Monty Python Stars Criticize BBC, Say It's 'Destructive' for Creatives

Monty Python member Eric Idle

John Cleese says "there's an awful amount of crap" in comedy, Terry Gilliam notes the U.K. public broadcaster is "executive-heavy" and Eric Idle discusses a series of stage shows at London's O2 Arena next month.

LONDON — Members of legendary U.K. comedy group Monty Python have criticized the BBC, saying it was "destructive" for comedy and too reliant on managers who don't understand comedy.

In an interview with Time Out, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam and Eric Idle discussed the U.K. public broadcaster (which used to air Monty Python's Flying Circus) and their series of stage shows at the British capital's O2 Arena next month. 

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Suggesting that Monty Python wouldn't get onto the BBC if the troupe was starting off now, Cleese said: "A very simple process, which worked wonderfully well at the BBC, has been lost. In [the old] days, the departmental heads were very trusting of their producers. What happens now is you have a new species, a "commissioning editor," who, as far as I can make out, haven't actually written comedy or directed it, and yet they seem to think that they understand comedy."

He added: "Comedy is very difficult. Just look around –—there’s an awful amount of crap. These decisions are being taken by people who don't understand comedy but don't realize that they don't understand it."

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"One of the things that makes me saddest about the way the country has gone since I was young is the BBC," lamented Cleese. "I look back at what was a magnificent institution. Then, for economic reasons, that wonderful institution was thinned down."

Gilliam argued that at the BBC, "the system is so executive-heavy now. There's an army of compliance cops. Everything has to be predigested for the nation by frightened executives who don't want to lose their jobs. For creative people, it's very, very destructive."

The BBC press office commented on the criticism by citing a famous Monty Python line. "We still love great comedy, so it's wrong to think the BBC believes that now it's time for something completely different," it said.

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The five remaining members of the comedy group will reunite onstage at London's O2 Arena in July for several shows. The final performance will air live on U.K. comedy channel Gold.

"What could be finer at the end of a long life in comedy than a chance to reunite with old pals and say goodbye to all our fans in one final mad musical show?" Idle told Time Out. "We are very excited that not only do we get the chance to screw up onstage, we get a chance to screw up live on TV, too."

Twitter: @georgszalai