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|Posted: Thu Jun 26, 2008 12:45 pm Post subject: 'History' is bunk..
|Palin and Jones on their lost series
|Terry Jones and Michael Palin have watched one of their sketch shows for the first time since they made it 40 years ago – and immediately declared it a bit of a disappointment.
The pair had believed that the tapes of The Complete And Utter History Of Britain had been wiped, but last night the British Film Institute unveiled a newly discovered copy of one episode.
But after viewing it, Jones and Palin expressed disappointment with the production, pacing and direction of the show, which originally aired on London Weekend Television in 1969.
‘It was rather bad,’ Palin said. ‘It looked like Stonehenge was made of polystyrene. And things like the wrong sound effects can really ruin a sketch.’
Jones has previously said that his experiences on the show ‘got me really convinced that you have to control everything. You not only act in the things – you’ve got to actually start directing the things as well.’
However disappointed they were with the technical aspects, Jones and Palin did say that some of the writing was surprisingly better than they expected.
‘There are some quite good ideas in there,’ Palin said. ‘I can see all sorts of Python in it. It’s funnier than I remember. Parts of it are silly and schoolboyish, but also rather satisfying.’
At the time it was made, broadcasters LWT ‘lost confidence’ in the idea, Jones said, and cut the number of episodes.
‘LWT weren’t terribly thrilled with it,’ he said. ‘Rather than letting us get on with it, they started meddling. Frank Muir was head of comedy, and he started to interfere a bit.’
The Complete And Utter History Of Britain, which never aired outside London, was based on the idea of replaying history as if television had been around at the time. Scenes included a post-battle interview with William The Conqueror as if he had just won a football match, an estate agent trying to sell Stonehenge, and Richard The Lionheart returning from the Crusades as if he’d been on a Club Med drinking holiday.
Critics were unenthusiastic at the time, sniffily complaining about its undergraduate humour. Jones said last night: ‘We felt it wasn’t the success we wanted.’
However, the failure did help the formation of Monty Python, as Palin recalled. ‘John Cleese called me when it went out and said, “I’ve just seen this series of yours. You won’t be making any more of those, will you? So why don’t we do something together.” He always was a mean bastard.’
The first two episodes – which were recut and aired as one programme – had previously been rediscovered, as director Maurice Murphy kept copies. Last night the newly unearthed episode 3 (which actually aired as the second episode) was screened at the BFI Southbank.
Jones still has all the filmed inserts from the series – although without the proper soundtrack – but the rest of the complete episodes are thought to be permanently lost.
Here is some of the surviving footage:
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