When the circus came to Coventry
October 2009 marks the 40th anniversary of Monty Python’s Flying Circus' first appearance on our television screens – but did you know that the comedy team came to Coventry?
Before it was named Coventry University, the institution was known as the Lanchester Polytechnic and Coventry Polytechnic.
In 1971, the Lanchester Arts Festival was held between 29 January and 7 February.
One of the festival highlights was the three-day residency by Monty Python's Flying Circus at the Belgrade Theatre.
It was the first time that the Python team had performed the stage version of their television programme.
The shows began at midnight and tickets were priced at £1, 16/- and 12/-.
Monty Python's Flying Circus
The press representation for the event was Tony Barrow International. Tony was once the press officer for The Beatles and set up his own company following the death of Brian Epstein and when the group created their own management company – Apple. His company represented many big names during the 1970s.
The booking agent for the event was Colin Richardson of the Bron Agency. He had worked on the previous year’s festival with student organiser Ted Little and they decided to keep the team going for another year.
After hoping that maybe one or two of the Python team would appear at the festival – as they knew the group had never toured together before – little did the organisers realise that they would get the whole Flying Circus.
Colin Richardson, who was also in a jazz quintet at the time, knew Bill Oddie - his girlfriend, Jean Hart, sang with the band – as did Bill occasionally.
It was through Bill that Colin was introduced to Eric Idle and he asked him whether any of the Pythons would be interested in performing at the Lanchester Arts Festival.
Coventry's Belgrade Theatre
To Colin’s astonishment, Eric asked if the Belgrade Theatre was free, as he knew the venue, and that it was perfect timing as they were considering touring their show.
Speaking to BBC Coventry & Warwickshire, Colin was happy to talk about the time he brought the Pythons to Coventry, recalling it as “probably my proudest moment, though I wasn't really aware at the time of its significance”.
He added: “Some (possibly all) of them (Monty Python) had played the Belgrade Theatre before, as part of other comedy shows. Indeed, this was a key factor in their decision to premiere the Python Live show there as part of the Lanchester Arts Festival.”
The three nights were an immediate sell-out and the shows were a big hit with the students - many of whom dressed as Monty Python characters.
Graham Chapman on a moped
Remembering what sketches were performed, Colin said: “They certainly included many of the best known sketches from their TV series, such as The Dead Parrot and Gumby - Flower Arranging (many students in the audience were dressed as Gumby).
“I also seem to recall a moped being ridden on to the stage by Graham Chapman, though I may have dreamt that!!"
According to a review from the Coventry Evening Telegraph at the time, the best sketches included the Ministry of Silly Walks, the albatross seller and the dead parrot sketch.
Some of the other highlights from the festival’s programme include Andre Previn & The London Symphony Orchestra at Coventry Cathedral, Elton John in the Students’ Union main hall, and Ronnie Scott’s Night – featuring the Ronnie Scott Quintet – also in the main hall.
You can find out more about Colin and his time with the Lanchester Arts Festival by visiting his blog website and also an interview on the HOBO Coventry Music blog website:
last updated: 12/10/2009 at 16:14
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