Bird's Blancmange - From Skyron to your table.

Some of my favorite Monty Python sketches are the very long ones from season four. The Python team were beginning to test their ability to write long-form comedy, preparing to write their first movie script: Monty Python and the Holy Grail. These 28-minute sketches like Mr. Neutron and The Golden Age of Ballooning can be an acquired taste, but they reward the longer attention span with a slightly deeper look into the bizarre minds of the writers.

The most (in my opinion) accessible of the full-episode python sketches is the Science Fiction Sketch, more popularly known as The One About The Blancmanges (TOATB). It's a pretty broad sendup of American sci-fi movies with jokes that you don't need a degree in history to understand. John Cleese's American accent as the narrator starts as weird, if you've never heard a Brit trying to sound American, but once you get what he's doing, it's hilarious... "THAT'S how we sound to them?"

Anyway, the villains are, of course, blancmanges from the planet Skyron in the galaxy of Andromeda planning to win Wimbledon by turning all Englishmen into Scotsmen - well known (apparently) as the worst tennis-playing nation on Earth. An American would never know what a blancmange is if not for this sketch, I think. Cliffs notes version: a blancmange is a kind of weird fancy European pudding mold. Thanks to Python, I was one of maybe five guys in my high school (all dorks) who knew this at the age of fifteen. That's the benefit of being obsessed with something as literate and educated as Monty Python. You learn obscure stuff while simultaneously not scoring with girls. Whee.

This ad for Bird's Blancmange (pronounced "blaw-mawnzhe" - it helps if you have a canker sore on your tongue.) appeared in Picture Post magazine on September 22nd, 1951. When I first saw it (many many years later) I went like this: "Ooooooooooh!" because I had never seen a real blancmange before. I had only seen the wacky Python alien version. Finding this ad gave me a little bit of closure on the whole "WTF is a blancmange?" mystery in a way that looking up the word in a dictionary couldn't quite provide. Turns out the Pythons did a decent job with the shape. Are we to guess that there is a traditional shape for a blancmange? It seems so.

The magazine ad predates the Python sketch by about twenty years. That's pretty freaky. Monty Python was already history when I discovered it around 1983, and this magazine was already history when the TV episode was written. I don't know why, but that kind of blows my mind.

Gorgeous Photo in the ad, though. At first it looks like a painting, because of the hand-colored black and white photo, but it's still a photo. Know what makes desserty things look delicious? The highlights, or "specular" shading. That's what conveys the creaminess of the chocolate cream and the strawberry filling. If you get a job painting a dessert, take some extra time getting the shiny bits right.

I kind of want to try a blancmange sometime, just so I can say I did it. I'd probably have to go to England to find a proper one, or at least find a proper English person in America to make one for me. I hope they're good, because I'd hate to be rude by making a face. Knowing the English, he/she' probably be gracious and terribly polite about it if I couldn't choke the thing down. Gotta love the English.


Anonymous said...

So I was searching for info on Monty Python's blaw-mawnzhes when I found this page and discovered how to really spell blancmange and more importantly, discovered this very funny blog, which has brought sure-setting joy to my life. I thank serendipity and I thank you, PAG! Oh and I guess I should thank google but I don't feel like it.

Phil Are Go! said...

Hey, thanks for the high praise, Non Mouse! Any Python fan who find this blog funny is dishing out the compliments wholesale. I see we have a new follower. Is that you? Thanks for that, and if you could, please recommend P.A.G. to a friend or two. It doesn't make us money, but it makes the whole staff feel a little less foolish.

Check back (week)daily for more retro snark!


Anonymous said...

Hmmm... you are too clever... I might be the new follower, but I kinda like the idea of being Non Mouse.

And yes, I have recommended PAG to my friends, so if you don't see a significant uptick in traffic, then I will have no choice but to vigorously participate in Jimmy Kimmel's "National Unfriend Day" on Nov 17 and remove any humor-challenged 'friends' from my lists. They have been warned.

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