Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus

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Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus
Cover of the British VHS release.
Written by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam
Directed by Ian MacNaughton
Starring Monty Python, Connie Booth
Country of origin West Germany
Original language(s) German
No. of episodes 2
Producer(s) Alfred Biolek, Thomas Woitkewitsch
Location(s) Bavaria
Cinematography Justus Pankau, Ernst Schmid;
animation by Terry Gilliam
Running time 45 minutes
Production company(s) Westdeutscher Rundfunk
Python (Monty) Pictures
Bavaria Film
Original network ARD
Picture format Film
Original release 3 January – 18 December 1972

Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus (Monty Python's Flying Circus) consisted of two 45-minute Monty Python German television comedy specials produced by WDR for West German television. The two episodes were first broadcast in January and December 1972 and were shot entirely on film and mostly on location in Bavaria, with the first episode recorded in German and the second recorded in English and then dubbed into German.


While visiting the UK in the early 1970s, German entertainer and TV producer Alfred Biolek became aware of the Pythons and, excited by their innovative and absurd sketches, invited them to Germany in 1971 to write a special German episode of their Flying Circus show and to act in them. Despite mixed audience reception, a second episode was produced in 1972.

According to producer Alfred Biolek, the Pythons were initially somewhat reluctant to the idea of going to Germany to produce comedy for a German audience.[1] Biolek had only seen a few shows, but he was impressed with the concept of the Flying Circus. Specifically, it stood out to him that they were both good comedians and good actors—a combination that Biolek rarely saw in the German comedy scene at the time.[2] Biolek arranged to meet with the Pythons in the BBC's bar in London to convince them "with many arguments and even more gin tonics"[1] to come to Germany for a brief visit. Eric Idle has described the conception of the specials as "The Germans came to us and said 'Look, we haven't got a sense of humour, but we understand you do. Can we use yours?'"[3] Terry Jones recalls Biolek's inquiry as an opportunity "to do silly things in Germany".[2]

The Pythons agreed to visit Biolek in Munich in order to explore options for possible material, but did not want to commit at this point.[2] During their visit, the troupe wanted to get a better understanding of German culture and humour. In fact, the visit, and the resulting two shows “can be viewed as a considered attempt to broaden the stereotypical picture of Germans” by the Pythons.[4] Michael Palin also noted that "All I know is that it reversed all one's prejudices. Python has done very, very well in Germany, and the movies do extremely well. ... Whenever anyone says, you know, the Germans have no sense of humor, say no, hang on, hang on, they got Monty Python before a lot of other countries."[2] During their visit to Germany, the Pythons attended the Oktoberfest and Olympiastadion in Munich, and also visited nearby Dachau concentration camp.[2] The Pythons' visit to Germany in 1971 coincided with the widely celebrated 500th birthday of painter Albrecht Dürer, and the group's second visit with the highly anticipated 1972 Summer Olympics. Both events had an obvious impact on the material created by the Pythons for their first episode, including the Silly Olympics skit, and the Anita Ekberg Sings Albrecht Dürer skit, thus situating their style of humour in a local cultural context.

Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus was produced by Biolek and translator Thomas Woitkewitsch in co-production with Westdeutscher Rundfunk. The first episode was written in English, and then translated by Woitkewitsch.[4] However, translating humor within this transnational production—especially when based on idioms—was a general challenge, as Michael Palin recalls.[4]

Since none of the Pythons spoke German sufficiently, Woitkewitsch needed to provide them with phonetic transcriptions of the skits, which they then needed to learn by heart. Terry Jones recalls that this posed a considerable challenge to the troupe; he also mentions that because of the rigorous repetition required in production, he is still able to recite the German version of "The Lumberjack Song".[2] Despite the coaching and re-iterative translation efforts, the Pythons' accents remained rather strong, and according to Woitkewitsch the overall pacing was off.[2] While these language issues may have contributed to the first show's weak critical reception, Woitkewitsch suggests that they also lent it a "secret charm".[2]

The second episode was recorded in English due to aforementioned issues with the German accents and timing of some of the members; only John Cleese and Michael Palin delivered their lines in German well enough to be easily understood by native speakers. The other Python performers all had very thick accents (particularly Terry Jones), making them difficult to understand. In some cases the episode was broadcast with German subtitles.[5]


Some of the material was reworked from At Last the 1948 Show.

Footage from these German specials was used to fill time between live stage performances, as seen in Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl. Also, "Ten Seconds of Sex" from episode two was shown in Series 3, Episode 9, "Nude Organist", of the TV show. The Silly Olympics skit was regularly used when the Pythons were touring [2]

Several new sketches were written specifically for this show, including "William Tell", "Little Red Riding Hood" and "The Merchant of Venice" as performed by a herd of cows. Only "The Lumberjack Song" was translated from an existing BBC Monty Python episode.

Both Alfred Biolek and Thomas Woitkewitsch are featured in guest roles, while the German footballer Franz Beckenbauer makes an appearance in "The Philosophers' Football Match" skit. The first skit of the first episode also features Claudia Doren (de), then an announcer at the Westdeutscher Rundfunk.[4]

List of episodes[edit]

Episode 1 (produced in 1971 and originally broadcast on ARD TV on 3 January 1972 at 9 pm CET)
  • An Introduction to Monty Python By Frau Newsreader Claudia Doren
  • The Journey of The Olympic Flame
  • Monty Python’s Guide to Albrecht Dürer
  • Anita Ekberg Sings Albrecht Dürer
  • The Merchant of Venice as performed by a herd of cows
  • Doctor Breeder
  • Little Red Riding Hood
  • Silly Olympics
  • Stake Your Claim
  • The Lumberjack Song with The Austrian Border Police
  • The Bavarian Restaurant

Edited versions of the "Little Red Riding Hood" and "Silly Olympics" sketches were dubbed into English and included in Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl; The Stake Your Claim sketch was included on the English language record Another Monty Python Record.

Episode 2 (produced in 1972 and originally broadcast on ARD on 18 December 1972 at 9 pm CET)

An English-language version of the philosopher's football match was included in Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl. "The Tale of Happy Valley" turned up on the English language record Monty Python's Previous Record.


The first show received mixed reviews. Opinion surveys taken after the episode was broadcast revealed that 8% of the audience found the show to be very good, 15% found it to be very bad, and 43% found it to be good.[2] Producer Biolek recalls that "This [the first show] was an absolute flop, it cannot be stated differently, as well as in terms of viewership and especially in terms of reviews."[6] Biolek retrospectively believes that the German audience was not ready for Pythonesque humor, since it was more used to more traditional sketch comedy, by comedians such as Rudi Carrell and Heinz Erhardt.[6] In fact, the producers did expect early on that especially the older parts of the German audience would not connect with the Pythons' style of humour.[2]

Biolek attributes the production of the second show to Westdeutscher Rundfunk's general progressive stance towards entertainment production at the time, and specifically to the support of the head of the entertainment sector, Hannes Hoff.[2]


Guerilla Films released both episodes on a single VHS tape in 1998, available in either PAL or NTSC format. The American A&E Network used this release as the basis of their DVD releases of the same material, with the first episode being included on Monty Python Live and the second episode included on The Life of Python. (This arrangement resulted in the second episode being omitted from A&E's otherwise-complete 16-DVD box set of Monty Python's Flying Circus.)

The Australian DVD company Rainbow Entertainment also released both episodes on one DVD.

The Swiss publisher Haffmans released a hardbound book containing the scripts of both episodes, with introductions and essays by the German producers, in 1998. This book has not been translated into English as of 2007.

Both episodes have been shown on the Paramount Comedy Channel in the UK and on PBS in the USA in 2007.

Lost sketches[edit]

Several behind-the-scenes photos from the specials' production were published in the group's autobiography,[5] some of which were from sketches cut from the specials:

  • A version of the "Marriage Guidance Counsellor" sketch.
  • A sketch involving a flute player (Graham Chapman) in front of a German sign.
  • A version of the "Sir Edward Ross" sketch
  • An alternate ending to the first special, in which two stage hands are carrying a giant sign that says ENDE off a huge field. Behind the sign is Terry Jones' singer character from the Albrecht Dürer sketch.


  1. ^ a b Biolek, Alfred. "Man musste den Monty Python überzeugen, mitzumachen". (in German). Retrieved 6 December 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Wehn, Henning. "Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus!". Retrieved 6 December 2014. 
  3. ^ "Monty Python Live at Aspen". Monty Python's Flying Circus. 21 March 1998. ISBN 0-7670-8566-3. 
  4. ^ a b c d Sumera, Adam (2014). Dobrogoszcz, Tomasz, ed. Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 
  5. ^ a b Monty Python. Edited by Alfred Biolek (1998). Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus: Sämtliche deutschen Shows. Haffmans. ISBN 3-251-00414-X. 
  6. ^ a b Biolek, Alfred (2008). Unter Ausschluss der Öffentlichkeit. Alfred Biolek erinnert sich. Marburg: Schüren Verlag. 

External links[edit]