Proto-Monty Python Sketch Show Discovered After Being Lost for 50 Years
What once appeared to be an ex-sketch comedy show, a sketch show that was no more, was resting in peace, had ceased to be, and was bereft of life may have been simply stunned after all. Most of The Complete and Utter History of the British Isles, a sketch comedy television show created in 1969 by almost-Pythoners Michael Palin and Terry Jones, was once thought to be lost forever. As it turns out, The Complete and Utter History of the British Isles was simply misplaced.
The original spoof documentary was a six-part series that led almost directly to the creation of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It aired in January and February of 1969, with the Python troupe forming immediately afterward and debuting its own show in October of that year — Palin and Jones linked the two endeavors.
But something funny — not funny ha-ha but funny strange — happened soon after the original series aired. All but two of the episodes went missing, presumably lost to the animated stomping foot of time. The two surviving episodes were edited together with new interstitial footage from Palin and Jones and then released as a DVD in 2014 as the (Incomplete) Complete and Utter History of Britain.
It looked like that DVD was all Python and comedy historians were ever going to get. But guess what? The episodes have been sitting in a broadcaster’s archive all along. That’s right — some idiot back in the twentieth century simply placed the film canisters on the wrong freaking library shelves, where they’ve remained lost for decades.
The missing shows were "found by the ITV Archive team as part of a huge project to fully identify every archive asset ITV holds,” a company spokesperson told British Comedy Guide. "The series had been sitting in the ITV vaults though miscataloged for decades, but through the identification programme we were able to make this remarkable find. 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."
That’s right — available to viewers! Or at least to subscribers of UK streaming service ITVX Premium. I tried to sign up for the free trial, but my lack of a British postcode halted my progress. We imagine The Complete and Utter History of the British Isles will soon find its way to an American streaming service as well.
While we wait, let’s cross our fingers that the ITV Archive team turns up other mislabeled reels of comedy history for our amusement. As they say, it’s always the last place you look.