weighing marginally less than a slab of marble would eventually be trying to make its way through my letterbox. The hardcover edition of this book is for only the sturdiest of bookshelves and the beefiest of arms. In short; it is not a tome to be read in the bath.

However, once you have decided whether or not obscenely large books are for you, I would definitely recommend this one. It is one of the more interesting books about the Pythons because it is actually written by them; hence the title. All of the Python's, bar Graham as he is conveniently dead, have written a few pages about their childhood and first forays into comedy, culminating in the formation of Monty Python. I found it incredibly fascinating to learn about the different backgrounds they each came from and the circumstances which eventually brought them all together.

In between the mini autobiographies are lusciously printed photographs spanning their entire career; taken on their film sets and various live performances among other locations. They really help to bring alive the Python's descriptions of their experiences of making their TV show and subsequent films and live tours. This book is perfect for the fair weather and the hardcore Monty Python fans alike.
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on 25 December 2003
First of all merry xmas to everyone!!
I was so deliriously excited when i opened my stocking to find this i couldn't put it down for 3 hours!As a result i didnt open my other presents.The only reason i put it down was to go to sleep,well it was 4a.m..
This is a must have for any python fan.Or any fan of comedy.
It chronicles all the of the pythons childhood and beginings in showbusiness.There are many,many pages dedicated to the tv shows and the movies.I have managed to get through the first half of it and i love it.And as for the weight of the book above stated.Yes it is a heavy book but that is because it is crammed full of a thousand never seen before pictures!In full glossyness.
overall this is a must buy!I am no going to finish the rest!!
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The only book about Monty Python you'll ever need- six autobiographies rolled into one, great value, insightful, funny and very readable.

It tells the story of each of the Pythons in roughly chronological order, from their childhood and growing up to their first comedy work, then how Python formed, then how it fell apart. It does this solely using the Python's own words from new and in-depth interviews with each one,or in Graham Chapman's case (what with him being dead), quotes from his previous autobiography and interviews with his long-term partner and his brother. It makes sense without any words, apart from a foreword, from Bob McCabe who has done an excellent job of compiling and ordering everything.

If I had to criticise I would say that the pre-Python school days and revue days sections are possibly a little too long, and the post-Python "what happened next?" section is too short- not even a tiny biography of what each of the Pythons has been up to solo.

Don't buy this book expecting it to contain unpublished sketches or alternative punchlines or anything like that (like a reviewer below seems to have done). There are a few anecdotes but there aren't any gags, as such. But if like me you think Monty Python's Flying Circus and their films are some of the funniest TV shows and films ever made, then this is a great in-depth insight into how it all came to be.
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on 5 July 2004
As an eighteen year old python fan, any substantial and comprehensive Python stuff is quite difficult to come by as it all seems to have been made and released before I was born. You see where my problem lies. Anyway, this book certainly compensates for my lack of Monty Python things. It is a very big book. That's one thing to be said for it, it is also very interesting. All the team are interviewed here and it gives a very thorough insight into how they came together, making the TV shows (of which I have seen very little! Release the TV series on DVD in the UK!! I can't understand why it's been released in North America and not over here!) also into making the fantastic films and beyond...
It was good to find out all this information because I learnt a lot that I didn't know already. This certainly isn't a cynical release, unlike the recent re-release of The Holy Grail and Life of Brian on DVD with no new special features just different packaging (why?) This book will be of genuine interest to any python fan, no matter how much or how little they feel they actually know. As someone who admittedly knows little, it only made me want to find out more.
It suprises me how badly Python is served in terms of'mercandise' these days. Obviously a few years ago there was more, but it was so influential, you'd think there would be more...maybe because it was only a cult thing...I don't know...Anyway, this book is extremely valuable to anyone who loves the show, the films etc. I really would recommend it. You find out how the group worked, the inner tensions, and basically what it was like to be part of the funniest thing in the history of things.
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on 26 December 2003
This book is fantastically written providing personal perspectives - biography, insights in to how the TV series and films were shot and the ideas developed, and the issues that came up - including mentions of the famous interview with the Bishop of Southwark and Malcolm Muggeridge where they discuss Life of Brian.
All this in a huge, beautifully illustrated book. A must have for any Python fan.
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on 18 September 2003
A must for all Pythonites as the team tell all in their own words. Particularly strong on early Python history and their feelings for each other. The comedic equivalent of the Beatles Anthology.A Chateau de Chasselas and not a dead parrot!!! Spam anyone?
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on 4 August 2009
If you have no sense of humour and can't stand Monty Python, then don't buy this book. For most of us, this is a brilliantly conceived and written interwoven account of the Pythons, and one you will want to dip into again and again.
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