Life Before Monty Python
When I was in high school in the late 80's, American PBS broadcast Monty Python's Flying Circus late at night. Watching the landmark show in the wee hours seemed secret, seditious. Even though at that point the series was nearly 20 years old, I'd never seen anything like it. I devoured every episode, somehow avoiding being one of those people who quotes long passages aloud (I reserve that for Firesign Theater); but I had the series and movies practically memorized.
Being a huge fan of Python, I became interested in the group's origins. Python was a comedy Big Bang, influencing every aspect of comedy for years after, but this comedic singularity had to come from somewhere. Actually it came from two places.
Different members of the Python team created and performed two different shows that point unmistakably toward what was to come. Comedy program "At Last The 1948 Show", who's title was a sly reference to the BBC's tendency to let shows sit on the shelf for too long. The other was "Do Not Adjust Your Set" - ostensibly a children's show, but its increasingly bizarre humor (The Bonzo Dog Band handled weekly music duties, including the performance of a little ditty called "Death Cab For Cutie") attracted many adult fans.
Both series were considered lost for decades, but have been reissued on DVD with bonus interviews and the like. The performances are more typical of the light entertainment of the day, but you can see the germ of the Python's eventual goal of creating a stream-of- consciousness comedy show with no punchlines. You might have to slow down your internal clock a little since these do not yet have the blistering pace of the later Python stuff, but it's great to have a glimpse into the monochromatic primordial soup that begat such brilliant and enduring comedy.
Below are links to both the Amazon pages and Ebay listings for these DVD sets. Ebay seems to be the least expensive route, but some people prefer Amazon - so here are both!