“We were convinced Python wouldn’t go in America.” — Eric Idle
Variations on this statement have been uttered by all members of the Monty Python comedy team at one time or another, and it’s a statement to which I take patriotic exception. If that were true, if us stateside folks really were a bunch of provincial, close-minded xenophobic rubes who only wanted domestically-produced comedy on the level of The Three Stooges and Gilligan’s Island, then Python would have failed. (And by the way, Britain has their fair share of provincial, close-minded xenophobic rubes too.)
But they did not fail. They were — eventually — a resounding success. The Pythons are immortal because their material did work in the U.S. Unfair as it may seem, you don’t get multi-generation global approbation without breaking in America. No one in the U.S. gives a tenth of a shit about British “superstars” like Cliff Richard (old) or Robbie Williams (relatively recent). Who? Exactly. (We might give Russell Brand a chance if he didn’t always look like he was soaking wet, or covered with a slick layer of shortening.)
I’ve written about Monty Python several times in these virtual pages, and I’ve always felt the need to start off with a little potted history on them. This time will be no different.
The Monty Python troupe consisted of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. All were products of either Cambridge or Oxford University, where — while pursuing professional degrees in things like law (Cleese) and medicine (Chapman) — they honed their peformance chops in traditional live theater, sketch revue shows, and after-hours cabaret. (The lone exception was the Minnesota-born Terry Gilliam, who was a typical overachiever — in his senior year of high school he was simultaneously class president, head cheerleader, and editor of the school paper. His subsequent years at Occidental College made him “honorary Oxford” in the group’s eyes.) But all of them abandoned traditional career paths as the lure of show business proved too strong to resist.
BBC-TV was going through an unusually experimental and indulgent phase in the mid to late 1960s. One of their flagship shows was the satirical Frost Report, considered a landmark of topical, cutting-edge humor. John Cleese was doubling as a writer and as part of its ensemble cast. The BBC took a shine to the tall, angular comedian, and almost casually offered him a show of his own which, after a couple of years and many twists and turns, became Monty Python’s Flying Circus (with Cleese declining headliner status — he wanted to be regarded solely as part of the team.) The hastily-assembled Python group came into the BBC’s headquarters in the spring of 1969 with the most hilariously uninformative pitch imaginable — they admitted they had no idea what the format of the show would be, or if there would be musical numbers, or guest stars, or…anything, really. They just offered a shrug and a collective sheepish grin. The result was they were offered “only” thirteen episodes at first, and told to get on with it.
As Idle put it, “We didn’t know what we were doing, but we insisted on doing it.”
Early BBC photo session, 1969, missing Gilliam, whose role within the group hadn’t quite been decided by the BBC publicity department
The BBC were not as far out on a limb as it may have appeared. Although the Pythons were still all quite young at this point (the oldest, Cleese, turned 30 a few weeks after the show’s premiere), this was not their first rodeo. Except for Gilliam, their American animator and illustrator, they were all veterans of the Frost Report writers’ room. Moreover, they had all been writer-performers on their own TV shows already. Cleese and Chapman put together 1967’s sketch comedy show At Last the 1948 Show (for ITV, not the BBC) and Idle, Jones, and Palin created a surreally anarchic children’s show, Do Not Adjust Your Set (1967-69) for Thames Television that had just as many adult fans as kids (distinguished solicitors and merchant bankers were said to have left work early to catch it each Thursday afternoon.) The fresh-off-the-boat Gilliam joined DNAYS as animator in its second series in 1968.
Did I say second “series”? Yes. As we all know, the Brits and the Yanks are two people separated by a common language. When they say “public school,” they mean “private school.” When we say “series,” we are referring to a TV show in its entirety. When they say “series,” they are referring to what we call a “season.” So Monty Python’s Flying Circus is divided into “Series 1” (13 episodes, 1969-70), “Series 2” (13 episodes, 1970), “Series 3” (13 episodes, 1972-73), and a truncated “Series 4” (6 episodes, 1974 — without Cleese, and with the title shortened to just Monty Python).
After a slow start, Monty Python’s Flying Circus gradually gained viewing numbers and was a critical hit in the U.K. by the end of its first series, and a popular hit by the end of its second. Could the brand be exported? The team themselves were skeptical, but knew they wanted to stretch their wings beyond the BBC.
The Pythons’ first shot at the American market was not their television show at all. It was a film (see below). It failed, confirming their suspicions.
Their second shot consisted of comedy albums. Those started getting people’s attention…
Yes, Python’s initial handful of American fans in the wild and woolly early 1970s thought of them as primarily purveyors of comedy albums, akin to the Firesign Theater and Cheech & Chong. It was actually vinyl LPs that got Monty Python’s trademark foot in the door of America — circulating through university dorm rooms and being played in the wee hours on progressive FM radio stations. Over the course of their lifespan as a full group (1969-83), Monty Python released ten albums, several of which are considered absolute masterpieces of original audio comedy, true companion pieces to their groundbreaking work in the television medium.
So with this series of essays, the Holy Bee hopes to put the development of those albums in the context of the group’s overall timeline and creative output…and explain how they helped in their American breakthrough.
Let’s start by asking why the Python team was so convinced their material would never fly in the United States.
It comes down to the supposed difference between “British humo[u]r” and “American humor.” What sets British humor apart from its trans-Atlantic counterpart that speaks the same language? The more I researched this question, searching through Quora, Reddit, and simply asking people, the less clear the distinction became. It’s often stated that British humor is distinguishable because it’s dryer, “smarter,” irony-based, darker, and so on. American humor is broader, more obvious, maybe a little gentler and more sentimental. But examples abound that none of these traits solely belong to one side, nor does breaking formula result in a smaller audience. And that’s not just a recent development. In America, the dry-as-a-bone Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart won a Grammy as far back as 1960 and sold by the truckload. The cerebral comedy team of Nichols and May had lines around the block when they hit Broadway the same year. A little later, American films like MASH and Harold and Maude were wickedly smart and incredibly dark, and had great success at the box office. On the other side of the spectrum, sappy, generic sitcoms, unimaginative “comedic” variety shows, and — God help us — the hideous sucking chest wound of British humor known as Benny Hill were all over British television for decades and watched by millions. The deeply moronic Carry On film series was a beloved British institution. American rednecks at the sports bar and British punters down the pub are a remarkably similar breed, and no one has a monopoly on a style of comedy.
Some say most British humor comes off as “smarter.”
But Python’s intellectualism is surface-only. Take, for example, the Monty Python sketch known as “The All-England Summarize Proust Competition,” a game show-style televised contest to see which contestant could verbally condense French modernist Marcel Proust’s seven-volume philosophical novel A La Recherche du Temps Perdu in just fifteen seconds. Heady stuff…but, by their own admission, none of the Pythons had actually read Proust. They just knew him as a cool name to drop to sound smart. And lest we forget that the Pythons also excelled at lowbrow humor, the actual winner of the “All-England Summarize Proust Competition” was…“the girl with the biggest tits.” You don’t have to have graduated Oxford to laugh at the premise and the naughty punchline.
On the other hand, what happens when you eschew any level of smartness and go for pure silliness? Well, you get the Goodies — another British comedy team (Tim Brooke-Taylor, Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden) with identical backgrounds to the Pythons (Oxbridge educations followed by a comedy-writing apprenticeship at the BBC), and whose lifespan as a team was almost identical as well — but they dropped all pretensions of engaging their audience on an intellectual level…and their comedy suffered. Frankly, the Goodies often crossed the line from silly to flat-out stupid. And it was fake stupid (as opposed to Benny Hill, who at least came by his stupidity honestly). These were guys as smart as the Pythons, but deliberately dumbed themselves down. It backfired, and they ended up with no shelf life. (The Pythons have always been good friends with the Goodies, who were all incredibly talented individuals, and their creative paths have crossed several times on other projects. Also, RIP Tim Brooke-Taylor, co-creator of At Last the 1948 Show with Cleese and Chapman, and an early casualty of Covid-19 in April of 2020.)
So it seems that British humor is simultaneously smarter and sillier, referencing Proust, Sartre, and Bergson one moment, then making boob jokes the next. But this hybrid intellectual/silly/surreal blend — or at least its acknowledgement as the modern definition of “British humor” by Americans — may actually originate solely with Monty Python. It’s the reason the term “Pythonesque” is now in the Oxford English Dictionary. They were true originals, or at least the ones who put the pre-existing parts together for the first time.
The Pythons’ uniqueness led to their success, and ultimately proves that the gap between “British humor” and “American humor” is really no gap at all — Americans can do smart references, cutting irony, and dry sarcasm. And the Brits can do the broad, the formulaic, and the sentimental. In fact, both sides do all of those things an awful lot.
In the end, I think the perceived “gap” is explained by three very simple things.
1) The British — now and forever, upper class to working class — love cross-dressing and believe it’s inherently hilarious. Some Like It Hot aside, Americans have always been a little conservative about playing with gender. (And speaking of class, Americans really don’t get Britain’s all-consuming obsession with class levels.)
2) The use of terminology, slang, and cultural references that would only be recognizable to someone living in the British Isles.
3) Most importantly — stubborn American resistance to the English accent. I personally know people who claim even the clearest, most precise “received pronunciation” English accent makes them throw up their hands and insist everything being said is incomprehensible. And any English accent of any region sounds off-puttingly stuffy and pretentiously “smart” to many American ears. We still seem to have an inferiority complex when comparing ourselves to our supposedly more sophisticated English cousins — and the accent triggers it. Many will shut their ears and not even try, thinking it’s somehow above them. (In comedy, at least. Historical costume dramas seem to get a free pass. The accent suddenly makes sense in that context. And notice I’m specifically referring to English accents here. Irish, Welsh, and Scottish accents provide their own special array of befuddlement for us.)
So…the first series of Flying Circus had concluded in January 1970, to critical plaudits and increasing ratings. The group was deep into writing and assembling material for the second series when the BBC decided there was a market for an audio recording of the highlights of the show so far. The easiest thing would have been to just make a vinyl release of edited audio from the actual episodes, perhaps with a little helpful narration (which was common practice for BBC Records), but the Pythons insisted on re-recording the material. The BBC, somewhat surprisingly, agreed.
Not long before the recording date, the Pythons were dismayed to discover that the recording was not to be made in the controlled confines of a proper recording studio with state-of-the-art stereophonic equipment, but to be made in a theater in front of a live audience — old radio show-style.
Monty Python’s Flying Circus
Released: November 6, 1970 (U.K. only)
Produced by Ian MacNaughton
1. Flying Sheep
2. A Man with Three Buttocks
3. Crunchy Frog
4. Nudge Nudge
5. The Mouse Problem
6. Buying a Bed
7. Interesting People
8. Barber Shop
9. The Lumberjack Song
10. “It’s the Arts” Interview: Sir Edward Ross
1. “It’s the Arts” Interview: Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson
2. Children’s Stories
3. The Visitors
5. Mr. Hilter
6. The North Minehead By-Election
7. Me, Doctor
8. Pet Shop (Dead Parrot)
“Classic” sketches — the ones every Python fan can recite by heart — include the gross-out perennial “Crunchy Frog,” everyone’s favorite innuendo-fest “Nudge Nudge,” “The Lumberjack Song,” “Self-Defence” (or, “How to defend yourself against someone carrying different kinds of fresh fruit”), and the mighty “Pet Shop (Dead Parrot).”
Some of the lesser-known stuff is really top-shelf, too, and it reminds you that the first series of the show was essentially a parody of TV itself. There are send-ups of self-serious “social problem” documentaries (“The Mouse Problem”), and long-winded chat shows hosted by unctuous, obtuse presenters, supposedly for the enlightenment and edification of the proletarian public, with titles like “It’s the Arts.” This type of stuff has been all over the BBC for decades. My personal favorite is the interview/talent show “Interesting People,” featuring a man who can hypnotize bricks, and Tiddles the cat, who can fly across the room and land in a bucket of water (admittedly, only when “flung” by his owner).
Despite the overall strength of the material, the Pythons do not look back on their first record album all that fondly. In fact, they kind of disowned it, and consider their second album is their true “first,” with good reason. Their first album was done under the supervision of the BBC Records, and they pretty much botched it.
When the team arrived at the BBC-owned Camden Theater on the morning of May 2, 1970, they discovered almost nothing had been really prepared. “We spent the morning reading through scripts, briefing the sound effects men. Somehow, one felt, this should have been done sooner,” Palin noted in his diary. Production was in the hands of their TV director, Ian MacNaughton, a long-time BBC employee in good standing, but an audio novice. Part-time Python actress Carol Cleveland was on hand to provide the more “feminine” voices (as she would on most subsequent records), as opposed to the group’s own in-drag, middle-aged-lady “pepperpot” screeches. Terry Gilliam, whose contributions to the TV show were almost entirely visual, was also present to lend moral support, and can be briefly heard on the “Visitors” sketch, but went uncredited on the album jacket — which he designed! (They also misspelled Graham Chapman’s name.)
[The Camden Theater was totally refurbished years ago and became the very popular KOKO concert venue — but a Janaury 2020 fire and the subsequent COVID outbreak leave its future in doubt.]
The BBC refused to pay the copyright for any previously recorded music cues, so the record featured the cheesy noodling of the house organist, “which reduced everything to the level of tatty amateur dramatics,” says Palin. I can’t confirm it, but I’m pretty sure the Fred Tomlinson Singers, who provide the background chorus for “The Lumberjack Song,” are present on tape only, as Palin’s lead vocal goes totally out of sync with them several times.
They only had time to rehearse the first half, but the show must go on. They cracked open a bottle of Scotch, and the recording started at 4:30 that afternoon. They were totally wrapped and heading home three hours later.
So, technically, Monty Python’s Flying Circus should be counted as a “live” album, although you could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. The material plays to polite chuckles, light titters, and often to total, confused silence. Clearly, Python-mania was not everywhere just yet, and the BBC did not bother to pack the house with fans of the show.
As presented on the first record, the material is a fairly straightforward reading of the sketches, accompanied by conventionally “silly” sound effects (honks, squeaks, sped-up voices) supervised by BBC sound man Harry Morris. The only deviations from the TV scripts are Cleese narrating the visual aspects of “Barber Shop,” and the team occasionally making references to this being a record — such Cleese muttering “end of side one” at the end of the tenth sketch (you can visualize him tossing his script over his shoulder at that point) and Jones remarking “it’s not easy to pad these records out to thirty minutes, you know…” A handful of little meta-moments like this can be found throughout the album.
In other words, the Pythons had not really started playing with all the possibilities of the audio format just yet — with one crucial exception. At the start of side two, Graham Chapman, in the role of his beloved “Colonel” character, demonstrates the properties of stereo recording, moving from one place to another as his voice crosses audio channels.
Then the BBC went and released it in mono only!
The joke was totally ruined, and the team was “pretty pissed,” as Jones recalls. (They were told about the lack of stereo slightly ahead of recording time, but gamely went ahead with the Colonel’s stereo demonstration anyway.) Still, Palin admits the actual recording was “quite enjoyable.” The Scotch helped. “Not having cameras to play to, one could judge one’s audience reaction much more easily.”
Within two weeks of recording, the Pythons were deep in production on their second series, washing their hands of their disappointing (to them) first album. It came out that autumn, managed to sell a healthy 10,000 copies on its initial run, then gradually faded from the shelves.
Because the BBC owned the recording for many years (as opposed to the Pythons themselves), it has been kicked around mercilessly, and completely unavailable for years at a time. It was briefly re-released in the 1980s as The Worst of Monty Python. In the 1990s, the BBC had it as part of their “audiobook” collection. It was left out of 1994’s mammoth Instant CD Collection box set, and only recently put back in its proper place in the even-more mammoth Total Rubbish! box set.
John Cleese, at least, is happy to see the first record back in the official canon. “It’s a perfectly adequate record of what we were doing at the BBC at that time,” he says in the Total Rubbish! liner notes. High praise, indeed. “I enjoyed writing them [the first series sketches] and I like a lot of them, so I’m glad it’s included!”
About halfway through the taping of the second series, in early August of 1970, the Python team had a meeting and made a major decision.
Their first feature film would start shooting that autumn. The publishing company Methuen was practically begging for a Python book. There was talk of performing live in concert. The lucrative area of merchandising was beginning to seem like a possibility. Pythons wanted all of these new enterprises to be self-owned, existing outside the umbrella of the BBC, which controlled their TV show. Their dissatisfaction with how the first album was handled was a contributing factor, and Charisma Records was also knocking at their door. The best way to organize (and monetize) non-television material was to incorporate.
So Python Productions, Ltd. was formed, later split into subsidiaries such as Python (Monty) Pictures and Kay-Gee-Bee Music. (They originally wanted to call the overseas arm of their company “Evade-O-Tax, Ltd.” but were talked out of it.) They were now no longer just individually contracted BBC employees. They were unified, now and forever, as a company, a business. For better or worse. Eric Idle somewhat dismissively described latter-day Python as “a series of meetings.” But that was far in the future. In 1970, creative energy was running high, they were hot, and they knew it.
Hot in Britain, at least. Could they crack the U.S. market? They were understandably dubious.
Their first attempt at conquering America was through the medium of film, and it wasn’t really their idea. Victor Lownes was the head of the British branch of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Enterprises — and a huge Python fan. He agreed with the group that their material would be a tough sell for the mainstream American market. But he had the bright idea that more open-minded, intellectual college-age young people would love it. He would bankroll a film consisting of their best sketches from the first series (and a few from the still-unaired second series that they knew were good) specifically for release in “college cinemas.” (Those were a thing?)
So the Pythons and director Ian MacNaughton dutifully re-filmed a bunch of sketches on the cheap at the end of 1970, and put them together as And Now For Something Completely Different (the title based on one of their catchphrases, in turn based on a rather unimaginative transition phrase often used by BBC presenters). The choice of sketches was dictated almost entirely by Lownes, who was sometimes overbearing and rubbed the wrong way (and demanded Gilliam animate his name prominently into the opening titles).
Then not much happened. The final product gathered dust in the Playboy Productions vault as Lownes tried to interest an American distributor.
The Pythons agreed that books and records produced outside their TV show should not just be a simple re-hashing or re-packaging of TV show material. “We wanted everything to be distinctive and never boring, [but] the first two ancillary things that came up were both very conventional,” says Palin. “The And Now For Something Completely Different film…was just Python’s top sketches re-filmed. Then there was our first album, a very pedestrian BBC affair. Both were great warnings to us that this was no fun if someone else was telling us what to do. If we did an album or a book we should make them special; they should be different from the shows in the sense that they shouldn’t just be transcripts of material that already existed…[We can] put out these weaker ‘substitute Pythons’ and make money from very little work, or else work hard to make everything Python is involved in new, original, critical, and silly.”
Enter Charisma Records…
Former sportswriter turned music impresario Tony Stratton-Smith formed the record label Charisma Records in 1969. It was an unconventional label, as Stratton-Smith was an unconventional guy. Among the artists on the label’s roster were the Nice, Hawkwind, the Alan Parsons Project, and the poet John Betjamin. Charisma’s big get was Genesis, who were just starting out.
Like many people of an unconventional bent, Stratton-Smith was an early Python fan. His desire to add them to Charisma’s stable coincided perfectly with the group’s desire to create original material outside the confines of the BBC.
With the second series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus wrapped, a third series not scheduled for many months, and their movie awaiting a release plan, the Pythons decided to spend the bulk of 1971 conquering other media. Eric Idle tackled the editor-in-chief role on a Python book for Methuen (which would also require heavy involvement from Gilliam), and Terry Jones and Michael Palin agreed to produce their next album for Charisma Records, after turning down offers from Decca, and from BBC Records (who never really had a chance.)
“It was a real sheepdog job,” says Palin of producing the Charisma albums. “We had to round up people; could they write a bit here and there, and when could they come in and record it? John never had the time for the books or records…the editing, the conception and the design were really done by Terry and myself for the records and Eric for the books. I’m not blaming John or even Graham for not taking part particularly; it was just that we felt it was important to do it this way and the money was adjusted accordingly.”
“I was more than happy to turn up, record my bits, and go home,” confirms Cleese. (Chapman could not be reached for comment.)
The first Charisma album was called Another Monty Python Record, and it stands as their first true comedy album masterpiece…at last in stereophonic sound. Yes, there would be a lot of material that originated from the second series of the TV show, but very little would make it onto the record without being altered or enhanced as an audio experience in some way. Best of all, there was plenty of stuff that was completely original, and unavailable in any other format.
Everything was messed with, beginning with the cover art. A typical staid, bland classical music album jacket was defaced with black crayon to turn it into a Python album. (See below.) The dense collection of small-font paragraphs on the rear cover, typical of high-brow classical vinyl, appears to be an analysis of Beethoven and the musicological details of his second symphony, but gradually more and more references to tennis begin creeping in. A pasted-on addendum detailing the actual album credits was supposedly written by former Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, who had been dead since 1937.
Another Monty Python Record
Released: October 8, 1971 (U.K.); August 21, 1972 (U.S.)
Produced by Terry Jones and Michael Palin
1. Introduction (Apology)
2. Spanish Inquistion (Part 1)
3. World Forum (Communist Quiz)
4. Gumby Theatre
6. The Architect’s Sketch
7. Spanish Inquisition (Part 2)
8. Ethel the Frog (The Pirahna Brothers)
1. Death of Mary Queen of Scots
2. Penguin on the TV
3. Spanish Inquisition (Part 3)
4. Comfy Chair
5. Sound Quiz
6. Be a Great Actor
7. Neville Shunt
8. Royal Festival Hall Concert
10. Camp Judges (Part 1)
11. Stake Your Claim
13. Camp Judges (Part 2)
15. Spanish Inquisition (Ending)
The original vinyl U.K. pressing left off “World Forum” and “Penguin on the TV.” They were re-instated for the U.S. release, and for all subsequent re-releases globally.
The first thing we hear is an introduction, which is actually an apology to any listener believing they had purchased a Monty Python album. The album currently on their turntable is, in fact, called Pleasures of the Dance: A Collection of Norwegian Carpenter’s Songs. Then another apology, insisting that the album is a Monty Python album. Then we are treated to a snippet of the “Trondheim Hammer Dance,” then a third apology apologizing for the snippet, before the Python theme song (Sousa’s “The Liberty Bell”) comes stomping in, and we’re off and running. (A fourth apology, again for the excerpt of the “Trondheim Hammer Dance,” interrupts a sketch later on side one.)
The second album is much more of a surreal stream-of-consciousness, and has fewer “classic” self-contained sketches, although the fan favorite “Spanish Inquisition” interrupts the album several times, and everyone loves “Spam.” Instead of the TV show parodies of the first album, the Pythons make it quite clear we are hearing their version of radio shows, and they use the audio format to its fullest extent. This “theater of the mind” reaches its pinnacle with “Sound Quiz,” where the listener has to identify a famous person by the sounds he makes as he gets up in the morning. (I won’t spoil who it is.) Several tracks sound like they start in mid-sentence (“…and several butcher’s aprons.”) For years, I thought the half-statement opening “Mary Queen of Scots” was Eric Idle just saying “teeth,” which was kind of funny. In researching this piece, I found out he’s saying “…ard Heath,” which is much, much better.
Back cover of Another Monty Python Record
Even when they do go in for a straightforward send-up of true crime documentaries, they title it “Ethel the Frog.” Side one ends with a London gangster “accidentally” scratching the record, evidently from inside the track itself, causing the original vinyl pressing to go into a continuous loop on the run-out groove.
“Camp Judges” is a rather cringey collection of gay stereotypes that would never fly today. (Do the Pythons get a pass for often relying on “camp” humor fifty years ago? Graham Chapman was an out-and-proud gay man, and always maintained he was fine with it, but Terry Jones said in a documentary interview as long ago as 1989 that was the one element of Python he regrets.)
The centerpiece of the new, original material is “Be a Great Actor,” an interactive piece where the listener participates in a play by speaking when they hear the buzzer. The original album included a “Great Actor” kit, consisting of scripts, directions, stage plans, cut-out mustaches, and a tiny, cut-out Oscar statuette.
The Pythons tended to eschew recurring characters and catchphrases (making them the anti-SNL), with a few notable exceptions. The Colonel would often show up and stop sketches when they got too “silly.” And a group of odd characters known as “Gumbys” made frequent, if brief, appearances throughout the TV show. They wear an outfit consisting of rubber boots, rolled up trouser legs and sleeves, suspenders, a knitted sweater vest, spectacles, a little toothbrush mustache, and topped themselves off with a knotted handkerchief on their heads. They have permanently clenched fists, and “speak” in hoarse, over-enunciated shouts and are quite clearly dangerous imbeciles. The Gumbys get their chance to shine in an audio format on Another with “Gumby Theater,” an attempt by these bellowing freaks to pull off a radio version of Chekhov’s play The Cherry Orchard.
Although they eventually achieved comedy gold, the recording process was quite a headache. The album was recorded over a week in mid-June 1971, at the Marquee Studios in Soho.
“The studio was a real hippy, trippy sort of place,” remembers Terry Jones. “Everyone but us seemed to be stoned all the time! Mike and I were delighted to have the equipment to record in stereo but the chap in charge of that was completely out of his head. We were recording everything and we’d never done any of this kind of thing before…and nobody was making notes. We ended up surrounded by mountains of tapes with no idea where anything was. I suppose we should have been making the notes, but that was a bitter experience.”
Co-producer Palin “found it all a bit of a nightmare…we didn’t really know what we were doing. Charisma had great sound engineers but lots of the material we had recorded just seemed to go missing!”
When they finally turned in their finished recording, they had blown through their production budget by an embarrassing amount. (The indulgent Stratton-Smith shrugged and signed the checks, knowing it would all be earned back.) For the next recording, it was agreed the team needed assistance from a loyal, reliable expert who knew about the technicalities of sound engineering, but who wouldn’t try to take over and dominate the production.
Enter Andre Jacquemin…
But first, enter Nancy Lewis and Buddah Records…
But before that, And Now For Something Completely Different…