The Pythons’ Autobiography By The Pythons
Graham Chapman (Estate), John Cleese, Terry Gilliam,
Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Bob McCabe
Orion Books 2005 (2003)
All the Pythons (one from his grave) give a collective account of the career of the owner of one Flying Circus, an account made up of extracts from interviews and extracts from diaries and published memoirs. The late Graham Chapman is represented by his own surreal recollections and comments from family members and partner, while the rest discourse freely on their early lives, education, university experiences (principally Oxbridge) and occupations as comedy writers, actors and (in the case of Terry Gilliam) cartoonist, before fame, fortune, frustration and infamy beckoned.
If you were of the generation that lived through the Python years this is a fascinating trip down Memory Lane with many revelations and insights. If you came to Monty Python late (perhaps in the US after their star suddenly appeared in the ascendant, or through the medium of their films or the surprise musical phenomenon that was Spamalot) this may well be a rather curious ramble through British idiosyncrasies over four decades and more.
I’m in the former group — I remember watching the first episode in 1969 in a student flat, an initial bemusement subsequently giving way to outright amusement — and devoured the autobiography in very little time. My only reservations came from the way the account just petered away at the end, with little exploration of the individual Pythons’ later career trajectories. But that’s just a minor personal gripe. More interesting to me now is how such a disparate group managed to maintain enough cohesiveness over several TV series, tours and films: a shared sense of humour seems to have been their mainstay through good times and bad.
This standard-size paperback edition contains a selection of photographs and the text, but the original large-format hardback contains much more in the way of illustrations, many by the inimitable Terry Gilliam. Unless you are a fully formed nerd or require an oversized paperweight for your coffee table the paperback is perfectly adequate.