And now for something exactly the same. Give or take a forty year gap, clicky knees and hips, the unavoidable absence of one member of the troupe, and the terror that at this stage the audience remembers their lines better than they do, Monty Python's Circus is to fly again in the vast space of the London 02 Arena. "There will be a little comedy, some pathos, music, and a tiny bit of ancient sex," Eric Idle, who will direct, promised.
The surviving Pythons now have a collective age of 357, and the working title for the show is "One down, five to go". Medical attendants will be in the wings, they explained, and the alternate title is "Two down, four to go".
When news of the reunion, probably the most devoutly yearned for in the history of showbusiness, leaked earlier this week, the comedian Bill Bailey called them "the ultimate comic supergroup, the Led Zeppelin of comedy". Just like Led Zep, they are re-forming at the O2 for one night only (1 July 2014). Probably.
"We would like to tour Europe," Terry Jones said, adding, to mutters of horror from the others, "a camping holiday".
"World tours are easy," insisted Michael Palin, who has found a new career as a globetrotting television presenter, and was repeatedly shouted down by the others as he tried to plug the next volume of his diaries.
Graham Chapman, amiable dimwit on screen, sharp writing brain in reality, "selfishly" died in 1989, but they promised he will be part of the show. "We actually have told him we're going to be on," Idle said, "and if there is a God, he'll show up."
They last performed together on stage in London at Drury Lane 40 years ago, and in the Hollywood Bowl 33 years ago. This time there will be no silly walks, because John Cleese said his artificial hip and knee aren't up to it, but there will be singers and dancers choreographed by Arlene Phillips, parrot jokes - "what was it now . . . Norwegian?" Palin said, gazing upwards for inspiration - and lots of Gilliam animations. If Idle has his way, Gilliam will also appear as the naked organist, which he admitted was a truly terrifying prospect.
There will be lots of old material and "some" new material. "The most awful moment at any rock concert is when the band says 'and now we're going to play you a few tracks from the new album'," Idle said. "That's when you go to the bathroom."
Ticket sales, at between pounds 27 and pounds 90 ("pounds 300 less than the Rolling Stones", they pointed out) are not expected to be a problem. The press conference had crews from all over the world stacked up like supermarket shelves. Questions came from British, US, Australian, German, French, Japanese, and the native countries of the poorly parrot and the underwear loving lumberjacks, Norwegian and Canadian media.
The first question came from a Spanish radio reporter. "Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition," Palin murmured rapturously.
The press conference was held in the Playhouse, the London theatre which is packing in Idle's show Spamalot, billed as "lovingly ripped off" from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The show has taken many millions at the box office. Although the others insisted that the main purpose of the reunion was to pay off Jones's mortgage, the lure of new money for old gags must have been strong. Gilliam has made a string of phenomenally expensive movies, Cleese has had a string of phenomenally expensive divorces. "And we get the heating allowance," Jones pointed out.
Cleese said: "We may not like one another but put us together in a room and we laugh a lot."
Afterwards Gilliam predicted happily that they were bound to fall out again soon, and the show would be the better for it. "Don't worry, it will go bad at some point, I hope so because when it went bad when we were doing the shows it produced interesting moments."
Idle reported that due to their advancing age, he is trying to rope in a bit of younger glamour. "John can't do silly walks because he has a hip replacement, I decided I couldn't do the Travel Agent because you have to talk for 15 minutes and it's really exhausting and so I thought well I'd like to do some of the songs we've never done. I'd like to do Galaxy Song with Professor Brian Cox coming in. I was with him last night, talked him into it." The song contains the lines: "Pray that there's intelligent life somewhere up in space, cause there's bugger all down here on Earth."
The launch was artfully controlled anarchy. The five walked on stage 20 minutes late, all talking simultaneously until called to order by the MC, Warwick Davis. They then sat in the wrong places, insisted on answering one another's questions, and groaned when Davis opened a gold envelope to announce that, thanks to calling in Sepp Blatter to help process all the bids to host the show, it would be in Qatar. He opened a second envelope and announced that the winner was Meryl Streep, before conceding that since London had put in "the second highest bribe - er, bid", it would after all get the honour.
Sometimes they bickered like elderly married couples. The others groaned when Cleese got a bit worthy, and jeered at him when he recalled the dead silence during a sketch on one of their last stage appearances, when he peered out through the curtains to see the audience mouthing all the lines. How could he gave done that, Jones demanded.
"You go off the stage at the end of a sketch," Cleese said, "you probably don't remember that."
(c) 2013 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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