'Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!'

I'm a big fan of Monty Python's Flying Circus. I first saw the BBC comedy when it appeared on American TV in the early 1970s. One of the notable sketches was a parody of the Spanish Inquisition. First broadcast in February 1970, the sketch repeated the catchphrase, "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!"

From left: Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam
As the narrator put it: "In the early years of of 16th century, to combat the rising tide of religious unorthodoxy, the Pope gave Cardinal Ximénez of Spain leave to move without let or hindrance throughout the land, in a reign of violence, terror and torture that makes a smashing film. This was the Spanish Inquisition."

The sketch begins with Cardinal Ximénez (Michael Palin) entering the torture chamber accompanied by two other red-clad assistants, Cardinal Biggles (Terry Jones) and Cardinal Fang (Terry Gilliam). Cardinal Ximénez shouts, "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!"

With apologies to Monty Python, I present herewith my additions of the sketch, using handsome naked men as characters in the skit. I mean, we are looking to see naked men. Enjoy.

The sketch begins.

Cardinal Ximénez: "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise … surprise and fear! … Our two weapons are fear and surprise … and a ruthless efficiency! … Our three weapons are fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope! … Our four, no--amongst our chief weapons, amongst our weaponry, are such elements as fear, surprise …"

The cardinal gives up, leaving the room and quickly returning to start afresh. Cardinal Fang tells Lady Mountbank, "You are hereby charged that you did on diverse dates commit heresy against the Holy Church. My old man said follow the …"

Cardinal Biggles interrupts, demanding to Lady Mountbank, "How do you plead?"

Professing innocence, Ximénez orders Lady Mountbank to be tortured by the rack. Lacking the actual instrument of torture, the cardinals shamefacedly resort to using a plastic-coated dish-drying rack.

After an abrupt change to an entirely different scene, the skit returns, with Lady Mountbank replaced with a new victim, known only as "the Old Woman." Ximénez accuses her of "heresy by thought, heresy by word, heresy by deed and heresy by action … Do you confess?" He then directs Biggles to bring out the next instrument of torture: the cushions.

"Confess! Confess! Confess!" demands Ximénez. When that fails, he helpfully asks his assistants, "Have you got all of the stuffing up on one end?" Ximénez then resorts to a new torture instrument. He directs Cardinal Fang to subject the Old Woman to the comfy chair.

When that fails, Cardinal Ximénez calls for yet another torture method: "Only a cup of coffee at 11 o'clock." He directs that the torture be made worse "by shouting a lot."

From here the show wanders, as most Monty Python sketches do. Eventually, toward the end of the show, the action turns to Old Bailey, the London court, where a defendant is facing trial. Suddenly the defendant exclaims to the court, "Blimey, I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition!" The whole court rises, expecting to see the red-clad cardinals rushing through the door. Instead, as the credits roll, the cardinals still are racing through traffic on a double-decker bus, trying to reach Old Bailey. Finally, at the last moment, Cardinal Ximénez bursts in the courtroom, breathlessly, to sputter, "Nobody expects the Spa .. oh, bugger."

Exuent omnes.

Well, I guess you had to be there.

No, you really do. You must see not only the Spanish Inquisition sketch but also the rest of Monty Python's offerings. It was edgy comedy--and unbelievably funny--for its time. The skits were fast-paced, weaving in and out, sometimes with no logic or pattern. The troupe's subsequent films, "And Now for Something Completely Different," "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," "The Life of Brian" and "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life," remain comedy classics. Its works spawned stage and cabaret shows, including Second City TV and other improvisational comedy troupes. More recently it led to the 2005 Broadway show, "Spamalot," which won three Tony Awards.

If you haven't seen "The Spanish Inquisition," "The Parrot Sketch," the "Ministry of Silly Walks" or a "The Lumberjack Song," grab a DVD for entire a series of half-hour programs or check out clips on You Tube. For younger viewers the show may seem a bit dated, but remember this was 1970, just a decade after the vacuous "Ozzie and Harriet" and "Leave It to Beaver" dominated American television. Monty Python chucked all of that aside and laid the groundwork for much of today's irreverent comedy.

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