Monty Python and the Holy Grail Censorship Letter: We Want to Retain “Fart in Your General Direction”

Python Letter

If any­one could make toi­let humor fun­ny past the age of 14, it was Mon­ty Python. Min­ing equal­ly the halls of acad­e­mia and the grade school yard, there was no reg­is­ter too high or too low for the mas­ter­ful British satirists. And when it came time for them to release their sec­ond film in 1975—Arthurian spoof Mon­ty Python and the Holy Grail—the troop fought in vain to reach an audi­ence of all ages. Unlike today’s many rat­ings gra­da­tions, the British Board of Film Clas­si­fi­ca­tion (BBFC) then had a very sim­ple clas­si­fi­ca­tion sys­tem: AA for 14 and over, and A for ages 5–14. Hop­ing to increase the film’s audi­ence, pro­duc­er Mark Forstater wrote the let­ter above to fel­low pro­duc­er Michael White a few days after a Twick­en­ham screen­ing attend­ed by BBFC mem­ber Tony Ker­pel, who sug­gest­ed a few cuts to bring the film an A rat­ing.

In the let­ter, Forstater lists Kerpel’s rec­om­men­da­tions:

Lose as many shits as pos­si­ble
Take Jesus Christ out, if pos­si­ble
Lose “I fart in your gen­er­al direc­tion”
Lose “the oral sex”
Lose “oh, fuck off”
Lose “We make cas­tanets out of your tes­ti­cles”

Two of these lines you no doubt rec­og­nize as uttered by the obnox­ious mock­ing French guard the Grail questers encounter on their jour­ney. Played by John Cleese, the French­man gets some of the best lines in the film, includ­ing the offend­ing “fart” and “tes­ti­cles” bits (at 2:15 and 6:05 in the clip above). Forstater must have had a keen sense of just how funny—therefore how necessary—these lines were. In his sug­ges­tions to White, he writes,

I would like to get back to the Cen­sor and agree to lose the shits, take the odd Jesus Christ out and lose Oh fuck off, but to retain ‘fart in your gen­er­al direc­tion’, ‘cas­tanets of your tes­ti­cles’ and ‘oral sex’ and ask him for an ‘A’ rat­ing on that basis.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly for Britain’s Python-lov­ing kids and for the film’s investors, the AA rat­ing stuck, at least until 2006, when it was re-rat­ed for ages 12 and below in a the­atri­cal re-release. This by con­trast to its U.S. sta­tus, where the movie first scored a PG rat­ing and was lat­er upgrad­ed to PG-13 (which didn’t exist in 1975) for its Blu-ray release. Mon­ty Python and the Holy Grail has received a vari­ety of mature rat­ings in var­i­ous coun­tries and—we should men­tion, since it’s Banned Books Week—has been entire­ly banned in Malaysia.

Anoth­er com­e­dy team encoun­tered sim­i­lar dif­fi­cul­ties with film rat­ings. The South Park duo—similarly adept at pitch­ing pot­ty jokes to grown-ups—ended up with an R for the fea­ture length Big­ger, Longer & Uncut, though cen­sors orig­i­nal­ly want­ed an NC-17. See the cuts the MPAA rec­om­mend­ed for that film in Matt Stone’s leg­endary response memo to the rat­ings board and read the full tran­script of the Python let­ter at Let­ters of Note.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch All of Ter­ry Gilliam’s Mon­ty Python Ani­ma­tions in a Row

Mon­ty Python Sings “The Philosopher’s Song,” Reveal­ing the Drink­ing Habits of Great Euro­pean Thinkers

Clas­sic Mon­ty Python: Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw Engage in a Hilar­i­ous Bat­tle of Wits

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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Comments (3)
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  • Fred says:

    You know I can’t imag­ine a kid of the time lik­ing this movie. Heck I was in my ear­ly 20s and did­n’t under­stand lots of it. I thought it was fun­ny but in a kind strange way.

  • Pencils says:

    My mom let us watch this movie on HBO around ’77 or ’78, although she always made us leave when The Tale of Sir Gala­had start­ed. We were ages 14–10, approx­i­mate­ly, and absolute­ly loved the movie.

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