“Monty Python’s Flying Circus” had begun as a television show written and performed by six comedians. They had individually worked on many other sketch comedy shows and probably though that the Flying Circus would just be around for a couple of years before they all went on to the next comedy show. But by the end of the first season they had realized that Monty Python was more than a series but their own unique brand of comedy. They expanded to comedy albums in 1970, movies by 1971, and by the end of that year were expanding into books. According to George Perry’s “Life of Python” they had been asked by Eyre Methuen if they wanted to publish a book based on their television show. Most of the Pythons were instantly enthusiastic about doing a book version of their show with exception to Terry Gilliam who had already spent years drawing and illustrating for magazines and had grown bored with it, given that up for animation when he moved to London. Feeling that a Python project had to have material from all six members one of the group snuck into Gilliam’s animation studio and grabbed a bunch of cells he had drawn for various animated cartoons which were then used in the book. The remaining members began going through the last two seasons of the show writing pages of material based on their best sketches.
The result was “Monty Python’s Big Red Book” which was in a distinctive blue cover. Most of the material in the book was based on the series. An example would be a page showing a box of Wizzo Chocolates with text describing each delicacy such as Crunchy Frog and Spring Surprise. Some of the material expanded on sketches from the show. The book was edited by Eric Idle who approved the layout and graphic designs of each page turning it into something that resembled Mad Magazine rather than written text. One of the more interesting ideas happens in the center of he book where smaller cut pages simulate a political pamphlet from the silly party. The page after the pamphlet is entirely brown with a cutout key hole which reveals a nude breast on the other side. Turn the page to see the full picture and it is one of Terry Gilliam’s animation cells of a police officer removing his coat to reveal he has a woman’s body. New material contributed to the book includes a foreword written by an ITV news caster who then asks if Eyre Methuen would be interested in putting out a “News at Ten” book. This is followed by pages of angry letters from fellow news casters asking why they had not been asked to write the foreword.
Two years later the Python’s would publish a second book “The Brand New Monty Python Bok”. Idle came up with an ingenious cover, an all white dust jacket with fake dirty fingerprints. When the dust jacket was removed the cover of the book said “Tits & Bums” and showed some nude women having an orgy. At the time most book sellers would remove the dust jacket of a hardcover book if it was torn or smudged and were shocked by the graphic content underneath.*¹ This time Gilliam participated contributing some comics such as one where a nutcase rambles on about how dangerous hamsters are before putting on a hamster costume. It was twice as thick as “….Big Red Book”an nearly every page was material written specifically for it. The few bits of material taken from the show included instructions for a game based on the Cheese Shop sketch and a story book version of the “Fairy Tale” sketch from the second German episode.
Their third book was for the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. There would be no contributions in this book from the Pythons but instead exact reproductions of the original draft script, Terry Gilliam’s shooting script which included crossed out scenes they decided not to film and story boards Gilliam had drawn onto the pages, and many other odds and ends from the production of the movie. With plenty of outtake material much of the book would have been brand new to the Python fan who bought it.
The Pythons did participate in the book for “…Life of Brian”. An over sized paperback it was actually two books. One was “The Life of Brian of Nazareth: a Screenplay by Monty Python” which was just a transcript of the movie with some stills from each scene. Flip the book over to its other side and the back cover was for the second book “Montypythonscrapbook”. Here the Pythons used material written for but not used in the final cut of the movie, some essays on the making of the film, and some brand new original material similar to what was found in their first two books. It would be the last time the Pythons ever bothered as a team to write their books.
The next book for “Monty Python’s Meaning of Life” was just a transcript of the movie illustrated with stills and publicity photos from the film. The only new material was a scene which was cut from the final print of the movie “Adventures of Martin Luther” and reprints of actual letters written by an angry John Cleese to a newspaper who reported he was making racist remarks on the set. The only material written specifically for the book was a brief introduction. By the time this book came out the Pythons were no longer interested in writing the style of comedy book they had created in the 70s*² The next two Python books “Monty Python: Just The Words Vol. 1” and “Monty Python: Just the Words Vol. 2” was just the scripts from each episode of their television show with no illustrations or pictures. “The Fairly Incomplete & Rather Badly Illustrated Monty Python Songbook” was in the same style as “….Meaning of life”, just the lyrics of their songs with illustrations and pictures taken from past Python projects. There was some new material here and there in the book but it is unclear if this was rejected material written for earlier books or something new that one or more of the Python members contributed. Five pocket sized hardcover books called “A Pocket Full of Python Hand Picked by….”, each book with material picked by each surviving member was the final books released by the group. Each had an introduction written by the Python who picked his book’s material and a preface from another Python member. Other than that all the material was previously published or transcripts of material from their shows or movies.
*¹ In the later paperback edition “Monty Python’s Brand New Paperbok” there was no dust cover, so the “Tits & Bum” joke was omitted
*² Other members of Python released solo comedy books in the 70s using the same style perfected in the first two Python books. Eric Idle released a book for his show Rutland Weekend Television called “The Rutland Dirty Weekend Book” while Palin and Jones wrote “Bert Feggs Nasty Book for Boys and Girls” which has since been re-released in paperback as “Dr. Fegg’s Encyclopedia of All World Knowledge.”