In honor of April Fools Day and National Humor Month, here’s a look series that I originally ran in 2014 on the “props” of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
The Prop: The Black Bowler Hat
Right! Let’s start simple this week with the classic black bowler hat. The round, felt hat dates back to 1849, when it was created for British politician Edward Coke. The headwear was later indicative of the British upper echelon; a group which was often the target of ridicule by the boys of Python.
The hat often topped of the costume of the proper Brit, and was featured in several episodes, most notably the 1971 sketch “Ministry of Silly Walks.” One of the Python’s most famous sketches, John Cleese wore the bowler as a civil servant for the Ministry of Silly Walks, issuing grants for those wishing to develop their own silly walk. This was a jab at what seemed to be an abundance of government agencies handing out grant moneys to just about anything.
The sketch remains one of Monty Python’s most popular, and images of Cleese were often seen with the signature bowler and carrying a brief case, while taking his large lanky strides. Artists and graphic designers have also had a field day making parody images of one this walk.
Recently, however, Cleese said he wasn’t all that crazy about the sketch, and had found it harder and harder to perform. When the troupe reunited for a live performance in 2014, it included a dance routine called “The Silly Walks Song,” where dancers (not actual Python members) mimicked Cleese’s strides in honor of the classic sketch.
Where to find it: For a genuine bowler (known in the United States as a Derby), expect to spend a little bit for a quality hat. Village Hat Shop has several styles of bowlers and derbys of various colors, but the basic black will run from around $35, for up to $335 for a Christy’s of London-made fur felt hat. A top line Stetson derby will run nearly $185 from sites like Fedoras.com.
As for images of the sketch itself, Ministry of Silly Walks-inspired clocks, watches, t-shirts, jewelry and posters are available on Amazon, Think Geek, Red Bubble, AllPosters.com, Etsy and other sites.
There’s even a great how-to image of how do to the Silly Walk found on Wikipedia, and a wonderful tutorial, along with a printable template on building your own silly walk clock, can be found on the blog Scribbles & Such.
Now, once you get that bowler, you’ll can properly perfect the walk.
Unless, of course, it is entirely too silly.