Revealed: How film censors failed to see the funny side of Monty Python’s gore
Once-confidential documents show how BBFC were concerned about scenes showing death of 'AJP Taylor'
23 March, 2017 — By Dan Carrier
Monty Python And The Holy Grail
WITH its mix of silly one-liners and slapstick gore, Monty Python’s re-telling of the Arthurian legend, the search for the Holy Grail, has gone down as an all-time comedy classic.
But documents recently released by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) revealed that not everybody saw the funny side of the 1975 movie – and censors moved to block some of the bloodier moments. Of particular concern, the files reveal, was a scene in which a character based on history professor AJP Taylor, who lived in Dartmouth Park, meets a bloody end, and the slow and painful death of the Black Knight at the hands of swordsmen.
“The shot of AJP Taylor having his throat gashed is really too bloody,” censor Stephen Murphy complained before its release. “We accept the dismembering of the Black Knight but are worried by the first stab through the visor and the blood gush.” He added: “Though we accept that much of the blood-letting is meant to be funny, there are one or two places where, in our view, the humour is not effective.”
The BBFC regularly releases old case notes on its website as an information service, showing how its work and public taste has changed over the years.
Python actor Michael Palin, who lives in Gospel Oak, told the New Journal that the team’s sense of humour was often considered too risqué for those giving out certificates and that they had been asked to tone down parts of the Holy Grail to allow teenagers in to watch.
He said: “We had a bit of a scene with the censors over all sorts of things. With the Holy Grail, I remember even our own investors were quite worried about the violence. At one point there were murmurs that the Black Knight scene should be removed – but that turned out to be one of the funniest sequences.”
Mr Palin added: “It very often depended on how you saw it. The investors’ screening was a very sombre and serious affair, and they said to us we can’t have all this violence. Then with an audience off the street, they howled with laughter – in fact, some people said there should have been even more violence included because it was so funny.” Mr Murphy’s report shows how the BBFC had questioned why there was “so much bad language or quite so much blood” compared with the Pythons’ television programme.
Discussions rumbled on over whether the film should get an “A” certificate, what is now a “PG”. Mr Palin said of the gruesome killing of Professor Taylor: “Not everyone working on the film really knew who he was – but I’d be at his lectures in Oxford and we had to have a historian, so we used his name. I was pleased they picked it out. It was fairly gory, but that was the whole point. There was the killer rabbit that latched on to John Cleese’s throat, for example. It was gory, but it was so over the top. It was very silly, really – and that was the same with the historian.”
Professor Taylor died in 1990. His son Sebastian said: “Usually, his response was the standard ‘any publicity is good publicity’ and he would probably have thought that to be killed on a Monty Python show was better than being ignored.” And it seems there was no hard feelings. Professor Taylor would later make a cameo appearance in the 1981 film Time Bandits, written by Python Terry Gilliam, the Holy Grail’s co-director.