'Monty Python's Flying Circus' cast: Where are they now?
This article is part of Yahoo's 'On This Day' series.
The final episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus aired on BBC 1 this day 18 January, 1973, marking the end of an era for the most influential British sketch show ever made.
More accurately, we should say episode 13 of the third season of Flying Circus – titled 'Grandstand' – marked the end of the beginning for the six-person comedy troupe known as Monty Python.
Monty Python would return for another series the following year — and for many more adventures after that too — but founding member John Cleese didn’t appear in it. The lanky comic had grown tired of the sketch format, and was starting to branch out into solo work.
His masterpiece, Fawlty Towers, would premiere on the BBC in 1975, but he still managed to write some sketches for the fourth season which aired under the shortened title of Monty Python.
As a harbinger of things to come, Cleese doesn’t actually appear in the typically meta final sketch of Flying Circus (The Dirty Vicar Sketch) but the troupe continued long after their incredibly successful initial sketch show came to end, with varying degrees of success.
They last performed together as Python at the O2 Arena on 20 July, 2014, as part of a sold out series of live dates, with the final night broadcast live on television and in cinemas.
Here's what happened to the Pythons in the interim years.
Graham Chapman, who formed a writing partnership with John Cleese while they were at Cambridge University, was recognised as the strongest actor in the group and went on to lead the group’s first two movies: 1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail and 1979’s Monty Python and the Life of Brian.
He enjoyed a fruitful career, writing and starring in the pirate comedy Yellowbeard, releasing his memoirs in 1980, and returning to appear in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life in 1983.
The openly gay performer was a pipe smoker and struggled with a drinking problem, but gave up alcohol in 1977 to help with his performance in Brian.
However in 1988 he was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1989 not long after filming some Python sketches for the group’s 20th anniversary TV special.
After Python, Cleese wrote and starred in the iconic sitcom Fawlty Towers with his then-wife Connie Booth. He won a BAFTA for it and in 2000 it topped the British Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes.
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He enjoyed huge success in 1989 writing and starring in — alongside Python cohort Michael Palin, Kevin Kline and Jamie Lee Curtis — A Fish Called Wanda, which earned him an Oscar nomination for best Original Screenplay. They reteamed for Fierce Creatures, which failed to recapture the magic of its predecessor.
Cleese remained an in-demand actor, and stayed part of the cultural conversation thanks to roles in the Harry Potter, James Bond and Shrek films. He's also a published author of many books.
Filmmaker Terry Gilliam joined Python to create the sketch show's typically zany animations, before later joining the team full time, appearing on screen sketches and gaining full credit for his contributions.
He made his directing debut with Holy Grail — which he co-directed with Terry Jones — before breaking out as a successful writer and director in his own right. His first films Jabberwocky, Time Bandits, Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen all featured other Pythons, but he moved beyond the troupe enjoying success with The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
He was even linked with directing the first Harry Potter, but lost out to Christopher Columbus, later expressing relief about his near miss. "That was one of my lucky moments," he told Total Film magazine. "I would have gone crazy."
His long-gestating Don Quixote film was finally released in 2018, 29 years after he first started working on it, and he’s now a successful theatre director.
Another Cambridge University alumni, Idle was part of Footlights a year after Cleese and Chapman, but wrote sketches for Python on his own. After the TV show ended, Idle enjoyed huge success with his sketch show Rutland Weekend Television, which birthed the spoof Beatles band The Rutles.
His Life of Brian song ‘Always Look On The Bright Side of Life’ may be his most enduring creation though, with Idle performing it at the 2012 Olympics closing ceremony.
He became an in-demand actor too, starring in Nuns on the Run, Casper, and The Wind In The Willows, but enjoyed more success in 2004 with Spamalot, a musical comedy based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
After co-directing Holy Grail with the other Terry, Jones directed Life of Brian and Meaning of Life on his own, marking the start of his own successful filmmaking career.
He wrote the screenplay for Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, and also directed Erik the Viking and Wind In The Willows. With Palin (his Monty Python writing partner), he co-wrote the successful anthology series Ripping Yarns, and became a writer in many mediums including newspaper columns for The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Observer.
A history buff, Jones fronted many TV documentaries on the subject and also wrote a number of books on the topic too.
In 2015, Jones was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, a form of frontotemporal dementia that impaired his ability to speak. He died from complications of dementia in January 2020.
Sir Michael Palin
Knighted in 2019, Sir Michael Palin has been the most consistently successful of the group over the decades since their initial TV hit, and the one his follow Pythons turn to the most for collaboration.
He co-created Ripping Yarns series with Terry Jones, starred in Eric Idle’s Rutles film All You Need is Cash, co-wrote Time Bandits with Terry Gilliam (and starred in many of his films too), and won a BAFTA appearing in Cleese’s A Fish Called Wanda.
As well as being an in-demand comic actor, he’s excelled in serious dramatic roles too (most notably Alan Bleasdale’s GBH), but is now best known for his travel documentaries which began in 1980 with Great Railway Journeys of the World.
His first major series Around The World in 80 Days paved the way for many globetrotting adventures, the most recent being to North Korea with Channel 5 in 2018. His series are usually accompanied by a best-selling book, and top TV ratings.
Watch: Spamalot movie in development