This week marks the 50th anniversary of the first time legendary comedy troupe Monty Python performed to a live audience – and it happened right here in Coventry.
Monty Python had become stars of the small screen thanks to their irreverent TV show Monty Python’s Flying Circus in the late 1960s.
By the early 1970s they were looking for an opportunity to branch out into live performances, and a small art festival in Coventry provided the perfect opportunity.
A local booking agent in the right place at the right time managed to snag members John Cleese, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam for the Lanchester Polytechnic’s Arts Festival. And they weren’t the only big names secured – Elton John was also on the programme!
On the night of January 31, 1971, The Monty Python’s Flying Circus made their first of three live stage performances right here in Coventry at the Belgrade Theatre.
Colin Richardson was the booking consultant for the festival in 1971, and he spoke to the theatre’s media team for a recent blog.
Mr Richardson said: “At some point during the planning of the 1971 programme, I was asked if it would be possible to book a few members of the Monty Python team to perform a couple of sketches from the cult TV show, which were immensely popular with the students.
“I was pretty doubtful, since none of them, as far as I knew, had ever made any live appearances as Python characters hitherto and I was fairly sure that they only produced their unique humour for the TV show.”
Despite not knowing who the Python’s booking agent was, Mr Richardson knew a friend of a friend who had worked with the troupe and a meeting was set up with Eric Idle.
He said: “Being something of a fan myself, it was with considerable trepidation, awe and downright nerves that I presented myself on the day, but Eric very quickly put me at my ease with his relaxed and friendly attitude.
“He said something that made me struggle to contain my excitement. It was along the lines of: ‘Well, your timing couldn’t be more fortuitous (he might even have used the word ‘serendipitous’) as we’ve been talking about the possibility of doing something live on stage and, if we did, it would definitely be somewhere away from London in case it didn’t work for us’.”
The three nights subsequently sold out very quickly and the act went down famously with the audience when the performance night arrived.
“Needless to say, every show was a fantastic success,” Mr Richardson explained. “The student audience was ideal, as they were a proven fan base who already knew most of the sketches, sometimes word-perfect.
“I had an immense feeling of pride at helping to bring about the very first ‘Live on Stage’ appearance of Monty Python’s Flying Circus!”
To read more of Mr Richardson’s comments regarding the performance visit the Belgrade Theatre’s website.