Review of 'The Pythons Autobiography By The Pythons '

The Pythons Autobiography By The Pythons by Monty Python

the_pythons.jpg This is an exhaustive autobiography of Monty Python both as a comedy group but also as individuals. The story is told in their own words based on a series of interviews with one Python's quote followed by the next. Graham Chapman, due to his having passed on before the book was written (!), contributes via previously published materials and through fried David Sherlock as well as Chapman's brother and sister-in-law.

The book begins with where each of the troupe came from and their beginnings in the entertainment industry, largely, when they were in university (Cambridge and Oxford). This section contains a large amount of detail with names and places flying right, left and center, frankly leaving me lost as the narrative switches rapidly between the different Pythons with a multitude of threads to try to keep track of…I couldn't. With all of the different things each of the Pythons were involved with previously it is amazing that when they all eventually got together they ended up sticking together for so long. Of course, it is when they form Monty Python that the story picks up.

When writing “Life of Brian” they found the best way to work was to get away from the distractions of their busy lives and travel together to write in Barbados. In these group writing sessions, which also featured in their early days, they would feed off each other's energy and intelligence to make the material better and better - Challenging and driving each other to improve. Sadly as personal issues between the Pythons worsened over the years they ended up working in separate smaller groups where the writing suffered, as they freely admit.

One thing appeared very clear to me throughout was that John Cleese, the oldest of the group, is the most pragmatic of the group often putting his personal interests first (no criticism, mind) with the others more willing to be led in various directions. He is the one with the professional acting experience whose opinions and desires shape Monty Python.

Another theme of the book is that of Graham Chapman with the alcoholism he developed as the Pythons became more famous to the point where in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” he was having trouble remembering his lines from one minute to the next. However, they all credit Chapman with being an incredible talent who talked little but when he did it was profoundly funny and well thought out. As time went on the others tended to lose patience with his quiet demeanour and his increasing interest in partying. After sobering up and admirable performance as the lead in “Life of Brian” the tragic tale of his sickness and ultimate death is played out by each Python. Much is said of Chapman here perhaps making up for the fact he is not here to speak for himself…

Published in 2003 the book ends the story with the staging of the Spamalot musical well before their tremendously successful series of shows at the London O2 in 2014 despite this book making it clear that they believed they would never meet up again after the death of Chapman.

Really only for serious fans of The Pythons I found this book quite difficult to read with only a few funny and interesting bits. Certainly I found it more interesting as they talked about their first few series of Flying Circus and what happened when creating the films. Indeed I would have been happier to have more of that material rather than the incredible amount of detail from their pre-Python days. Additionally, the shift in narrative between the Pythons often confuses things and breaks the flow.

For me, a fairly difficult and, sorry, mostly boring read.


Review Date: 2017-03-24

Genre: Autobiography

Publisher: Orion

Publication Date: 2003

ISBN: 0752864254