Just about everything I know about British culture I learned from watching “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” I could go on and on about my favorite sketches, but the one common thread I noticed in them was how often all the comic gentlemen were dressed in drag.
I believe at some point all the Python guys — John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam — donned women’s clothing. Needless to say, they looked silly and preposterous. But over the years, I began to think that all British women were really men. I know it’s wrong. I know there are many real women like Kate Winslet and Keira Knightley who easily dispel that notion with their breathtaking beauty. Some perceptions die hard.
But then along came Camilla Parker-Bowles. On Saturday, she married Prince Charles. It was a lavish event, although it wasn't anything like Charles’ first marriage to the late Diana Spencer in 1981. That was a storybook affair, with horse-drawn carriages, 3,500 esteemed guests and a television audience estimated at close to one billion.
That wedding was really the first time I started to have doubts about the Python Factor. Lady Diana was so lovely, so innocent, so delicate and feminine, that it was impossible for me to imagine that she was really Chapman in a dress, the “lady” who once asked a waitress in a restaurant, “Have you got anything without Spam?”
Say no more, say no more ...Unfortunately, I don’t have that problem with Camilla, which is why Charles’ second wedding seems like such a hilariously pale imitation of the first. Whereas his marriage to Diana contained a fairy-tale element that had millions of teary-eyed onlookers enraptured, this one is sure to cause the world to bust a collective gut and pundits to exclaim, “Nudge, nudge. Know what I mean?”
I fear I am once again in the grip of the Python Factor.
On Saturday, a civil ceremony at Windsor Town Hall lasting approximately 30 minutes — in front of just 30 guests — united the couple, and a service of prayer and dedication followed at St. George’s Chapel. During the latter, Charles and Camilla acknowledged their “sins and wickedness” in front of the Archbishop of Canterbury. This will take place because Charles committed adultery with Camilla while he was still married to Diana.
This made me recall another member of the Python troupe, Carol Cleveland, a real woman who was a former Playboy bunny. Charles committing adultery with Camilla was akin to Cleese tossing aside the buxom Cleveland and making a play for Gilliam dressed in a wig, bonnet and paisley dress. If I were Charles, I would want to atone for that, too.
This is not to be mean to Camilla, who I am sure will represent the royal family with dignity and honor. But I’m not the only one who has noticed her lack of radiance. Diana herself used to refer to Camilla as “The Rottweiler.”
I don’t remember a Rottweiler in any Python sketches, but I do recall Spiny Norman the giant hedgehog, who used to peer around corners of buildings while stalking a fellow named Dinsdale. That is not radically different from the way Camilla went after Charles while he was married to Diana. On their honeymoon, Diana figured it was a bad omen when she saw two photos of Camilla fall out of Charles’ diary. At first, she examined them and thought, “Why does Charles have two photos of Eric Idle in his diary?” Then she looked closer — a lot closer — before determining the truth.
Because she is following Diana, a beloved figure in the United Kingdom and around the world, Camilla is taking most of the heat for these nuptials, and it will probably be a while before doubters relent and accept her. But Charles shouldn’t go unscathed.
The Python gang did a skit called, “Upperclass Twit of the Year.” The competition included a jump over a matchbox, the kicking of a beggar and the shooting of rabbits that are tied to the ground. If you’ve ever seen Charles ride a horse, you have to believe that the the Pythons’ “Twit” was at least partially inspired by the Prince. Camilla’s first responsibility as his wife is to make sure he’s always pointed in the right direction.
Now that I think more about it, most of the women in the royal family resemble Python members in dresses. The Python boys created recurring characters known as the Pepperpots, a bunch of housewives who rode the buses and watched the telly. I have to believe that Charles took in a lot of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” when he was a young man, and arrived at the same conclusion I did initially: most British women look like men in drag.
It’s not true, of course. But that’s why the Diana thing was doomed from the start. He didn’t need a precious porcelain doll for a wife. He longed for a Pepperpot.
He watched Mrs. Premise and Mrs. Conclusion discuss the burying of dead cats and Jean-Paul Sartre in a laundromat and exclaimed, “There’s the life for me!” He realized that the solution to labor strikes in Britain is to send in a flock of Pepperpots and have them beat the slothful workers with umbrellas and handbags. He heard a Pepperpot confirm how nine out of 10 British housewives couldn’t tell the difference between Whizzo butter and a dead crab and realized that’s the kind of woman he needed.
I just hope this time matrimony agrees with Charles. His last marriage felt like the Spanish Inquisition.
Michael Ventre lives in Los Angeles and is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.