What if Monty Python’s Black Knight Were Pink? At the British Library, Unseen Sketches From the Comedy Reveal What Might Have Been

The archives of Michael Palin include lost scenes from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

Screenshot of the Black Knight from Monty Python, as rendered in pink by artnet News.

The British Library will display never-before-seen sketches from Monty Python, the beloved British comedy. The unrealized scripts are from the archives of group member Michael Palin, which also include diaries, photographs, ephemera, early drafts of the hit films Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Life of Brian—even idle doodles dashed off during group meetings.

It’s been 35 years since the last Monty Python film was produced, and Palin’s archives have languished in obscurity, their contents forgotten even by him. “For me there’s lots of material in those boxes that I’ve not yet seen myself [since it was written],” he told the Times London. “It’s rather wonderful to hear them.”

Palin donated his papers from 1965 to 1987 to the British Library, which is now cataloging them. A small selection from the archives, including two scenes cut from The Holy Grailwill go on view August 7 in “Michael Palin: Writer, Actor, Comedian.

The scripts from unseen Monty Python sketches include doodles in the margins. Photo courtesy of the British Library.

The scripts from unseen Monty Python sketches include doodles in the margins. Photo courtesy of the British Library.

The papers also reveal that the film was originally meant to end with a climactic battle, which was cut as much for budgetary reasons as for comedic effect. King Arthur is instead arrested right as the fighting is about to begin.

Some of the other unrealized material is said to be controversial, such as the Pink Knight sketch, written by Palin and writing partner Terry Jones. (The group’s other members were Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, John Cleese, and Graham Chapman.) In the scene, King Arthur finds his way barred by a knight striking a “camp but defiant” pose, looking only to steal a kiss. In the final cut, there is only the indefatigable Black Knight, who, in one of the film’s most memorable scenes, famously calls a cut-off limb “but a flesh wound.”

Michael Palin pages through his Monty Python archive at the British Library. Photo by Tony Antoniou, courtesy of the British Library.

Michael Palin pages through his Monty Python archive at the British Library. Photo by Tony Antoniou, courtesy of the British Library.

The other unfilmed scene sees a parched and dusty traveler crossing the desert with great thirst. He reaches Wild West saloon, only to discover it is now a bookshop. A band of outlaws then arrive… demanding new books about horses. It seems an odd fit for a film set in the land of King Arthur and shows just how much the script evolved during the writing process.

The Holy Grail took shape gradually, and at the beginning, it had far more ideas in it than ended up on screen because you had to have a narrative,” said Palin of the unused sketch. “In the end, the story of the knights was strong enough.”

Michael Palin: Writer, Actor, Comedian” will be on view at the British Library, The Sir John Ritblat: Treasures Gallery, 96 Euston Road, London, from August 7, 2018.


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