10 best Monty Python sketches

As Monty Python return to Gold with Monty Python's Best Bits (Mostly) and brand new documentary The Meaning Of Live, we take a look at the definitive list of the best Python sketches. Yes it is. (No it isn't.) Yes it is.

10 best Monty Python sketches

The Ministry of Silly Walks (1970)

A civil servant is on his way to work. Nothing too interesting about that, except this particular civil servant high-kicks, jiggles, trots and slightly dances his way down the street. Then the camera zooms in on the sign outside his place of work and all is revealed. We are at the Ministry of Silly Walks, where grants are handed out to encourage the creation of brand new silly walks. They do have to VERY silly, mind you.

What's so good about it?

It's the contrast between silliness and sobriety that makes this an iconic sketch. In his suit and bowler hat, John Cleese is the very image of a bland, stiff-upper-lipped civil servant, looking absolutely unruffled and unembarrassed as he flails and twists his way across the screen. Cleese's long-legged, stick insect frame has never been put to better use.

The Lumberjack Song (1969)

Accompanied by his swooning wife and a chorus of Canadian mounties, Michael Palin delivers a joyous ode to the pleasures of being a manly, rugged lumberjack. It's all going so well until his lyrics reveal that, when he's not "leaping from tree to tree", he indulges his other hobby: wearing supenders, bras and high heels. He wishes he'd been a girlie, you see. Just like his dear papa.

What's so good about it?

Palin is pure perfection as the innocently smiling lumberjack who proudly proclaims his penchant for crossdressing, much to everyone else's horror. But it's the lyrics that make it genius – especially the immortal lines "I put on women's clothing / and hang around in bars". Incredibly, this whole bit was scribbled out in about 15 minutes, because the Pythons couldn't figure out how to round off a previous sketch.

The Dead Parrot Sketch (1969)

A disgruntled gentleman returns to a shop where he purchased a parrot "not half an hour ago". The parrot, it seems, is dead – which is quite a design flaw in a prospective pet. The shopkeeper stubbornly insists the parrot is alive, even when it gets thwacked on the counter and dropped to the floor by the customer. The bird is, as it turns out, "bleedin' demised". Still, beautiful plummage, that Norwegian Blue.

What's so good about it?

Monty Python's single most famous sketch contains no actual jokes – it works purely because of the mounting absurdity of the dialogue, with Michael Palin's shopkeeper insisting that the clearly dead bird is "stunned" or "pining for the fjords", while Cleese equally insists that "this is an ex-parrot". And he's not going to be fobbed off with a non-talking slug either.

The Funniest Joke in the World (1969)

A man writes a joke so funny, it will make you die laughing. So he promptly dies laughing. Soon the authorities realise the awesome power of the joke and use it in World War Two against the Germans. Translators have to work on it one word each for greater safety – "one of them saw two words of the joke and spent several weeks in hospital". Don't worry, though. Joke warfare has since been officially banned by the Geneva Convention.

What's so good about it?

This sketch takes a brilliant idea to brilliantly ludicrous extremes. The best bit? Perhaps the military training exercise where the joke is mounted on a sign and unveiled at a distant soldier who immediately collapses, proving the joke's "devastating effectiveness at a range of up to 50 yards". Who says war isn't funny?

Hell's Grannies (1969)

"This used to be a nice neighborhood before the old ladies started moving in. Nowadays some of us daren't even go down to the shops." Those are the words of one terrified bystander as his area is overrun by leering, swaggering, ultraviolent grannies. Pension day's the worst, though. "As soon as they get their hands on their money they blow it all on milk, bread, tea, tin of meat for the cat." Shocking.

What's so good about it?

A perfect parody of urban panic, this takes the idea of shifty young troublemakers (or hoodies, as we know them today) and turns it on its head. And it's not like the Pythons are ever going to turn down an excuse to dress up as old ladies.

The Restaurant Sketch (1969)

Settling down for a meal at a fine restaurant, a couple notice one of the forks is a little dirty and politely request a replacement. It's no big deal, just a slightly dirty fork, but the waiter immediately starts begging for forgiveness before the manager comes over and has an emotional meltdown. As the diners look on in confusion, the chef then emerges in a rage, and a scene of horror and carnage unfolds.

What's so good about it?

It's the transition to out-and-out madness that makes this unforgettable. A mild request for a fork triggers the sort of lethal mayhem you'd expect to see at the end of a Shakespeare tragedy. After the manager stabs himself to death and the chef wails "He's dead! They killed him!", we get the fantastically cheesy punchline: "Lucky we didn't say anything about the dirty knife."

The Argument Sketch (1972)

A chap enters a clinic and pays to have an argument. He's directed to one of the rooms, where another fellow obliges him by contradicting everything he says. Which isn't really an argument. Yes it is. No it isn't. Yes it is. No it isn't.

What's so good about it?

Palin and Cleese are at their best as the incredulous argument seeker and the aloof argument provider. Aside from the amusing absurdity of the whole thing, the sketch is also a rather cunning exploration of what actually does and does not constitute an argument. It's a "connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition", don't you know.

The Philosophers' Football Match (1972)

Greece take on Germany in a football match like no other. For the Greeks, we've got the likes of Archimedes and Socrates, while such monumental thinkers as Nietzsche and Kant show off their dribbling skills in the German squad. Karl Marx is brought in as a substitute part of the way through, and demonstrates admirable knowledge of the offside rule. Which is more than we can say for many refs who've graced the game since.

What's so good about it?

This could easily have been clever-clogs Sixth Form humour, but what makes it great is how convincing it is – from the scratchy footage of the philosophers running around the pitch to the frantic, realistic sports commentary. Plus, there's just something really funny about seeing people in togas playing football.

Upper Class Twit of the Year (1970)

A bit like Crufts for poshos, the 127th Upper Class Twit of the Year Show sees a number of horsey-faced competitors getting stuck into rounds including Kicking the Begger, Insulting the Waiter and Taking the Bras Off the Debutantes. It's basically the Bullingdon Club, only slightly less annoying.

What's so good about it?

In anyone else's hands, the class satire here would be too obvious and heavy-handed. But the typical Python silliness makes it wonderful – especially when we're introduced to competitors such as Simon Zinc-Trumpet-Harris ("married to a very attractive table lamp") and Gervaise Brook-Hampster, whose father uses him as a wastepaper basket.

The Bishop (1970)

A parody of classic shows like The Saint and Ironside, The Bishop stars the "Reverent E.P. Nesbitt" as a crime-busting clergyman, with "F.B. Gromsby-Urquhart-Wright" as the Voice of God. Lots of priests die, and there's an exploding baby in there somewhere as well.

What's so good about it?

An underrated Python sketch, this, probably because it doesn't have the usual surrealism. Instead, it's a great mickey take of cheesy crime shows – the title sequence of The Bishop literally COULD BE from a silly 70s drama. And you've got to love the credits, which include "Special Effects by the Moderator of the Church of the Scotland". Who needs Pixar?