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Monty Python ‘Hidden Treasures’ come to light in new book

Michael Palin, left, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Graham

Michael Palin, left, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam and John Cleese take a break. Credit: Abrams Books

Spam is a dish best served comically, and no one cooked it up better than the Brit wits of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” in what was arguably the most famous sketch of the outrageous series that was a PBS staple in the 1970s.

Now you can learn about the ingredients that went into the “Spam” bit, along with stories about the creation of the show, in the new book “Monty Python’s Flying Circus: Hidden Treasures” (Abrams, $40) by Adrian Besley that arrives on Tuesday, March 28.

For fans, the book is truly the full “Monty,” featuring recollections from the surviving cast members; rare photos; and 22 removable reproductions of handwritten scripts, cue sheets, posters and more memorabilia.

Here are five revelations from the book about the greatest British comedy show on Earth.

1. LUMBERJACK AND GEORGE The Beatles’ George Harrison was such a fan of the Python ditty “The Lumberjack Song” that he used it as a curtain raiser on his 1974 U.S. tour. He also performed it as a Mountie singer with the troupe at their 1976 City Center show in Manhattan.

2. SAY ‘CHEESE’ The idea for “The Cheese Shop” sketch came about after John Cleese experienced a bout of seasickness and the only thing he could bear to eat was cheese. That led Graham Chapman and him to contemplate what a kind of cheese a pharmacist would sell if the cheese shop ran out of stock.

3. NOT ‘TONIGHT’ America wasn’t ready for the Pythons when they appeared on “The Tonight Show” in 1973. “We started doing a Pepperpots sketch and looked out at the audience — it was like ‘The Producers’ — staring with their jaws wide open,” recalled Eric Idle.

4. EDITED IN AMERICA In 1975, ABC purchased “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” for its late-night series “Wide World of Entertainment.” Objecting to the severe edits made to the show, a lawsuit ensued, with a judge ruling in favor of the Pythons, who had a clause in their BBC contract that the material could not be cut without their permission.

5. SPICING UP ‘SPAM’ After Michael Palin and Terry Jones wrote the popular skit, Cleese and Chapman decided they could improve it. “They made it much more logical and rational, but lost all the tempo and rhythm,” Jones said. When it was time to record the sketch, they went back to the original version.


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