Rutland Weekend Television was the post-Monty Python series written by Eric Idle, with music by Neil Innes (of The Bonzo Dog Band fame). While many Python-related shows have been released on DVD (Do Not Adjust Your Set, Not the 1948 Show, Ripping Yarns, and of course, Fawlty Towers) it seems incredible that Rutland Weekend Televison—it’s where The Rutles came from, for god’s sake—has never seen the light of day. (At least on a retail level, because it’s quite easy to download on the Internet and there are entire episodes out there for streaming, too.)
Legend has it that John Cleese came up with the title (meant to evoke a tiny, tiny television network) and Eric Idle bought it from him for one pound. The show’s pretense to being made on a tight budget was no pretense, as Idle and Innes had been granted the smallest of budgets by the BBC. Much of the show was shot in the same threadbare studio and jokes often revolved around how low budget the entire affair was.
Idle told the Radio Times in 1975:
“It was made on a shoestring budget, and someone else was wearing the shoe. The studio is the same size as the weather forecast studio and nearly as good. We had to bring the sets up four floors for each scene, then take them down again. While the next set was coming up, we’d change our make-up. Every minute mattered. It’s not always funny to be funny from ten in the morning until ten at night. As for ad-libbing, what ad-libbing? You don’t ad-lib when you’re working with three cameras and anyway the material goes out months after you’ve made it.”
After the second series of Rutland Weekend Television, Eric Idle, of course, went on to mostly make a bunch of really shitty movies and “Spamalot.” Neil Innes went on to the marvelous Innes Book of Records TV series (also not on DVD but easy to download), children’s television and continues to make great, funny music.
It might be heresy to say this, but I actually find Rutland Weekend Television, generally speaking, to be a bit funnier than Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Maybe that’s just because I am over-familiar with the Monty Python material and Rutland Weekend Television is fresher-seeming to me. Maybe it’s because of what Neil Innes brought to the table (I’m a huge. huge Bonzos fanatic). In any case, I’m sure it will get battled out in the comments.
Below, Eric Idle barters his soul with a uncooperative Satan.
Here’s a parody of Ken Russell’s adaptation of Tommy, from the RWT Christmas special of 1975.
Neil Innes, as a godlike Superman, gets philosophical:
Previously on Dangerous Minds: