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Monty Python Friday, 1 October, 1999, 16:26 GMT 17:26 UK
The birth of Python
Oxford versus Cambridge: the Pythons graduated into comedy
The story of Monty Python begins in the hallowed halls of Britain's most illustrious seats of learning - the universities of Oxford and Cambridge.

All of the British Pythons began their comedy careers in the revue shows put on by university societies, such as the Cambridge Footlights.

Jonathan Miller
Beyond the Fringe star Jonathan Miller
Undergraduate revues attracted an audience beyond the college walls in the 1960s - thanks in part to the success of Oxbridge old boys Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett.

The quartet's celebrated 1960 show Beyond the Fringe had concentrated attention on the comic talents yet to 'come down' from the two respected institutions.

Of the two universities, it is Cambridge's Footlights revue which is the better known. Both John Cleese and Graham Chapman found their comedy feet in the society - along with Goodies stars Bill Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor.

Peter Cook and Dudley Moore
Pete and Dud: cutting college wits
With the departure of leading Footlighters such as David Frost, the future Pythons were quickly promoted to positions of responsibility within the club.

"In bewilderment we saw a notice board informing us that we are now officers!" recalled John Cleese.

Their well-received show, A Clump of Plinths, transferred to London's West End and subsequently visited New Zealand and New York under the new title Cambridge Circus.

Chapman, by this time a junior doctor, was unsure about abandoning his training for the tour. Advice came from an odd quarter, when the Queen Mother visited his London hospital. "You must travel," she declared.

Life of Python
Although a lack of elephants in the sketch show confused some audiences in New Zealand, reviews there and on Broadway were good.

Cleese stayed on in New York, where - during a photo shoot for a comic strip - he met American illustrator Terry Gilliam.

Oxford men Terry Jones and Michael Palin were taking a similar root to their future Python compatriots.

David Frost
David Frost: Jack of all trades, master of satire
Alongside the satirical pieces such as the anti-capital punishment revue Hang Your head Down and Die, the pair explored proto-Python territory with skits about eating washing powder.

"The ultimate in maschocistic comedy," recalls Palin.

Various radio and stage appearances brought all four graduates to the attention of David Frost.

Fresh from the success of That Was The Week That Was, he asked them to write for his new BBC show The Frost Report. They were to be joined by Eric Idle - a Footlights president and acquaintance of Brooke-Taylor.

Frost Report
Cleese learning the laws of comedy with the Two Ronnies on the Frost Report
Using the themed satire show as a springboard, Cleese and Chapman went on to star with Marty Feldman in ITV's At Last The 1948 Show.

In a slightly more Pythonesque venture, Jones and Palin went into children's programmes.

The Complete and Utter History of Britain and Do Not Adjust Your Set - which featured Eric Idle, David Jason and animations by Terry Gilliam - attracted adult audiences despite their afternoon slots.

Among those impressed by these zany offerings was Cleese - who suggested the two writing partnerships should join forces.

The BBC, on the advice of producer Barry Took, signed the group - which now included Idle and Gilliam - for a 13-show series.

John Cleese
Python was a chance for Cleese to play around with comedy
Although the team were certain that they wanted to avoid the cliches of the sketch show format, removing the reliance on punchlines for laughs, they were less sure of what to call the show.

Owl Stretching Time; A Horse, A Spoon and A Bucket and The Toad Elevating Moment were all considered.

But as planning for the series became more confused, the BBC management began to refer to the team as a 'flying circus' - inspired by the Red Baron's World War One fighter squadron.

With the addition of the random moniker Monty Python, the name gained general approval.

On 5 October 1969 the show was launched - at least in the BBC regions which opted to broadcast it.

"We saw our material changing"
Python's Oxford versus Cambridge divide
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