Listener Missy Dustin has contacted us to correct us about our claim that Omnibus was the religious show that previously occupied Python‘s late-night timeslot. She tells us it was “not religious!” and links to the Wikipedia page.
While the page she links to is that of an American TV program that went off the air in 1961, according to the link she provided, she’s not wrong that the Omnibus on UK TV was also not religious programming and was not replaced by the Flying Circus. A massively detailed online recreation of the British TV listings as recorded in the Radio Times indicates that Python, in fact, filled the time slot previously occupied by Spike Milligan’s Q5 programme, which had just wrapped up what appears to be a repeat of its first series, as IMDB has its original broadcast dates from March to May of 1969.
We have an upcoming minisode about Omnibus, because while Python didn’t take its spot, it does supplant Python in a couple weeks’ time. The story of the idea that the Flying Circus replaced a repeat of religious programming prevails — a detail reprinted again today, in fact, in a excellent story in the Irish Times — doesn’t seem to hold immediate weight in the face of this evidence. It may even indicate that Q5 director Ian McNaughton, who also went on to direct the MPFC after the first few episodes, may have been influential enough to nudge programming to soften the ground for the Pythons’ arrival with similarly toned content in the timeslot so that viewers might have an expectation of the new phenomenon they were about to experience.
However, Omnibus was not replaced at all, and continued to be available immediately before the broadcast of MPFC for its entire first series run, until the middle of January 1970, when Spike Milligan returns with The World of Beachcomber. And during that show’s run, Omnibus steadfastly continued to provide dramatic interpretations of literature and explorations of classical music, and generally introduce the Sunday Silliness Block. Which in turn seems to exhaust the channel sufficiently that it only has the strength to predict the next day’s weather just before midnight and then close down the airwaves until the next morning.
Perusing our notes for the name of the legendary repeat of the morning’s televised sermon — which the Irish Times article claims had a niche of sufficiently devoted viewers that there had been “the threat of a strike by BBC staff over the controversy that the new comedy show was replacing a late-night religious programme” — has come up dry, but look for further posts if we are able to unearth this key detail.