Tag Archives: John Cleese

A Word From Our Sponsors… Accurist Watches

In keeping with the Monty Python theme of this week’s Monday Movie, today’s classic advert features some prime-vintage John Cleese.

Here, from 1978, is an award-winning series of Accurist adverts in which a Basil Fawlty-esque Cleese character flogs us some of those fancy new digital watch gizmos.

In those days, you see, as Douglas Adams famously wrote, us ape-descended lifeforms were so amazingly primitive that we still thought digital watches were a pretty neat idea.

Um… actually, the Choob still does. Hmmm…

Ahem. Moving on, it’s time (see what I did there?) for those classic ads:

The reason these ads came to mind this week is because I noticed that Accurist have dusted one of them off and, with a few digital tweaks, started re-running it, 31 years on. Spot the differences between the following 2009 version and the original:

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The Monday Movie: Monty Python’s Life Of Brian

Brian: “Look, you’ve got it all wrong. You don’t need to follow me. You don’t need to follow anybody. You’ve got to think for yourselves. You’re all individuals”
Huge crowd (in unison): “Yes, we’re all individuals!”
Brian: “You’re all different.”
Huge crowd (in unison): “Yes, we are all different!”
Lone voice: “I’m not.”

Monty Python and The Holy Grail and Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life have both already appeared in this feature, so it’s only right that they are joined by the team’s masterpiece.

Monty Python’s life Of Brian still provokes controversy, 30 years after it was released.

Some refuse to see it as anything other than a sacrilegious indictment of Christianity and a blasphemous personal attack on Jesus himself.

In fact, it is at heart an extremely intelligent, thoughtful and scathing satire on the dangers of fanaticism, exploring the effects of blinkered acceptance of doctrine without question or debate.

Along with, y’know, jokes about Romans who have rude names and speech impediments.

You can find a more in-depth article about Life Of Brian in this post by the Choob.

The difficulty with trying to choose a classic scene is that there are so many to choose from in this movie. So here are a few of my own favourites.

First, the scene that cuts to the very heart of the film’s satire:

Next, what have the Romans ever done for us?

Brian realises that standing at the back of the crowd listening to the sermon on the mount was a bad idea (unless you are a cheesemaker, or, indeed, any manufacurer of dairy products):

And finally, for now, Romans with unfortunate names and speech impediments:



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The Monday Movie – Monty Python And The Holy Grail

“I’m invincible!”
“You’re a looney!”

From the 1975 movie Monty Python And The Holy Grail, King Arthur (Graham Chapman) teaches the Black Knight (John Cleese) that while bravery and tenacity are all well and good, you really should learn to quit before you are a head…

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Tuesday Is Theme Tunes Day – Whoops Apocalypse

Hands up who remembers Whoops Apocalypse. Not that many, I’ll bet, as the show is rarely recalled by anyone I’ve ever mentioned it to.

It’s a bit puzzling why Whoops Apocalypse has become, at best, a hazy footnote in the Bumper Book of British TV Comedy.

For a start, it was written by Andrew Marshall and David Renwick, who would later create, both as a partnership and as solo writers, a host of popular shows that would become landmarks of the UK TV landscape, including One Foot In The Grave, 2 Point 4 Children, Hot Metal and Jonathan Creek, among many others.

Barry Morse, Richard Griffiths and Peter Jones in Whoops Apocalypse

It also starred a veritable who’s who of two generations of British comedy acting talent, including the likes of John Cleese, Geoffrey Palmer, Peter Jones (best remembered, perhaps, as The Voice Of The Book in the radio and TV versions of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy), Alexi Sayle, Rik Mayall, Richard Griffiths and John Barron.

And finally, it even spawned a Hollywood movie of the same name – though, beyond the basic premise of nuclear Armageddon, the plot and characters were entirely different.

The six part series, made at the height of the Cold War, was a strange blend of political satire, farce and alternative comedy, chronicling the final few weeks before a nuclear war.

The main characters include:

  • Naive, mentally-challenged, right-wing US President Johnny Cyclops (Barry Morse), who is manipulated by a deranged Christian fundamentalist security adviser known as The Deacon.
  • British Prime Minister Kevin Pork (Jones), who believes himself to be Superman and who is ultimately tricked into signing Britain up for The Warsaw Pact.
  • The deposed Shah of Iran, who is being passed from country to country in search of a safe haven.
  • Lacrobat (Cleese), an international terrorist/arms dealer who has managed to steal a US Quark bomb, a new and even more destructive type of nuclear weapon.
  • Soviet Premier Dubienkin (Griffiths), who frequently dies and is replaced by a succession of clones.

Most of the main characters were parodies or caricatures of their then real-world counterparts (Cyclops, for example, was clearly jab at US President Ronald Reagan), at a time when the threat of a nuclear war being sparked by poor Soviet-American relations and tensions in the middle east, coupled with a simple misunderstanding (in the TV show, the initial nuclear alert that raises the threat levels around the world is caused by a malfunctioning Space Invaders arcade machine), was all-too real real.

In many ways, Whoops Apocalypse was something of a precursor to the spate of serious 1980s dramas that dealt with a nuclear holocaust and its aftermath, such as Threads, The Old Men At The Zoo, When The Wind Blows and The Day After.

Watching the show today (if you can get hold of it – it was briefly released on video in the late 80s but has never had a DVD release), the production values date it somewhat and some of the humour is a bit cheesy. But fundamentally (no pun intended), and allowing for the fall of the Soviet union, the subject matter of and issues raised by Whoops Apocalypse remain as pertinent in the post-9/11 world as they were in the days of Protect and Survive.

The show also had a rather cool opening titles sequence and a very catchy (and very 80s) theme tune. The newspaper headlines that flashed up changed each week to reflect the story so far – these ones are from episode 2:

And here are the closing titles (stills were used from the episode that had just aired – these are from episode 5):

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It’s Classic Clip Friday: Not The Nine O’Clock News – General Synod’s Life Of Christ

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Not The Nine O’Clock News was the BBC’s first real attempt to make a comedy sketch show after the demise of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

Nowadays, when NTNON is repeated it is in the form of heavily-edited compilations which remove much of the topical material, so it’s easy to forget that in amongst all silliness, it delivered a mean line in satire.

One of the best examples of this is this week’s classic clip – their General Synod’s Life Of Christ sketch.

To give some background, the first season of NTNON aired in 1979, the same year that the film Monty Python’s Life of Brian was released.

Life of Brian is a satire on organised religion. It uses the story of Brian – a man born at the same time as Christ and mistaken for the Messiah by fanatical followers who refuse to listen to his protests that he is not – to lampoon those who misinterpret or abuse religious teachings.

The film predictably proved highly controversial and sparked angry protests from Christian groups around the world, who saw the film as a blasphemous attack on their religion and beliefs, rather than an indictment of those who would pervert and corrupt those beliefs. Several local councils in the UK went so far as to over-rule the British film censors and ban the film from cinemas in their areas. These bans were astonishingly still technically in force in some places as recently as last year.

At the height of the furore, John Cleese and Michael Palin appeared on a late-night TV discussion programme called Friday Night, Saturday Morning to discuss the film. They found themselves confronted by veteran broadcaster and born-again Christian Malcolm Muggeridge and the then Bishop of Southwark, Mervyn Stockwood, who proceeded to insult the film and the Pythons, ignore all their attempts to argue why the film was not blasphemous and repeatedly talk over them, making it difficult for them to get a word in.

Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Cleese and Palin’s reasoned and rational arguments – compared to their accusers’ cheap insults and dismissive arrogance – got the audience of the show on their side and Cleese has often stated that he enjoyed the interview because he believes that him and Palin came out on top.

An episode of Not The Nine O’Clock News was broadcast shortly after the interview had aired and included the following sketch, which brilliantly turned the controversy on its head and exposed its absurdity by having a Python fan condemn a film called Life Of Christ that has been made by the Church Of England which he feels ridicules the members Monty Python.

Unfortunately, the Friday Night, Saturday Morning interview does not seem to be available online but, to give you a chance to compare the spot-on parody to the original, the following extract from the Channel 4 documentary The Secret Life Of Brian includes (about two minutes in) several clips taken from the interview, along with Cleese and Palin’s retrospective feelings about it:

Here’s a clip from another retrospective look at the film, narrated by Doctor Who star David Tennant, with some other footage from the Friday Night, Saturday Morning face-off:

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