THE ORIGINAL MONTY PYTHON'S FLYING CIRCUS CARDS
by Hans ten Cate
Sunday, 22 September 1996

While we're on the subject, perhaps it would be nice to offer a glimpse into Cornerstone's original Monty Python product: Monty Python's Flying Circus (Act I) Trading Cards!!

This elaborate set of 114 trading cards was released on the occasion of Monty Python's 25th Anniversary in 1994 (even though the full set wasn't available until January 1995). The cards feature images, photographs, and artwork from the original series. Because the cards are two-sided, there really is a tremendous amount of hilarious material for Python fans to enjoy.

LICENSE TO DRIVE

Walter Rowan, now Managing Director of CCI, contacted the Python office as early as November 1991 about licensing the show for a set of collectible cards. Cornerstone hadn't even been founded yet but Rowan was eager to obtain a license, having been a big Python fan since the show's American debut in 1975 on PBS. "I remember gathering together with friends in high school," says Rowan, "before class on Monday mornings and reciting lines from the show which had aired the night before. I was to become a life-long fan."

In 1991, however, the official Python policy was still that the Monty Python trademark, images, and creative works were not for sale. Monty Python merchandise - mugs, t-shirts, posters, and such - was simply out of the question. Fans had to make do with the few videos, books, and bootlegged products already available. So Cornerstone got a big "thanks but no thanks" from London and life had to go on.

Fortunately, in March 1993, the Pythons had a change of heart and Cornerstone received permission to make the Monty Python trading cards. Walter Rowan and Cornerstone's Creative Director, John Blocher, immediately flew to London to finalize the license agreement and to begin collecting material for the card series. "Expecting a vast treasury of Python photos," recalls Rowan, "we were shocked to find that there was actually very little usable material in the official archives [of the Python office]." The BBC's stubborn dislike of the Flying Circus television series meant that very little was done to extensively document the show's history.

FETCHING THE COMFY CHAIR AND OTHER PYTHON MATERIAL

Still, gradually, Cornerstone began to amass an incredible amount of Monty Python material. They were allowed to borrow about 700 pieces of Terry Gilliam's original animation artwork. They used material from the original Python books (Monty Python's Big Red Book and the Brand New Monty Python Papperbok). They even used screen captures from the Python video tapes to cover some of the more "classic" sketches. Although the quality of a video capture is typically not great, some of Cornerstone's images turned out quite well after they were cropped a bit. Other images were run through an Adobe Photoshop™ filter to give them more of a "watercolor" look. Finally, in October 1993, gold was discovered during a trip to the BBC's photo archives in London. While researching material for Cornerstone's "Doctor Who" trading cards, Rowan also found 80-or-so color photos taken of various Monty Python sketches. A rare treat, indeed!

The card set that eventually resulted was an incredible collection of Monty Python sketches, jokes, references, and cartoons. Although there was a lot of material from which to construct the trading cards, explained John Blocher, Cornerstone "...could not actually create new Python material." To keep the cards interesting, a number of "thematic" subsets were created. Among the hundreds of miscellaneous Python images, one could find sets of: biography cards (featuring portraits of and biographical information about the Python members); trivia cards (with questions courtesy of Python expert Kim "Howard" Johnson); Be-A-World-Famous-Animator cards (with cut-outs of Gilliam's animation artwork); and sketch cards (which uses a single sketch as the theme for a number of cards).

FINALLY...

As a final step, Cornerstone had to get approvals from the Pythons themselves on the art and text used prior to production. The OK came in December 1994 and the set finally hit the market on 27 January 1995. Despite the two month delay and a few production challenges, says Rowan: "... the first set did very well and its success lead us to release the Holy Grail set." All of the Pythons seem pleased, especially Terry Gilliam who was most vocal in his appreciation. Rowan adds that "Terry Gilliam took the most interest in the upcoming trading card set and he made me swear I would give him 'outtakes and print errors' for his own collection."

For the time being, Python fans can obtain the trading cards in display boxes of 36 packs ($35.00 U.S. per box), as an uncut press sheet (also $35.00 U.S.), or as a complete factor set (all 105 basic cards, no foil chase cards, for $18.00 U.S.). As before, you can contact Cornerstone or PythOnline to purchase these cards. Also check your local collectible-card stores.

See also these related stories:


Card design Copyright © 1995 Cornerstone Communications, Inc., All Rights Reserved. All images are Copyright © Python (Monty) Pictures, Ltd.

Sources:

  • Walter Rowan, "What's all this then...?" in Cornerstone Communications' The Inside Trader, Issue Number Two, Winter 1996, pp. 1-3, 6.
  • John Blocher, "Python Confidential" in Cornerstone Communications' The Inside Trader, Issue Number Two, Winter 1996, pp. 5-6.