It is one of the most frequently quoted comedy series of all time, but it hasn’t been seen on British TV for nearly 35 years. Now, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, known for its subversive and innuendo-laden humour, is finally returning to UK terrestrial television.
Classic TV channel That’s TV, which broadcasts on Freeview, Sky and Freesat, has acquired the exclusive network television rights to all four seasons of the comedy which was first shown on BBC1 more than five decades ago. The episodes will be aired uncut every weeknight at 9pm from this Monday (14th March 2022).
Coinciding with the arrival of colour television, Monty Python’s Flying Circus made its debut on BBC1 in 1969. The show received three BAFTA awards and soon gained international acclaim, making global stars of the creators Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. The series has been described by The New Yorker as the “funniest series of programmes ever made specifically for television” and, in 2015, Rolling Stone Magazine named Monty Python’s Flying Circus as the “Greatest Sketch-Comedy TV Show of All Time”.
However, members of the Python’s themselves have often complained about the failure to show reruns of the iconic show on UK television. The BBC last repeated the series nearly 35 years ago in 1988.
In 2018, Python star Michael Palin told Radio Times: “I am amazed it hasn’t been repeated.” John Cleese has suggested that the BBC was refusing to rerun the show because it was “too funny”. Cleese told Radio 4’s Today show in 2018: “It might not contrast well with some of the comedy they’re doing now, that’s the only explanation I’ve got.”
In 2020 Cleese complained further saying: “The BBC has not put Monty Python out on terrestrial television now for 20 years and young people don’t know about it… Now young people have no idea who I am, and it seems odd as I think they would enjoy Python.”
In 2018 the BBC’s comedy executive Shane Allen admitted that the programme would not be made today saying: “If we’re going to assemble a team now it’s not going to be six Oxbridge white blokes, it’s going to be a diverse range of people who reflect the modern world.”
The show was regarded as subversive and anti-establishment when first shown. Minutes of a BBC programme review board from 1970 reveal that the BBC’s head of features had found parts “disgusting”.
The controller of BBC1 complained that the programme was in “appalling bad taste” while head of light entertainment, Bill Cotton, believed the Python’s “seemed to have some sort of death wish.”
Monty Python forms part of That’s TV’s new schedule of classic comedy in response to the soap-focused schedules launched this month by both BBC1 and ITV. The classic comedy line-up on That’s TV this spring also includes:
- The Kumars at No.42 – the winner of an International Emmy in 2002 and 2003 and a Peabody Award in 2004, not repeated on UK television since 2005
- Whose Line Is It Anyway? – the improvised comedy show presented by Clive Anderson which ran on Channel 4 from 1998-1999
- Harry Enfield’s Television Programme – starring Harry Enfield, Paul Whitehouse and Kathy Burke, not repeated on UK television since 2011
That’s TV is amassing the rights to broadcast hundreds of episodes of classic TV shows. The free-to-air channel is already showing reruns of Russ Abbot’s Madhouse, The Benny Hill Show, Kenny Everett and Les Dawson’s entertainment show Sez Les.
That’s TV Head of Programming, Kris Vaiksalu said: “For over 50 years, Monty Python’s Flying Circus has had audiences in stitches of laughter. The show is widely regarded as one of the greatest comedy series ever made in the world. It is truly timeless, and its influence continues to be seen today.”
“The Pythons are part of our national heritage but for too long this iconic show has been left buried in the archives. We are proud to have acquired the exclusive free TV rights to every episode and will be showing them all in full and uncut on That’s TV this spring.”
That’s TV launched nationally in summer 2021 and reaches around 4 million viewers per month. It broadcasts 24 hours per day on Freeview channel 91 / 264, Sky channel 187 and Freesat channel 178.That’s TV’s local services (including local news and information alongside classic TV) are also available in 20 locations on Freeview channel 7 / 8.