by Hans ten Cate
Wednesday, 9 September 1998

The miracle workers at the British Broadcasting Corporation are getting ready for Monty's 30th birthday next year. We have heard that at least one of the festivities might include airing a number of never-before-seen sketches, which were discovered in the BBC archives not too long ago. A British television industry magazine, Broadcast, reported June 11 that a television special will air the sketches, which were deemed too risqué when they were originally produced in the 1970s.

The BBC is reportedly negotiating with the five surviving members of the group for permission to air excerpts from the original shows for a 30th anniversary special. The special will be broadcast on BBC 2 in October 1999, on or around the official anniversary of Monty Python's very first episode, which aired 5 October 1969 on BBC 1. The Pythons' production company, Python (Monty) Pictures Ltd., confirmed it was discussing a programme which would go out on BBC 2 next year. London's Daily Star says John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Eric Idle have signalled their support.

Still, there are some skeptics who figure that the BBC did not find anything that hasn't been seen already. Python business manager Roger Saunders said he was unaware of any surviving unused clips. He believes any segments which were not used had been either lost in the archives or destroyed after so many years, and said he would be in a position to know if any existed.

The BBC archives have not had a great reputation for taking good care of its creative works, particularly older shows. When I visited the Python office last year, I was told by Roger Saunders that the BBC used to store old episodes of television shows on video tape. When the BBC no longer had any use for a particular show, that tape would be reused to store other television shows, subsequently losing its original content forever.

An insider source, interviewed in Broadcast, confirmed: "The BBC has never been very good at looking after its archive," he said. "If these sketches exist, it's quite likely they were wiped long ago."

While the BBC confirms plans for a 30th anniversary special, executives there deny that any Python sketches were ever cut because of content. John Howard Davies, who produced the first Python shows, told Broadcast, "I can't remember any sketches being too risqué, although several might have been too bad for transmission."

Monty Python has tested the boundaries of good taste before, daring to address such topics as cannibalistic undertakers, Hitler running for public office in Minehead, and occaisional references to semprini. Some instances of BBC censorship have marked the Pythons' history, to be sure. Yet, the Pythons have remarked that they felt that, in the end, they had gotten to do what they wanted on the air. We'll have to wait to see what the BBC decides to air next October.