Did you know that Michael Jackson developed his trademark “Moonwalk” from when he saw the Monty Python sketch “Ministry of Silly Walks” as a child.
The sketch as originally depicted in the series begins with John Cleese, playing a nameless civil servant who, after purchasing The Times from the general store/newsagent in the previous sketch, walks through the streets of London in a very peculiar manner. He eventually arrives at his place of business – The Ministry of Silly Walks. In the hallway he passes other employees all exhibiting their own silly walks before arriving at his office. (The Hollywood Bowl performance omits this preamble). Once there, he finds a man waiting for him – one Mr. Putey (Michael Palin) and apologizes for the delay, explaining that his walk has become particularly silly of late and it takes longer for him to reach his destination.
Putey, explaining that he has a silly walk he wishes to develop with grant money, demonstrates his walk which, to Cleese, is not particularly silly. He tells Putey that he does not believe the Ministry can help him, as his walk is not silly enough, and funding is short. The government, he explains, is supposed to give equally to Defence, Social Security, Health, Housing, Education and Silly Walks, but recently spent less on Silly Walks than on national defence. After a visit by Mrs. Twolumps (see below) Cleese shows Mr. Putey a film with silly walks. (The segment is a parody of early 20th century cinema, complete with Michael Palin dressed up as Little Tich; this film is also shown as part of the Hollywood Bowl performance of the sketch) After he tosses the projector off stage, Cleese offers Mr. Putey a grant that will allow him to work on the Anglo-French Silly Walk, La Marche Futile (an obvious parody of the Concorde’s Anglo-French development), which is then demonstrated by a man (Terry Jones) dressed in a mixture of stereotypical English and French outfits, with a sped-up version of La Marseillaise played over the top.
There is a brief appearance during the sketch by Mrs Twolumps, presumably the Minister’s secretary, bringing in coffee with full silly walk (played by Carol Cleveland in the Hollywood Bowl version). As she enters, the cups fall all over the tray, completely spilling their contents. The Minister looks at the tray, says “Thank you, lovely” and she exits again, taking the tray with her, complete with upended cups. In the Hollywood Bowl version, Carol Cleveland accidentally (or possibly intentionally) hops next to Cleese and spills some of the coffee on him during the sketch.
As the years went by amid repeated requests to do the sketch, Cleese found it increasingly difficult to perform these walks. He’d say, when told about a new Python Tour, “I’m not doing silly walks.”
In the book The Pythons, members of the troupe indicated that they considered the whole scene nothing more than pure silliness. Cleese in particular seems disheartened that so many fans consider it the troupe’s “best” sketch.