Monty Python and the Holy Grail, like most things the legendary Python troupe did, took shape in a gradual way, with lots of different sketch ideas left out of the finished product. Now, thanks to a new exhibit on the life and work of Python member Michael Palin, we can see a little of what might have been.
Last year Palin, who co-wrote the film and played Sir Galahad, turned his personal archives over to the British Library, including more than 50 notebooks full of ideas, rough drafts of sketches and other Python-related scribblings. Much of the archives have since been cataloged for the reading rooms, and select material will go on display later this month at an exhibit titled Michael Palin: Writer, Actor, Comedian. Among the items unearthed as part of the cataloguing were several unused sketches that could have been part of Holy Grail, according to The Times of London.
In one sketch, King Arthur (Graham Chapman) is attempting to cross a bridge that is guarded by the Pink Knight, rather than the Black Knight, who demands a kiss before anyone is allowed to cross. The scene was ultimately cut in favor of the Black Knight, who instead keeps losing limbs during a sword fight with Arthur before declaring, without arms and legs, that he can still fight. The Pink Knight sketch, written by Palin and fellow Python Terry Jones, may have come across as quite homophobic had it landed in the final film, but was actually intended to spoof outmoded attitudes about homosexuality in the same way the "come and see the violence inherent in the system" scene mocks the monarchy.
Another sketch featured a man stumbling into a Wild West bookshop searching for a beer, composed during a period when the Pythons had yet to narrow down the story of the film. In the end, according to Palin, "the story of the knights was enough." There's also writing on an alternate ending that would have featured Arthur and his knights battling the French in their castle, complete with another appearance by the killer rabbit. That scene was deemed too expensive, so the film instead got its now-famous abrupt ending that featured Arthur getting arrested by modern policemen.
“For me there’s lots of material in those boxes that I’ve not yet seen myself [since it was written]," Palin said. "It’s rather wonderful to hear them.”
Michael Palin: Writer, Actor, Comedian opens at the British Library August 7. You can read transcripts of some of the previously lost sketches here.