Fusing the topical satire of David Frost with the surreal outlandishness of The Goon Show, the Monty Python's Flying Circus troupe formed in England in 1969. Comprised of British performers John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Graham Chapman, along with American animator Terry Gilliam, the group emerged as an international cult phenomenon, honing its singular blend of broad slapstick, edgy black comedy, and social commentary in a string of successful television programs, films, and albums.
After meeting during a taping of the British children's series Do Not Adjust Your Set, the Pythons officially took shape in May 1969 when the BBC contracted the group to produce its own 13-week program. Monty Python's Flying Circus, a weekly sketch comedy series, premiered that October; after becoming a major hit throughout Europe, the troupe recorded 1970's Monty Python's Flying Circus LP, a set of new performances of television material recorded in front of a live audience (including their legendary "dead parrot" sketch, "The Pet Shop"). Their film debut, And Now for Something Completely Different — a collection of highlights from the series — followed in 1971.
Another Monty Python Record, released in the U.K. in 1971, made its American debut the following year; for most U.S. fans, the album was their first exposure to the troupe — the BBC series did not begin appearing on public television outlets for several more months. After 1972's Monty Python's Previous Record, a mixture of original routines and TV material featuring "Eric the Half a Bee," "The Argument Clinic," and "Embarrassment/A Bed-Time Book," the group issued 1973's Matching Tie and Handkerchief, which featured a "trick track" gimmick whereby the second side contained separate grooves both featuring entirely different material; playing randomly depending upon where the needle dropped, the gimmick effectively created a "side three."
A 1973 British tour yielded Live at Drury Lane, released in 1974 to coincide with the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail; the movie's companion record, The Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the Film of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a reprise of screen material along with new skits, did not appear until the next year. After 1976's Live! At City Center, a long hiatus followed before the group reunited for the 1979 feature and soundtrack Monty Python's Life of Brian.
Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album appeared in 1980, followed by the 1982 concert film Live at the Hollywood Bowl. The 1983 feature Monty Python's the Meaning of Life was the last official group project, although the troupe members subsequently reunited on occasion; most famously, Cleese and Palin teamed in the hit comedy A Fish Called Wanda, while Gilliam's directorial efforts like Time Bandits, Brazil, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen all prominently featured other Python alumni. Sadly, Graham Chapman died of cancer on October 4, 1989. ~ Jason Ankeny