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Show us the Messiah! Torquay lifts its ban on Monty Python's Life of Brian


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It regularly tops polls for the funniest film ever made, yet for almost three decades Monty Python's Life of Brian has remained out of bounds to residents of Torquay.


Organisers of a comedy film festival in the seaside resort next week have been obliged to get special dispensation after discovering that the film was still on the local authority's blacklist, 28 years after its release.


The film, which starred the late Graham Chapman as Brian “He's not the Messiah” Cohen, with John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, was attacked by Christian leaders when it came out for allegedly lampooning Jesus.


Chapman played a character mistaken for the Messiah, whose life curiously paralleled that of Jesus. The Monty Python team insisted that it was a send-up of religious obsession and Hollywood Bible epics of the 1950s, but cinemas that showed the film were picketed and 11 local authorities decided to ban it.


A further 28, including Torquay, gave it an X certificate, which meant that it could be seen only by over-18s. As the film's distributors refused to allow it to be shown with this certificate, Life of Brian was effectively banned in those towns as well.


That the ban in Torquay had never been rescinded came to light only when Adrian Sanders, the Liberal Democrat MP for Torbay, was talking to the organisers of the English Riviera International Comedy Film Festival, which was due to show Life of Brian as one of its highlights.


Mr Sanders, now 49, had been among the hundreds of young people in Torbay in 1980 who joined the exodus heading for the nearby town of Newton Abbot, where Life of Brian was being screened.


Officials at Torbay Council, which covers the towns of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham, were hurriedly forced to check back through dusty piles of minutes to confirm the ban. They eventually concluded, however, that subsequent legislation meant it no longer applied.


Life of Brian remains banned by a number of authorities. In July, the Mayor of Aberystwyth, Sue Jones-Davies, who played Brian's girlfriend in the film, discovered that it was still banned in her own town. She announced her intention to have the ban lifted but ran into immediate opposition from local church leaders.


Canon Stuart Bell, vicar of St Michael's in Aberystwyth, said: “If someone was going to make fun of my wife in a film then I would oppose that. Making fun of Jesus Christ, whom I love more than my wife, in a film is going to offend me.”


The cultural historian Robert Hewison has written a book, Monty Python: The Case Against, recording attempts to have Life of Brian kept out of the cinemas.


He said: “It had a particularly bad time in the West Country. The Bishop of Bath and Wells and the Roman Catholic Bishop of Clifton together with the Methodists and the United Reformed Church wrote to every council in the West Country urging them to ban it.”


Roger Saunders, the manager of the surviving Pythons company, Python (Monty) Ltd, which owns the rights to the Python films and television series, said they were ecstatic that Life of Brian was no longer banned in Torbay, even though they were not aware that it had been.


The blue pencil



Tod Browning's 1932 film about members of a circus and its sideshows was twice banned in Britain. It finally received a certificate in 1932


The Wild One

Marlon Brando's now famous performance as the disenchanted leader of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club was banned twice by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). It received an X certificate in 1967


The Last House on the Left

Horror director Wes Craven's first film was banned in Britain for 28 years and received an uncut release only this year


The Texas Chainsaw Massacre

Banned in 1975 by the BBFC, it was cleared for limited release in London by the Greater London Council. Not until 1999 did it gain a nationwide, uncut release


Visions of Ecstasy

This film about Saint Teresa of Avila was refused a certificate over blasphemous content in 1989. It remains the only film banned in Britain for blasphemy



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