'Monty Python's Flying Circus' cast: Where are they now?

·Editor, Yahoo Entertainment UK
·8 min read
'Monty Python and the Holy Grail', lobbycard from 1975. (Photo by LMPC via Getty Images)
'Monty Python and the Holy Grail', lobbycard from 1975. (Photo by LMPC via Getty Images)

This article is part of Yahoo's 'On This Day' series.

The final episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus aired on BBC 1 this day 18 January, 1973, marking the end of an era for the most influential British sketch show ever made.

More accurately, we should say episode 13 of the third season of Flying Circus – titled 'Grandstand' – marked the end of the beginning for the six-person comedy troupe known as Monty Python.

Monty Python would return for another series the following year — and for many more adventures after that too — but founding member John Cleese didn’t appear in it. The lanky comic had grown tired of the sketch format, and was starting to branch out into solo work.

His masterpiece, Fawlty Towers, would premiere on the BBC in 1975, but he still managed to write some sketches for the fourth season which aired under the shortened title of Monty Python.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 20:  (EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE) Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, John Cleese and Terry Jones perform on the closing night of 'Monty Python Live (Mostly)' at The O2 Arena on July 20, 2014 in London, England.  (Photo by Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)
Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, John Cleese and Terry Jones perform on the closing night of 'Monty Python Live (Mostly)' at The O2 Arena on July 20, 2014 (Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

As a harbinger of things to come, Cleese doesn’t actually appear in the typically meta final sketch of Flying Circus (The Dirty Vicar Sketch) but the troupe continued long after their incredibly successful initial sketch show came to end, with varying degrees of success.

They last performed together as Python at the O2 Arena on 20 July, 2014, as part of a sold out series of live dates, with the final night broadcast live on television and in cinemas.

Here's what happened to the Pythons in the interim years.

Graham Chapman

21st May 1974:  A chainmail-clad John Cleese reads a newspaper while Graham Chapman smokes a quiet pipe on the set of 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'.  (Photo by John Downing/Express/Getty Images)
A chainmail-clad John Cleese reads a newspaper while Graham Chapman smokes a quiet pipe on the set of 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail'. (John Downing/Express/Getty Images)

Graham Chapman, who formed a writing partnership with John Cleese while they were at Cambridge University, was recognised as the strongest actor in the group and went on to lead the group’s first two movies: 1975’s Monty Python and the Holy Grail and 1979’s Monty Python and the Life of Brian.

He enjoyed a fruitful career, writing and starring in the pirate comedy Yellowbeard, releasing his memoirs in 1980, and returning to appear in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life in 1983.

Three of the Monty Python comedy team, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Graham Chapman, were in WHSmith's at Holborn Circus signing copies of some of their books. They are pictured with 26-year-old Jina Ristori from Crystal Palace, who works in the shop. 8th December 1980. (Photo by Alisdair MacDonald/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Graham Chapman, in WHSmith's at Holborn Circus signing copies of some of their books (Alisdair MacDonald/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

The openly gay performer was a pipe smoker and struggled with a drinking problem, but gave up alcohol in 1977 to help with his performance in Brian.

However in 1988 he was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1989 not long after filming some Python sketches for the group’s 20th anniversary TV special.

John Cleese

Comedian John Cleese in his role as Basil Fawlty, the manic host of Fawlty Towers.   (Photo by PA Images via Getty Images)
Comedian John Cleese in his role as Basil Fawlty, the manic host of Fawlty Towers (PA Images via Getty Images)

After Python, Cleese wrote and starred in the iconic sitcom Fawlty Towers with his then-wife Connie Booth. He won a BAFTA for it and in 2000 it topped the British Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes.

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He enjoyed huge success in 1989 writing and starring in — alongside Python cohort Michael Palin, Kevin Kline and Jamie Lee Curtis — A Fish Called Wanda, which earned him an Oscar nomination for best Original Screenplay. They reteamed for Fierce Creatures, which failed to recapture the magic of its predecessor.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: John Cleese during a book signing at Waterstones Piccadilly to promote his book
John Cleese during a book signing at Waterstones Piccadilly to promote his book "Creativity: A Short and Cheerful Guide" (Dave J Hogan/Getty Images)

Cleese remained an in-demand actor, and stayed part of the cultural conversation thanks to roles in the Harry Potter, James Bond and Shrek films. He's also a published author of many books.

Terry Gilliam

Comedians from the British comedy troupe Monty Python pose with a large scarf around their necks during a visit to Paris. (L-R): Terry Gilliam, musician and supporting player Neil Innes, Eric Idle, and Terry Jones. (Photo by Pierre Vauthey/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)
(L-R): Terry Gilliam, musician and supporting player Neil Innes, Eric Idle, and Terry Jones. (Pierre Vauthey/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)

Filmmaker Terry Gilliam joined Python to create the sketch show's typically zany animations, before later joining the team full time, appearing on screen sketches and gaining full credit for his contributions.

He made his directing debut with Holy Grail — which he co-directed with Terry Jones — before breaking out as a successful writer and director in his own right. His first films Jabberwocky, Time Bandits, Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen all featured other Pythons, but he moved beyond the troupe enjoying success with The Fisher King, 12 Monkeys and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

American director Terry Gilliam on the set of the Germano-English film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. (Photo by CHRISTOPHE D YVOIRE/Sygma via Getty Images)
American director Terry Gilliam on the set of the Germano-English film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. (CHRISTOPHE D YVOIRE/Sygma via Getty Images)

He was even linked with directing the first Harry Potter, but lost out to Christopher Columbus, later expressing relief about his near miss. "That was one of my lucky moments," he told Total Film magazine. "I would have gone crazy."

His long-gestating Don Quixote film was finally released in 2018, 29 years after he first started working on it, and he’s now a successful theatre director.

Eric Idle

From left to right, actors Neil Innes (1944 - 2019), Eric Idle and Graham Chapman (1941 - 1989) on the set of the comedy film 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail', UK, May 1974.  (Photo by John Downing/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
L-R: Neil Innes, Eric Idle and Graham Chapman on the set of the comedy film 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail', UK, May 1974. (John Downing/Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Another Cambridge University alumni, Idle was part of Footlights a year after Cleese and Chapman, but wrote sketches for Python on his own. After the TV show ended, Idle enjoyed huge success with his sketch show Rutland Weekend Television, which birthed the spoof Beatles band The Rutles.

His Life of Brian song ‘Always Look On The Bright Side of Life’ may be his most enduring creation though, with Idle performing it at the 2012 Olympics closing ceremony.

British comedian Eric Idle performs during the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games at the Olympic stadium in London on August 12, 2012.     AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN DENNIS        (Photo credit should read ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/GettyImages)
Eric Idle performs during the closing ceremony of the 2012 London Olympic Games (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/GettyImages)

He became an in-demand actor too, starring in Nuns on the Run, Casper, and The Wind In The Willows, but enjoyed more success in 2004 with Spamalot, a musical comedy based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Terry Jones

1979:  Terry Jones, one of the original stars of the popular television series 'Monty Python's Flying Circus' directs and stars in the film 'Monty Python's Life Of Brian'.  (Photo by Evening Standard/Getty Images)
Terry Jones, one of the original stars of the popular television series 'Monty Python's Flying Circus' directs and stars in the film 'Monty Python's Life Of Brian' (Evening Standard/Getty Images)

After co-directing Holy Grail with the other Terry, Jones directed Life of Brian and Meaning of Life on his own, marking the start of his own successful filmmaking career.

He wrote the screenplay for Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, and also directed Erik the Viking and Wind In The Willows. With Palin (his Monty Python writing partner), he co-wrote the successful anthology series Ripping Yarns, and became a writer in many mediums including newspaper columns for The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Observer.

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 09:  Actor Terry Jones of
Actor Terry Jones of "A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story Of Monty Python's Graham Chapman" poses at the Guess Portrait Studio during 2012 (Matt Carr/Getty Images)

A history buff, Jones fronted many TV documentaries on the subject and also wrote a number of books on the topic too.

In 2015, Jones was diagnosed with primary progressive aphasia, a form of frontotemporal dementia that impaired his ability to speak. He died from complications of dementia in January 2020.

Sir Michael Palin

Kino. Das Leben Des Brian, 1970er, 1970s, Film, Humor, Monty Python's Life Of Brian, Satire, humour, Das Leben Des Brian, 1970er, 1970s, Film, Humor, Monty Python's Life Of Brian, Satire, humour, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle , 1979. (Photo by FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images)
Monty Python's Life Of Brian: John Cleese, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman (FilmPublicityArchive/United Archives via Getty Images)

Knighted in 2019, Sir Michael Palin has been the most consistently successful of the group over the decades since their initial TV hit, and the one his follow Pythons turn to the most for collaboration.

He co-created Ripping Yarns series with Terry Jones, starred in Eric Idle’s Rutles film All You Need is Cash, co-wrote Time Bandits with Terry Gilliam (and starred in many of his films too), and won a BAFTA appearing in Cleese’s A Fish Called Wanda.

Writer and actor Michael Palin with a globe, 8th October 1992. (Photo by Mike Maloney/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)
Writer and actor Michael Palin with a globe, 8th October 1992. (Photo by Mike Maloney/Mirrorpix/Getty Images)

As well as being an in-demand comic actor, he’s excelled in serious dramatic roles too (most notably Alan Bleasdale’s GBH), but is now best known for his travel documentaries which began in 1980 with Great Railway Journeys of the World.

His first major series Around The World in 80 Days paved the way for many globetrotting adventures, the most recent being to North Korea with Channel 5 in 2018. His series are usually accompanied by a best-selling book, and top TV ratings.

Watch: Spamalot movie in development

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