MONTY PYTHON ENCYCLOPEDIA
by Robert Ross
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The Monty Python Encyclopedia is much more than the title would indicate as well as much less. While the title implies it is a sourcebook for the various characters, places and situations which appear in the five Monty Python series. Although the book does include episode by episode information about the series, it forms an extremely minor part of the book and is not arranged in encyclopedic format. The majority of the book, however, is a look at the people involved with Monty Python, their projects, both before, during and after the show, and influences.
Naturally, Robert Ross, the book’s author, includes biographies of the six members of the comedy team and the films and television shows the troupe created. However, his information goes much further than just the official Monty Python features. Ross has tracked down information on most of the films and television shows Python members have appeared in or worked on as well as books they have written and non-media projects. He has managed to miss a few items, such as the corporate training films John Cleese created during the nineties or Eric Idle’s turn as the voice of Rincewind in the “Discworld” computer games, but for the most part, he is extremely complete.
Ross is at his best when he is simply reporting on the facts. When he interjects his opinions, it becomes clear that he feels that most of the pythons (particularly Cleese) should continue to retread the characters they created in the classic series. His reviews of the films, mixed with his descriptions of their plots, tend to champion the under-appreciated (i.e. “A Private Function”) while denigrating the more popular and commercially successful works (i.e. “A Fish Called Wanda”).
Perhaps the books strongest point is the opportunity fans of the various members of the Monty Python cast have to track down previously unknown work by the sestet. While most fans will be familiar with works such as Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” Michael Palin’s “Around the World in 80 Days,” or John Cleese’s “Fawlty Towers,” Ross includes notice of projects ranging from Michael Palin’s “The Missionary” to Eric Idle’s short-lived American TV series “Nearly Departed.”
With a publication date of 1999, it is understandable that certain more recent projects, The Road to Mars by Eric Idle or his appearances on the final season of “Suddenly Susan.” In fact, these omissions are heartening, since they indicate that the Pythons, with the exception of Graham Chapman, are still producing work, although Terry Jones’s output is nowhere nearly as prominent as his fellow Pythons’. With luck, Ross will be able to publish a second, updated edition at some future time which will include more of the Pythons’ projects.
Ross very intelligently refrains from repeating specific gags from the Python’s shows. Reading the gags is nowhere near as entertaining as watching to shows and films. Furthermore, many of the Pythons’ work has already been published in reasonably available form (The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus: All the Words, Complete Fawlty Towers, etc.) and there is no reason to rehash their contents in this book.
Ross ends the book with a complete chronology of the Python troupe from October 1939, when John Cleese was born, through December 1997, apparently when the book was compiled. A short videography and bibliography of Python projects and books is also included, giving the reader a jumping off place for further enjoyment of the Python phenomenon.
The book needs a close copyedit. Misspellings, dropped punctuations and similar problems riddle the text. In addition a few of the entries appear out of alphabetical order. Nevertheless, these mistakes are minor and only incidental to the content of the book. The synopses of the episodes of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” and “Fawlty Towers” are welcome, but not the focus of the book. Instead, Ross provides inspiration by demonstrating that although the six men who made up Monty Python in the late sixties and early seventies have managed to continue to have successful and wide-ranging careers.
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