Monty Python’s Flying Circus is a British surreal sketch comedy series created by and starring the comedy group Monty Python, consisting of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam, aka the "Pythons". The first episode was recorded at the BBC on 7 September and premiered on 5 October 1969 on BBC1, with 45 episodes airing over four series from 1969 to 1974, plus two episodes for German TV.
The series stands out for its use of absurd situations, mixed with risqué and innuendo-laden humour, sight gags and observational sketches without punchlines. Live action segments were broken up with animations by Gilliam, often merging with the live action to form segues. The overall format used for the series followed and elaborated upon the style used by Spike Milligan in his ground breaking series Q5, rather than the traditional sketch show format. The Pythons play the majority of the series characters themselves, along with supporting cast members including Carol Cleveland (referred to by the team as the unofficial "Seventh Python"), Connie Booth (Cleese's first wife), series producer Ian MacNaughton, Ian Davidson, musician Neil Innes, and Fred Tomlinson and the Fred Tomlinson Singers for musical numbers.
The programme came about as the six Pythons, having met each other through university and in various radio and television programmes in the 1960s, sought to make a new sketch comedy show unlike anything else on British television at the time. Much of the humour in the series's various episodes and sketches targets the idiosyncrasies of British life, especially that of professionals, as well as aspects of politics. Their comedy is often pointedly intellectual, with numerous erudite references to philosophers and literary figures and their works. The team intended their humour to be impossible to categorise, and succeeded (although, by their perspective, failed) so completely that the adjective "Pythonesque" was invented to define it and, later, similar material. However, their humour was not always seen as appropriate for television by the BBC, leading to some censorship during the third series. Cleese left the show following that series, and the remaining Pythons completed a final shortened fourth season before ending the show.
The show became very popular in the United Kingdom, and after initially failing to draw an audience in the United States, gained American popularity after Public Broadcasting Service affiliates began airing the show in 1974. The success on both sides of the Atlantic led to the Pythons going on live tours and creating three additional films, while the individual Pythons flourished in solo careers. Monty Python's Flying Circus has become an influential work on comedy as well the ongoing popular culture.