Archivists Find Lost Episodes of a “Monty Python” Precursor

"The Complete and Utter History of Britain" is now streaming

Michael Palin at his book signing for "Diaries 1969 - 1979: The Python Years" September 4, 2007. A pre-Python show featuring Palin was just rediscovered.
Michael Palin at his book signing for "Diaries 1969 - 1979: The Python Years" September 4, 2007.
Brian Ach/WireImage

Before there was Monty Python’s Flying Circus, there was The Complete and Utter History of Britain. This British television series was the work of Terry Jones and Michael Palin, who would go on to become founding members of the comedy group that gave us the dead parrot sketch, the fish-slapping dance and the Knights Who Say “Ni.”

Based on the clips available, The Complete and Utter History of Britain is more than a little similar to the series that followed it, from the irreverent animation that opened the show to the way its humor blends the intellectual with the slapstick. The series first aired in 1969, and a boxed set of the show was released on Blu-Ray; at the time, however, the description noted that the version of The Complete and Utter History of Britain was, in fact, incomplete.

While that does feel like a Pythonesque joke — akin to “Those responsible for sacking the people who have just been sacked, have been sacked” — the incomplete Complete and Utter History has been the only version available to see decades after the series first aired. Until now, that is.

British Comedy Guide reports that ITV’s archive team, while in the midst of a thorough review of the broadcaster’s archives, discovered that the “lost” episodes had, in fact, been in the archives all along. All told, seven episodes were filmed, with two of those later combined into one when they aired.

“We flagged it to our colleagues in streaming, had the film cleaned and restored from the 16mm telerecordings and then finally made available to our viewers for the first time since the original broadcasts,” a spokesperson for ITV told British Comedy Guide.

The complete series is now streaming on ITV’s streaming service, ITVX Premium. This is good news for Monty Python fans in the U.K., but given that ITVX Premium isn’t available in the U.S., those viewers will likely need to wait a bit longer. Though given that Netflix has both aired Monty Python’s Flying Circus and another comedic take on history, Cunk on Earth, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario where the series lands there.

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