Michael Palin: Monty Python Would Never Mock Islam


Almost a year ago, I wrote about my, well, complicated relationship with Monty Python.

The English comedy troupe, which first rose to fame at the dawn of the 1970s, greatly influenced my writing and, more importantly, my outlook on life.

The Python’s anti-authoritarian sensibility primed me for punk. I followed the troupe’s many legal and censorship battles, which helped me build up the temperamental foundation I’d rely upon when I was immersed in such fights of my own, decades later.

And the Pythons made my somewhat crappy childhood and early adolescence a little more pleasant.

However, I’ve been painfully aware for some time that my brave, iconoclastic heroes hadn’t really been so courageous after all.

As (actual, on-the-ground Englishman) Peter Hitchens explained in his insightful and infuriating book The Abolition of Britain, the idols that the Pythons and their fellow “Satire Boom” cohorts targeted had mostly been broken to bits before these comedians came along:

There may still have been an “establishment” of snobbery, church, monarchy, clubland and old-school-tie links in 1961. There were no such things ten years later, but it suited the comics and all the reformers to pretend that there was and to continue to attack this mythical thing. After all, if there were no snobbery, no crusty old aristocrats and cobwebbed judges, what was the moral justification for all this change, change with benefited the reformers personally by making them rich, famous and influential? (…)

In fact, the Establishment had already rotted from within.

“Profumo” and similar sex scandals (such as the “Headless Man” affair) had already unmasked the English ruling class as almost farcically perverse — certainly unfit to wield moral authority over the rest of the nation:

It was Lord Denning who called Mariella Novotny’s December 1961 orgy the “Man in the Mask” Party. She preferred to call it the Feast of the Peacocks. It took place in her husband’s mansion flat at 13 Hyde Park Square. Mandy Rice-Davies and Christine Keeler arrived fashionably late. They were greeted at the door by their mentor, Stephen Ward. He was dressed in a sock. Everyone else was naked. Apart from Mariella, who was wearing a black corset and a whip. She was in bed with six men. Mariella had a ready wit and her joke du jour was that she was the Government’s Chief Whip. (…)

One of the facts that Denning did not reveal in his report on the Profumo affair was the scandal’s global impact. It was not Christine or Mandy or even Stephen Ward who excited the interest of the FBI. It was Mariella. Whilst on a vist to New York she had played nurses and patient with JFK, then the president-elect, and Suzy Chang, star of Nudes of the World.

It was bad enough that one of the nurses was Chinese, but the other was suspected of being a Communist from Czechoslovakia.  (…)

Or take one of my favorite tidbits:

A key figure in the debate over whether or not to ban D. H. Lawrence’s “obscene” novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover was one Lord Boothby.

He also happened to be “the adulterous lover of Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s wife and the homosexual lover of East End gangster, Ronnie Kray.”

No, I’m not making that up.

Nor is it a Monty Python bit.

In their day, the Pythons had plenty of fun at the Kray’s expense.

Beloved folk heroes in and beyond their East End London turf, the Kray twins were notoriously sadistic and clearly mentally ill.

That didn’t deter the Pythons from sending up the Kray twins’ legend.

So I was struck when another peer, Lord Tebbit, “provoked anger among Muslims” in 2009 “by comparing [the UK’s growing number of] Islamic sharia courts to gangsters.

He likened the tribunals to the ‘system of arbitration of disputes that was run by the Kray brothers’.”

Which brings us to today.

I almost didn’t think to write about this, because by now, the cowardice of supposedly “courageous” and “edgy” “artists” in the face of Muslim intimidation is so utterly commonplace.

But what kind of Python pupil would I be if I hesitated to criticize my idols themselves?

So yes, I’m saddened but hardly shocked to hear Michael Palin admit, sheepishly, that the troupe would never dare mock Islam:

During his Monty Python days he poked fun at everyone from the Establishment to Christianity.

But thanks to the threat of ‘heavily armed’ fanatics, Michael Palin has admitted there is one comedy taboo he is too scared to break- Islam.

The 70-year-old said religious sensitivities have increased so much since his comedy days it would now be impossible to make 1979 film Life of Brian — which satirised the life of Jesus — let alone laugh at Muslims.

He said: ‘Religion is more difficult to talk about. I don’t think we could do Life of Brian any more. A parody of Islam would be even harder.

‘We all saw what happened to Salman Rushdie and none of us want to get into all that. It’s a pity but that’s the way it is. There are people out there without a sense of humour and they’re heavily armed.’

So a Lord — a Tory no less — has more courage and clarity of vision than the comedy troupe that made its name mocking the likes of him.

As the English like to say:

It’s a funny old world…