Happy birthday to the following letter, written on this day in 1974. It will forever hold a special place in my heart not just because it’s very funny, but also because eight years ago, to my complete and utter surprise, it was read aloud by the late, great Terry Jones at the launch party for the first Letters of Note book1. I didn’t even know he’d been invited and I’d never met him, and yet there he was, standing on a little stage in a swanky London bar, reading this letter to all of us, and as I grinned from ear to ear I thought, “It can’t get better than this.”
In August of 1974, eight months prior to its cinema release, a preview screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail—a painfully funny parody of the legend of King Arthur and the Python team’s second feature film—was attended by a member of the British Board of Film Classification, Tony Kerpel, who was there to offer some feedback in relation to its eventual rating. After the credits had rolled, an informal chat took place between Kerpel and one of the film’s producers, Mark Forstater, which resulted in this highly amusing letter being sent to fellow producer Michael White a few days later—its subject: dialogue cuts.
The Censor’s representative, Tony Kerpel, came along to Friday’s screening at Twickenham and he gave us his opinion of the film’s probable certificate.
He thinks the film will be AA, but it would be possible, given some dialogue cuts, to make the film an A rating, which would increase the audience. (AA is 14 and over, and A is 5 – 14).
For an ‘A’ we would have to:
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”
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.
Please let me know as soon as possible your attitude to this.
It’s worth mentioning that this letter doesn’t even feature in the first Letters of Note book. But he read it anyway. And thank god he did.