The Best Carol Cleveland Moments in ‘Monty Python’
The bubbly Carol Cleveland was working in theater and doing guest bits on shows like The Avengers when the BBC offered her a comedy role on The Roy Hudd Show — and ba-da-boom! Her comic career was off and running. “Word got around there was this glamorous lady who could also be funny,” she told The Guardian. “A funny dolly bird, they called me. I coined the term ‘glamour stooge’ because I was mainly the straight feed for the comedian, which was fun but not particularly rewarding.”
She wanted to move into drama, but then she got an offer to work with the lads from Monty Python. “Sketches had very odd beginnings and often no end,” she remembered. “I couldn't see how they were funny. The boys were falling around laughing, and I came home, phoned my mother and said, ‘Mummy, I don’t think this is going to last more than a few episodes.’”
Eventually, the Pythons figured out how to write for Cleveland, giving her more exposure and better parts as the seasons wore on. “They discovered I wasn’t just a pretty face,” she explained. “I would be as silly and outrageous as them.”
Here is our rundown of Cleveland’s best Monty Python moments…
Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Cleveland stars as Zoot, a comely lass who has been lighting a grail-shaped beacon from atop Castle Anthrax. Her twin sister Dingo, also played by Cleveland, is beside herself. Bad, wicked naughty Zoot! (Here, Dingo breaks the fourth wall to ask the audience if the scene should have been cut. A number of players urge her to get on with it.) Zoot’s penalty? Sir Galahad must lash her to a bed and spank her. And then spank Dingo. And then all of the young maidens of the castle, followed by the additional punishment of oral sex. “Well,” concludes Galahad, “I could stay a bit longer.”
Marriage Guidance Counselor
Michael Palin and Cleveland are the Pewtys, a married couple seeking counseling from lascivious therapist Eric Idle. Her main job in this sketch is to be beautiful, a job that a cross-dressing Python couldn’t have pulled off nearly as well. Mrs. Pewty scampers behind a partition to undress as Idle removes his trousers before sending Mr. Pewty to wait in the hall. It’s naughty fun at Palin’s expense, but come on, Idle — he wrote the sketch — you couldn’t give Cleveland a single line of dialogue in either the TV or movie version of this one?
This short sketch could have been from the silent film era, as sultry housewife Cleveland, clad only in lingerie, wordlessly beckons milkman Palin into her house. She lures him upstairs into what he must assuredly believe is her boudoir, only to find himself imprisoned with generations of similarly seduced milkmen. The sketch’s brevity is perfect for this one-note but effective joke, a bit that Monty Python performed on the third episode of their TV series as well as in the movie And Now for Something Completely Different.
I’m the Urban Spaceman
From Monty Python at the Hollywood Bowl, “Carl Weetabix and Rita” perform “I’m the Urban Spaceman,” with Rita/Carol dancing up a storm. Carl (Neil Innes) does a few more verses than Rita was expecting — seriously, the splits should have been the grand finale — but she figures out some step-ball-changes to fill in the gaps. And then some.
Henry Cleans Up
This corporate training film, sponsored by beer maker Guinness, starred Palin, Cleveland and Terry Jones. Cleese was usually the master of employing Python comedy to rake in the corporate bucks, but here we are. Cleveland is wasted as Doris to Palin’s Henry, a discouraged couple running a failing pub because Henry sucks at a good Guinness pour. Not much for Cleveland to do here, but we hope she got a nice paycheck out of the deal.
As Monty Python’s Flying Circus seasons went on, Cleveland found herself in more and more roles, though rarely ones in which she got to deliver the punchlines. Still, playing the straight woman seems like a step up from the half-undressed vixen. As Mrs. Robinson to John Cleese’s Mister, she gets to react to all kinds of practical jokes, including whoopie cushions hiding beneath the sofa pillows.
By Season Four of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Cleveland graduated to playing actual characters with funny mannerisms of their own. As high society lady Rebecca Vermon-Jones, Cleveland shrieks in disgust at frightful words like “newspaper,” “litter bin” or “tinny,” preferring the dulcet tones of made-up terms like “gorn.” She’s also fond of “antelope” — the word, not the creature on the lawn. It’s performances like this that made Cleveland the unofficial seventh Python.