Here’s a question for the Monty Python 40th anniversary festivities: what’s your favourite Monty Python sketch that isn’t (in your opinion) all that well-known? It’s hard to define which sketches are particularly well-known, apart from the obvious ones like “Dead Parrot,” “Argument Clinic,” “Silly Walks,” and other sketches featuring Cleese and Palin (they did seem to team up a lot in the sketches) plus “Lumberjack Song” and a few others. But everyone who watches a sketch comedy show regularly has a favourite sketch or two that doesn’t seem to be talked about all that much. What’s yours with Python?
One sketch I consider one of their best, even though it definitely doesn’t seem to be one of their best-remembered, is the “Railway Timetables” sketch. An Agatha Christie-style country house murder mystery starts with the characters discussing the train that one of them will be taking to Basingstoke. Then after they find the dead body, they keep talking about train timetables. And every new character who enters is obsessed with train timetables. And finally that’s the key to the murder. The sketch is classic Python for me, because it starts as a parody of something recognizable (in these country-house mysteries, characters are always talking about taking the [fill in time] train to London or some obscure hamlet), then keeps hammering away at its theme until it goes beyond parody into absurdity, keeps ringing in new variations on the theme (“How could anyone shoot himself and then hide the gun without first canceling his reservation?”), and requires all the actors to memorize and recite some pretty complicated dialogue. But no matter how crazy it gets, it never stops being an accurate parody of old-fashioned drawing-room mysteries, so it works on two levels: as parody, and as absurdity for its own sake. Which is pretty much true of most good Python sketches.
Plus it has a decent role for Carol Cleveland, who rarely had much to do in the episodes but was by far the most valuable non-Python performer on the show, since she could keep up with the regulars while playing all the female parts they couldn’t do themselves.
This upload includes the follow-up sketch, John Cleese’s commentary on the meaning of the play we have just seen, which is one of the best stream-of-consciousness monologues the show did, and which many people prefer to the sketch itself.
What are your favourite obscure Monty Python sketches? (I’ll try and find YouTube links to them; most of the Python sketches are there.)