Tue, Aug 23, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Plenty of coconuts to play with on Monty Python day

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Jim Caldwell is used to visitors to Doune castle acting a little oddly as they get behind the battlements of the 14th century Scottish keep.

"They usually play with their coconuts," says Caldwell, a castle steward for Historic Scotland. "Sometimes they bring their own coconut shells. Mostly, they borrow ours."

Coconut shells have been a fixture behind the castle reception desk for a number of years, props for the legions of Monty Python fans who visit Doune, a key location for the film Monty Python And The Holy Grail.

rude Frenchman

They use the shells to mimic horses, as King Arthur and his faithful servant, Patsy, did in the film's opening scene. Visitors climb to the ramparts to recreate famous scenes -- a particular favorite being John Cleese's quite extraordinarily rude Frenchman declaiming: "I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberries."

Python fans have been visiting Doune since the film was made in the early 1970s. Caldwell estimates that they account for up to a third of the 25,000 visitors each year.

Last year, Historic Scotland bowed to the inevitable and staged Doune's first-ever Monty Python Day, an event that attracted about 1,500 fans from all over the UK, and some from overseas, including a hen party from New York.

The event was so successful that it is being repeated on September 4. Numbers have had to be limited to 500, however, after problems last year shepherding so many fans around such a confined space.

"Last year was mad," said Nick Finnegan, Historic Scotland events manager. "It was the 30th anniversary of the film being shot there and we had 1,400 people turning up, and it was fantastic and nuts at the same time. We didn't get any negative feedback on the day, but if you are staging this as a regular event there is an expectation that you are going to raise the bar."

singalong

So this year's participants will be treated to a group of professional actors recreating famous scenes, plus a giant-screen presentation of the film, and a singalong in the castle courtyard. There will be enough coconuts to go round. The team found a source in the US, imported 500 sets and have drilled them so they are ready to use.

Caldwell was not a Python aficionado when he started work at the castle four seasons ago, but now he is quite an authority and can refer to the screenplay if anyone gets stuck (the script is also stocked in the castle shop).

"We get all kinds of people who come because of the film," he says. "We get a lot of American schoolkids who seem to like it. Some of them know all the lines. But there are plenty British people as well and Europeans. There was a Spanish guy in this morning asking about it."

Python fans are also happy to learn a little about the castle itself, one of the best preserved medieval fortresses in the UK. Sitting on the edge of the village that bears its name, 10km north of Stirling, Doune castle was built towards the end of the 14th century by Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, and brother of King Robert III. Stewart, remembered as a big spender, ambitious, and Machiavellian, was made governor of Scotland, a role he held for almost half a century.

Little expense was spared on his fortress, but he fell out of favor following the suspicious death in 1402 of his nephew and heir to the throne, David, Duke of Rothesay. He died before his castle was finished but it served as a retreat for the Scottish royal family for the next 200 years.

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