What a non event B.B.C.-4's 'Holy Flying Circus' turned out to be. It attempted to dramatise the controversy surrounding the release of 'Monty Python's Life Of Brian', but was written and shot like a bad imitation of 'Python' itself, complete with sub-Gilliam flash animation, funny voices and silly walks. The end result was not particularly successful. The only plus points were Darren Boyd's 'John Cleese', Steve Punt's 'Eric Idle', and Gharles Edwards's 'Michael Palin'. Not enough to save this meandering, witless shambles of a programme.
How much better was what followed it - a long-overdue repeat of the infamous edition of 'Friday Night, Saturday Morning' from 1979 in which the real Cleese and Palin were confronted by Malcolm Muggeridge and Mervyn Stockwood, the Bishop Of Southwark. The chat show itself featured different hosts each week. Some, like Ned Sherrin and Barry Norman, were good, while others - ex-Prime Minister Harold Wilson springs to mind - were ghastly. This particular week the chair belonged to lyricist Tim Rice.
Muggeridge and the Bishop had seen the film and were asked for their comments. They were not fans, suffice it to say. The former, having been an agnostic for most of his life, was a late convert to Christianity, but judging from his cantankerous behaviour here, you'd swear he'd written the Bible himself. The latter was like something out of a Python sketch - fussing like an old maid, taking his glasses off and on, and fingering the cross round his neck - he might have been Terry Jones in a cassock. Neither mentioned they had missed the first fifteen minutes of the film they were supposed to be reviewing.
The debate that followed was fascinating. I doubt whether the B.B.C. nor anyone else would do anything like it now. Cleese and Palin's reactions were poles apart; the former was cool and collected, the latter visibly angry. The studio audience were on their side throughout. Had the clerics seen the start of 'Brian', they'd have known it was him the film was about, not Christ. But they were having none of it. When Muggeridge said that had Jesus never lived, the film could not have been made, I yelled back "That means nothing. You might as well say that had Hitler never lived, we could not have had 'Allo. Allo'!".
According to Cleese, as soon as recording ended, Muggeridge turned to him and said: "That went rather well, didn't it?". In other words, both he and the Bishop had been playing to the gallery.
The rest of the programme featured a song by Paul Jones ( ex-lead singer of 'Manfred Mann' ) and Norris McWhirter, the latter a fascinating man when discussing world records but a crashing bore when on politics ( he was a rabid right-wing activist ). Just think - if he were alive now, I could write to him about my part in the Midsummer Skinny Dip ( 400 others took part ) at Rhosilli Beach back in June!
I liked the fact that a technical hitch was left in. Rice introduced a clip of 'Brian' which failed to appear on cue. Things like that were always happening then. They rarely happen now. Neither does much of anything else.
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