It took several more episodes before British critics felt able to respond with any opinions at all—most of them favorable. Sly one moment, infantile the next and outrageous through and through, the show was growing on audiences too. The cast members gained fame for their characters—Chapman as the bluff army colonel who interrupts sketches for being too "silly"; Idle as the inane TV commentator; Palin as the hermit who introduces each episode by uttering "It's..."; Jones as the nude organist; and Cleese as the tuxedo-clad announcer who intones "And now for something completely different." The show's upbeat theme song, John Philip Sousa's "Liberty Bell March," became so identified with the Pythons that British marching bands could no longer play it without getting laughs.
At first, the BBC adopted a hands-off policy regarding scripts and censorship, but with fame came increased scrutiny, particularly from a self-appointed watchdog of British morals named Mary Whitehouse. Thanks in part to her tireless crusade, the writers reined in some of the more eyebrow-raising sketches.
By the time reruns finally came to America in 1974, the show was gasping to a close in England. Cleese had left after three seasons, and the remaining cast soldiered on for an abbreviated fourth season. All six Pythons reunited frequently in films and onstage, performing their famous sketches and inventing ever stranger ones—but like the Beatles, they had become individual celebrities, pursuing their own film and TV projects. Even Chapman, who died of cancer in 1989, retains a solo career: a collection of his essays, Back to the Trees, will be published next fall.
Gradually the cast drifted apart. "I don't think we've been in a room together for four years," Cleese said last fall. Idle recently dismissed hope that the surviving Pythons would appear in the upcoming Broadway show, telling the Sunday Times of London: "We've discovered the less we do, the more people pay." And when Vanity Fair magazine tried to get them together for a photo shoot marking the 35th anniversary of the show this year, schedule conflicts made it impossible. Instead, said Idle, "we are to be photographed in different parts of the world and stuck together by computer." Which, come to think of it, sounds a lot like a Monty Python sketch.