Their first effort, the Big Red Book, may have invented the TV comedy picture book as a genre (if not quite, as Python’s main literary driving force Eric Idle claimed, the entire Christmas book market), but the second go round had more money, more anticipation, and best of all, bags more ideas. The invention began with the dust jacket, authentically printed with grubby fingerprints on its pristine white surface, encouraging bookshops to either send them back – and receive more soiled books by return of post – or attempt to display them without the jackets, thus uncovering the salacious montage above. Used to being kicked about the schedules by the Beeb, the Pythons were in no mood to make friends with the book trade.
Inside, there were more fancy tricks – a false school library card, two pull-out pamphlets and an attempt to beat the record for the most words ever on one page (failed). The tone was all over the shop, from the bewilderingly drab (How to Become a Segas Employee) to the, er, unforgettable sight of Graham Chapman’s ‘Right to Mast’ campaign. Michael Palin worried that the filthy stuff was in danger of overtaking the book, but it works like the Python shows at their best – an abrupt and delightfully bizarre change of gear every other page. Dozens of imitators followed in its wake, many great on their own terms, but the comedy book never got better than this.