Tag: john cleese

Censorship of the film ‘ Holy Grail ‘

Anita Singh, arts and entertainment editor
23 MARCH 2017 • 7:29PM

Think of a Monty Python film with blasphemous content, and Life of Brian springs to mind.

Yet previously unseen files from the British Board of Film Classification show that the comedy team’s earlier offering, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, fell foul of the censors for repeated use of the words ‘Jesus Christ!’

A scene in which King Arthur encounters a taunting Frenchman played by John Cleese – “I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries” – is followed by the French catapulting cows over the ramparts at the king and his men.

The repetition of ‘Jesus Christ’ in the film seems to us unnecessary
Stephen Murphy, then BBFC secretary
In the version that appeared in cinemas on the film’s 1975 release, King Arthur yells: “Jesus Christ!” as a cow missed him by inches. But in the uncut original, he said it three times, and the BBFC was not impressed.

“We are less than enchanted by your funny Frenchman,” wrote Stephen Murphy, then BBFC secretary, in a letter to John Cleese.

“The repetition of ‘Jesus Christ’ in the film seems to us unnecessary. There is good evidence that this does distress people who would otherwise enjoy the film. Can you look not only in Reel 2 but in other places to see if you can reduce the incidence of this usage.”
The Holy Grail is considered a British classic – the Knights who say Ni, the killer bunny rabbit, and the riding of pretend horses (the BBC budget did not stretch to real ones) are all beloved by comedy fans.

But Mr Murphy wrote that the film has “one or two places where, in our view, the humour is not very effective”.

The letter also listed a number of scenes considered too gory.

The BBFC initially saw a script for the film and advised an ‘X’ certificate, as it was deemed to have crude sexual references and very strong language.

The script was duly toned down and submitted for classification in early 1975. At this point Mr Wright wrote his letter, which resulted in two incidences of ‘Jesus Christ’ being removed.

Under modern classifications, the film is a 12A with ‘moderate sex references’ and ‘comic violence’.

Michael Palin told his local paper, the Camden New Journal, that even the film’s investors thought it too violent. “Then, with an audience off the street, they howled with laughter – in fact, some people said there should have been even more violence included because it was so funny.”

Concern over The Holy Grail’s controversial content was played out behind the scenes. But when Life of Brian was released in 1979, it outraged the nation.

Thirty-nine local authorities either imposed an outright ban or an X-certificate. Cleese and Palin faced Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark, Mervyn Stockwood, in a notorious television debate.

Cleese maintained that Life of Brian was questioning blind adherence to faith but was not a mockery of Christianity.

The final show.

By Ed Power11:45PM BST 20 Jul 2014
So this was it, the final performance by the most influential comedy troupe of all time. Forty-odd years since Monty Python’s Flying Circus revolutionized television humour and unleashed a legion of surreal catchphrases John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Michael Palin departed the stage at London’s O2 Arena to the strains of their darkly hilarious (or is it hilariously dark?) anthem Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.
Watching the swan-song was a 15,000 live audience, with many more viewing via cinema simulcasts across the globe and on the digital television channel Gold (aka the station where it feels an Only Fools And Horses repeat is just an ad break away). The Python special had been heartily hyped by Gold, which went so far as to install a fifty foot-long expired tropical bird in central London, in reference to Python’s much loved Dead Parrot sketch.
Starting with a half hour behind-the-scenes broadcast presented by stand-up Dara Ó Briain, Gold’s coverage was brash and boisterous. Emanating turbo-charged avuncularity, O Briain chinwagged with actor Martin Freeman and comedian Eddie Izzard (he’d already seen the comeback six times). It was a nice appetizer though things got a bit farcical as comic after comic squeezed alongside Ó Briain, vying to sing their Python praises in the heaving VIP Lounge.
Such uncomplicated jollity was in contrast to the actual show, which was at moments deeply poignant. Comedy functions best pushing hard against sentimentality yet it was impossible not to experience a tingle of sadness knowing Python would never again tread the boards together (there was also the fact they are all in their 70s and visibly weighed down by the decades).