Monty Python E. S. Turner - Essay

E. S. Turner

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Nobody likes to intrude into a private joke. Seven pages of [Monty Python's Big Red Book] (there are only 64) are taken up with letters and telegrams expressing the supposed reactions of BBC and ITV notables to a supposed foreword by Reginald Bosanquet, the ITV newscaster. It's a fair enough jest, and should convulse all whose names are mentioned, but is it worth so much of the admission money? There are further references to Bosanquet sprinkled about the book.

'What's behind it all?' the suspicious reader may wonder. 'Am I missing out somewhere? Is there something terribly funny about Bosanquet I never noticed—something that everyone else knows about?' Moodily, this wary reader begins to study some of the other jokes, which include a mock advertisement, asking: 'Why not be different this Christmas? Why not send your friends a lump of cold sick?'; a full-page study of a hand about to descend on what looks like the embryo of a two-legged elephant with a human thumb thrusting out above the tusks; a Silly Party candidate called Tarquin Fintimlinbinwhimbinlin Bus Stop F'Tang F'Tang Olé Biscuit-Barrel; and a poem printed upside down because it is about Australia.

Ho, ho, says the now resentful reader, so this is what Monty Python consists of, when you snatch it from the screen and transfix it on the page. He may even begin to wonder why there is such an apparent obsession with swollen pink flesh, not to mention vomit and excrement. And why are these trendy mirthmen falling back on such traditional devices as cod advertisements and cod answers-to-correspondents, the staple of joke factories elsewhere?

Of course, the reader is now becoming far too captious. It is time he allowed that there is freshness as well as frenzy in these pages, ingenious nonsense as well as silliness, and a reasonable measure of that scatty insouciance which the entertainment had on the screen (where brisk animation, legerdemain and rapid turnover prevented us dwelling on failed jokes)…. Easily the best item [in the book] is 'The Piranha Brothers', a skit on one of those now-it-can-be-told programmes about a criminal gang….

E. S. Turner, "Busty Substances" (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1971; reprinted by permission of E. S. Turner), in The Listener, Vol. 86, No. 2226, November 25, 1971, p. 730.∗