The full Monty – on screen

Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and John Cleese are seen on the first day of rehearsals in LondonTerry Jones, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and John Cleese are seen on the first day of rehearsals in London
Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and John Cleese are seen on the first day of rehearsals in London
Monty Python’s reunion, which remaining members say is their last time working together, to hit big screens in live simulcast to be broadcast to cinemas across Lancashire on Sunday, July 20

It has ceased to be.

It is an ex-comedy programme.

But five of the six men who made perhaps the most surreal series in the history of British TV – John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, Eric Idle and Terry Jones – are still alive and kicking, and on Tuesday began a 20-day residency at the O2 in London.

Tickets were like gold dust, with extra dates added to keep the hoards of fans happy who desperately wanted to see their ageing heroes in action one last time.

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We’re promised that even Graham Chapman, who died in 1989, will appear via archive footage on a huge video screen.

It should almost feel as if they’ve never been away, despite the fact they’ve all carved out very different careers since their last project, the controversial Meaning of Life in 1983 (although the musical Spamalot was supported by all the Pythons and was based on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it was the brainchild of Idle only).

But why get back together again at all? “Purely financial,” admits Palin.

“We’ve had this court case hanging around when one of the producers of The Holy Grail decided he needed a bit more of the cut from Spamalot – and court cases don’t come cheap. Something had to push us into it!

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“But the speed at which the tickets sold was astounding to us all.

“So, there are a lot of friends of Python out there.”

As anybody who tuned in to the original show will tell you, it really WAS something completely different.

What other programme offered funny walks in Ealing, a member of the Spanish Inquisition known as Cardinal Fang, a dead Norwegian parrot, nun boiling in Doncaster, Hell’s Grannies in Teddington and a provocative fish-slapping dance down the docks?

However, Python nearly didn’t exist at all.

Instead, it could have been called The Toad Elevating Moment or Owl Stretching Time, both of which were rejected by the BBC.

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But whatever the name, the brand of humour would have remained the same – and no doubt have still gone on to influence thousands of comedians.

Initially, the series was meant as a vehicle for Cleese and Chapman, who had worked successfully together on The Frost Report.

But Cleese wasn’t keen on the idea of a two-handed show, and so approached Palin.

He, Jones, Idle and Gilliam were supposed to be working together on an ITV series, but when it stalled, he suggested the four of them could join Cleese and Chapman at the BBC – and so Monty Python was born.

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Their bizarre form of humour, inspired in part by their mutual love of The Goons on radio and Spike Milligan’s TV series Q, was quickly branded ‘surreal’ by some, although that didn’t nearly describe it well enough.

And so, a new word was needed – hence the creation of the term ‘Pythonesque’.

Monty Python’s live reunion show will be broadcast simultaneously to 450 cinemas in the UK and a further 1,500 across the world, including The Dukes in Lancaster, Chorley Little Theatre, both MyVue at the Capitol Centre , the Odeon at Preston Dock, and The Grand in Clitheroe.

The reviews are in

It might have been the comedy favourite of another generation but the Monty Python crew have still got it, according to critics of the first of a 10-night run at the O2 in London on Tuesday.

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The show really is the full Monty, proclaimed the Mirror. “It’s not something completely different but that’s exactly why fans will love it,” said Mark Jeffries, whose only criticism was not seeing enough of the Pythons on stage compared with the dancers.

But it is understandable that they need breaks offstage because they have to “recover from their exertions”, said the Express.

“It’s a tall order for a bunch of old men and I think we can cut them some slack,” writes Neil Norman, who said they have “embedded themselves in the cultural memory”.

On a less positive note, the i lamented the lack of new material, calling the show “a lazy production” that relied on television footage and “the whooping adulation of an audience who know all the words”.

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While admitting that some of the old sketches were “still very funny”, reviewer John Walsh said it became a little tiresome.

The Mail said archive clips featuring the late Graham Chapman received some of the biggest cheers of the night.

It is a show for fans, not newbies, according to comedian Russell Kane. Tweeting after the show he wrote: “Witnessed legends in action.”

Reviewing the show for The Sun, Kane said it brought him back to his childhood on the sofa beside his father, “laughing my bum off”.

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The Guardian was less enthusiastic, concluding that the show “isn’t bad”.

“This live show won’t make any converts. But it sends the faithful away happy,” said Peter Bradshaw.

Actor and presenter Stephen Fry shared his joy on Twitter after his stint on stage.

He wrote: “Oh my days. Just seen @montypython @TheO2 – in fact I made a little surprise appearance.

“Felt like being on stage with the Beatles *sigh* !”

‘The greatest hits’

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The remaining members of Monty Python have delighted fans with a nostalgic run through their greatest hits at the first of their comeback gigs in London.

The cult comedy act - John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones - performed together for the first time in decades at the O2 Arena.

The show, which featured an extended cast of dancers, a full orchestra and special effects, ended with a singalong version of Always Look On The Bright Side of Life.

Among the classic sketches was the Four Yorkshiremen, comparing their tough upbringing, and the Lumberjack Song.

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The audience was also treated to clips from old shows including the fish-slapping sketch, and some of the biggest cheers of the night were reserved for archive clips featuring sixth Python Graham Chapman who died in 1989.

The second half of the show kicked off with a spoof ballet - Spam Lake - before a performance of the X-rated Sit On My Face song. Other sketches included Idle and Palin as lingerie-wearing judges and Idle and Jones performing the “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” routine which inspired a song and dance number.

Fans applauded every aspect of the show which included big song and dance routines which allowed time for the numerous costume changes.

Daniel Sanderson, from Hammersmith, said the show had been worth every penny. He said: “They looked like they enjoyed it as well, which was great, so maybe they’ll do more shows.”

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The Pythons, who have been open about the financial reasons for the reunion, even had two giant “merch-o-meters” at the side of the stage measuring sales of T-shirts, posters and other items during the interval.

Sally Baxter, from Swindon, said she was just glad to get the chance to see them live at last.

She said: “I saw them on TV when they started out so this was a little bit of my youth up on stage.”

Stephen Fry turned up on stage later in the night during a sketch about a game show host blackmailing misbehaving celebrities, and other famous faces included Professor Brian Cox and Stephen Hawking, who appeared on film after a performance of The Galaxy Song.

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Monty Python’s Flying Circus was made for TV between 1969 and 1974 and generations of fans can recite lines and whole sketches.

Chapman died of cancer aged 48, and nine years later the five remaining members shared a stage at the Aspen Comedy Festival in the US.