TV preview: Imagine

The comedy icons re-unite for farewell.

The comedy icons re-unite for farewell.

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Monty Python’s Flying Circus is no more.

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 begin 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. 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!

“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. 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. Here, Alan Yentob meets Cleese, Gilliam, Palin, Idle and Jones as they prepare to take to the stage together, 40 years after the Python TV show’s demise. He also asks them about their individual projects from the past, present and future.

IMAGINE, BBC1, Sunday 10.30pm

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