Piranha Brothers


Piranha Brothers

"Piranha Brothers" is a Monty Python sketch, first seen in Series 2, Episode 1 (Face the Press) of Monty Python's Flying Circus, originally transmitted on September 15, 1970. The premise is a BBC current affairs documentary, inexplicably entitled Ethel the Frog, covering the exploits of the fictional brothers Doug and Dinsdale Piranha, who employed a combination of "violence and sarcasm" to intimidate the London underworld and bring the city to its knees. The sketch constitutes a pastiche of the real life story of the Kray twins, famous gangsters in the East End of London in the 1950s and 1960s. Doug and Dinsdale Piranha were loosely based on Reggie and Ronnie Kray, and the policeman who pursued them, Harry "Snapper" Organs, was loosely based on the policeman who led the investigation against the Krays, Detective Superintendent Leonard "Nipper" Read.

The sketch is introduced by a piece of music (the Intermezzo from Sibelius's Karelia Suite) which was used for many years, until 1992, to introduce the Thames Television (and previously Associated-Rediffusion and Rediffusion London) current affairs series This Week.

Summary

Doug and Dinsdale Piranha were born, on probation, in the slums of London, in 1929. Doug was born in February that year, and Dinsdale two weeks later, and again the week after that. Their father, Arthur Piranha, was a TV quizmaster and scrapmetal dealer who was well known to the police and a devout Catholic, who in January 1928 had married Kitty Malone, an up and coming East End boxer. Doug and Dinsdale were found too mentally unbalanced even for National Service, and became extortionists, running a protection racket after several false starts. Having acquired enough money, the Piranha Brothers formed a gang which they called "The Gang". They proceeded to use terror to take over (among other things) night clubs, billiard halls, gaming casinos and race tracks, failing only to acquire the MCC. It is said that Dinsdale was a gentleman; he bought his mother flowers and that he knew how to treat a female impersonator. Despite a jaw-dropping violent streak (including nailing people's heads to the floor and to coffee tables, and screwing people's pelvises to cake stands), he was beloved by everyone who knew him, most considering him "a cruel man, but fair". The local chief constable was in his employ, and would help him threaten others with a thermonuclear device. Dinsdale also possessed a tank. Known associates of the Piranhas included American musical stars, aristocrats, a man named Kierkegaard who bit the heads off whippets and other gang leaders.

Doug, on the other hand, was the most feared man in the London underworld. Luigi Vercotti, a pimp, claims to have seen grown men pull their own heads off rather than speak to Doug – indeed, even Dinsdale feared Doug. This was largely due to his merciless use of sarcasm, dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes and satire. Many of those menaced by the Piranha Brothers denied any ill will toward them, terrified into compliance with a code of silence.

Dinsdale was deeply afraid of Spiny Norman, an (apparently) imaginary hedgehog who, he believed, lived in a hangar at Luton Airport and who "was wont to be about twelve feet from "snout to tail", (one version states "about twelve feet from "tip of his snout to his anus"); when Dinsdale was depressed, Norman could be anything up to eight hundred yards long." Spiny Norman (created by animator Terry Gilliam) appeared in this sketch growling "Dinsdale!" while towering over London landmarks such as Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square; the giant hedgehog made brief reappearances in two later episodes.

The Piranhas operated their extortion racket for years, brazenly and without fear of reprisal. However, Dinsdale's fear of Spiny Norman proved to be their undoing, as he decided to solve the problem once and for all by detonating his nuclear device at Luton Airport in February 1966. After this, even the Police sat up and took notice of them.

The brothers were finally captured by Superintendent Harry 'Snapper' Organs (played by Terry Jones) of Q Division, who pursued them in a series of disguises including Blind Pew from Treasure Island, the Earl of Gloucester from King Lear, Sancho Panza from Man of La Mancha, and Ratty from Toad of Toad Hall, but these performances were met with lukewarm critical reception. However, the Piranha Brothers later escaped, and presumably returned to their life of absurd crime.

A slightly re-worked version of the sketch also appeared on the album Another Monty Python Record, which opened by announcing that the brothers had recently been sentenced to 400 years imprisonment for crimes of violence. In addition to Doug's wide repertoire of sarcasm, hyperbole is also included. Rather than nuke Luton Airport, the brothers are said to have napalmed Cheltenham. This version ends with one of the Piranha Brothers interrupting the recording and "accidentally" scratching the record, causing a continuous loop in the album's run out groove. An almost word-for-word transcript appeared in Monty Python's Big Red Book.

Origins

The sketch is inspired by the real-life story of London gangsters the Kray twins, although the Piranhas' methods seem to resemble more closely those used by the Richardson Gang and their associate "Mad" Frankie Fraser. Spiny Norman is a subtle reference to the notorious former head of the London Drug Squad, Detective Sergeant Norman Pilcher, while Superintendent Harry 'Snapper' Organs is a reference to Inspector Leonard "Nipper" Read.

References


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