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“Do Not Adjust Your Stocking”: Terry Gilliam’s “The Christmas Card” from 1968
In 2015, Dangerous Minds shared with their readers one of Terry Gilliam’s cutout animations, which originally aired on the subversive little British TV show for kids, “Do Not Adjust Your Set,” on Christmas day, 1968, on a special program called “Do Not Adjust Your Stocking.”
Filmmaker Terry Gilliam had moved to London in 1967 and he began working as an art director for London Life.
He eventually found work doing animated shorts for TV shows like “Do Not Adjust Your Set” — subtitled “The Fairly Pointless Show” — which featured the work of a group of previously unknown comedic actors including Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones, and John Cleese, whom Gilliam had worked with before, in the U.S., at Help!, a satire-rich adult-themed humor magazine run by former MAD Magazine honcho Harvey Kurtzman.
(The future Monty Python star had appeared in one their fumettis (illustrated with photographs rather than drawings), which we told you about here.)
As Dangerous Minds’s post pointed out, Gilliam told writer Paul Wardle — in an interview which is included in the informative volume Terry Gilliam: Interviews — that he was lucky to have met a TV producer like Humphrey Barclay, who had “an acute eye for illustrating talent”:
“John [Cleese] had established himself in television, and he introduced me to a guy named Humphrey Barclay, who was a producer. What he was producing at the time was a show called ‘Do Not Adjust Your Set,’ a children’s show that Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and Eric Idle were writing and performing. The great thing was that Humphrey was an amateur cartoonist. What he liked more than the written material that I was offering him were my cartoons. So he took pity on me and bought a couple of my written sketches, and forced them on Mike, Terry, and Eric, much to their chagrin, because it was their show. Then this loud-mouthed loud-dressing American turns up and starts invading their pitch.”
Mike Springer at Open Culture describes the origins of this humorous piece in more detail in an earlier post:
In The Pythons: Autobiography by the Pythons, Gilliam remembered the project and how it figured into his emerging artistic style:
“I went down to the Tate and they’ve got a huge collection of Victorian Christmas cards so I went through the collection and photocopied things and started moving them around. So the style just developed out of that rather than any planning being involved. I never analysed the stuff, I just did it the quickest, easiest way. And I could use images I really loved.”
In addition to being aired on the special seasonal show, “The Christmas Card” was incorporated into Gilliam’s short debut film from 1968, Storytime. Gilliam would soon become responsible for giving “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” its unique visual style. He would later direct a number of memorable films, including Brazil, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Time Bandits, and 12 Monkeys, among many others.