He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy…” So BBC4 is making a drama about the controversy that greeted Monty Python’s 1979 masterpiece Life of Brian, a film that was banned in countries as diverse as Ireland and Norway, as well as by many local authorities in Britain. Holy Flying Circus by Tony Roche, a co-writer on The Thick of It, will star Darren Boyd as John Cleese and Charles Edwards as Michael Palin, and recreate the furore surrounding the famous debate on a BBC2 chat show between Pythons Cleese and Palin and Roman Catholic journalist Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of Southwark, Mervyn Stockwood.
You can see the salient moments of the debate on YouTube, including Muggeridge’s “squalid humour of a tenth-rate film” comment, Stockwood’s remarks about being “familiar with undergraduate humour… the sort of thing the Footlights would do on a damp Tuesday afternoon” and Cleese’s rejoinder that “400 years ago we would have been burnt for this film… may I suggest that we’ve come a long way since then.” Muggeridge and Stockwood had apparently arrived 15 minutes late for the screening laid on for them.
On YouTube you can also find the inspired Not the Nine O’Clock News spoof, which inverted the arguments so that Python worshippers were scandalised by a Church film about the life of Jesus Christ. All of which begs the question: why bother making this BBC4 drama at all?