The Spanish Inquisition (Monty Python)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

"The Spanish Inquisition" is a series of sketches in Monty Python's Flying Circus, Series 2 Episode 2 parodying the real-life Spanish Inquisition. This episode is itself entitled "The Spanish Inquisition". The sketches are notable for their principal catchphrase, "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!"


Plot synopsis

This is a recurring sketch always predicated on an unrelated sketch in which one character, expressing irritation at being questioned by another, would announce: "I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition!" At this point, the Inquisition — consisting of Cardinal Ximénez (Michael Palin), and his assistants Cardinal Biggles (Terry Jones), and Cardinal Fang (Terry Gilliam) — would burst into the room at the sound of a jarring chord. Ximénez would shout, with a particular and high-pitched emphasis on the first syllable: "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!"

After entering, the Inquisition frequently get bogged down in recitations of their weapons: "Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, and nice red uniforms!" Ximénez states the number of weapons they have ("Our two/three/four weapons are..."), then lists one more than he had counted, before starting again using a higher number. After several attempts, Ximénez states: "I'll come in again...", and herds The Inquisition back off the set. The straight man delivers the cue line again, the Inquisition bursts back in (complete with jarring chord), and the introduction is tried again. This is repeated two or three times before Ximénez gives up and moves on.

Ximénez repeatedly runs into the problem of not being able to torture anyone effectively. When he calls for "the rack", Cardinal Biggles produces a dish-drying rack. When poking the victim with soft cushions produces no confession, Ximénez inquires whether his assistants had got all the stuffing together into one end of the cushions, for supposed maximum effectiveness. Failing that, Ximénez forces the victim to sit in the "comfy chair", and states that the victim will get a cup of tea and a biscuit at 11 o'clock.

At the very end of the show, in "Court Charades", the Inquisition are caught by surprise when a defendant (who is also a judge from another court) in session at the Old Bailey says: "Blimey, I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition!" The whole court rises and looks expectantly at the witness entrance door, obviously expecting the Spanish Inquisition. As the closing credits roll the Inquisitors race to the Old Bailey by bus, to the tune of Devil's Gallop, only to arrive just as the words "THE END" appear. Ximénez has just enough time to say "Nobody expects the Spa... oh, bugger." before the episode ends. "Bugger" was a strong word for a BBC comedy show in 1970, and some BBC regions omitted it from the broadcast.

Related sketches

Cardinal Ximénez briefly appears two episodes later ("The Buzz Aldrin Show") in a vox pop, again displaying difficulty counting (in this instance, the kinds of aftershave he uses). Later in that episode during the Police Constable Pan Am Sketch, a policeman tells a chemist "one more peep out of you and I'll do you for heresy", with the chemist (played by Palin) responding that he "didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition".

In the Trouble at Mill sketch, Graham Chapman states in a parody of Yorkshire dialect that "One on't cross beams gone owt askew on treadle." When questioned as to his meaning, he attempts to reiterate it using Received Pronunciation, but then becomes impatient, saying, "I didn't expect a kind of Spanish Inquisition." This is the cue for a sketch in the Spanish Inquisition series.

A precursor

The 'number of weapons' joke echoes a similar joke in the first episode ('The Man and The Hour'[1]) of the BBC sitcom Dad's Army, broadcast in July 1968. Captain Mainwaring says "We have one invaluable weapon in our armoury: ingenuity and improvisation", to which Private Frazer replies "That's two."

Literary allusions

  • In Issue #3 (January 1976, shortly after Monty Python began being broadcast in the U.S.) of the comic book title Batman Family [featuring the joint exploits of Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) and Robin (Dick Grayson)] the story "Isle of a Thousand Thrills" borrowed the scenario of a land where anything anybody thinks of is quickly brought to life. In response to visitors' anxious questions before the nature of their situation is understood, Batgirl replies, "Calm down, everyone! We haven't had time to wonder about all those questions! I didn't expect some kind of Spanish Inquisition...". Immediately six Inquisitors appear, one of whom cries, "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition...because our chief weapon is surprise!"
  • The Doogie Howser episode (Season 2, Episode 19, aired 1991-02-13) is entitled "Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition".
  • In the Not The Nine O'Clock News sketch on the new film The Life of Christ (itself a reference to Python's 1979 Life of Brian), the Bishop (Rowan Atkinson) who is being harangued for this parody of Pythonism professes himself surprised at the furor, saying: "Well, I didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition."
  • In the 1998 film Sliding Doors, the skit plays a central role: James (John Hannah) exhorts Helen (Gwyneth Paltrow) to "remember what the Monty Python boys say..." - referring to the phrase "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition". Later, James and Helen and friends laugh over the skit in a pub.
  • The Boston Globe reported on October 5, 2009, that the newly announced Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Carol W. Greider of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, was asked if she had expected to win the honor. She replied: "It's like the Monty Python sketch, 'Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!'"
  • During a financial crisis in 2004, the British authorities forced an insolvent Abbey Bank to be sold to the Banco Santander Central Hispano. A newspaper headline announced: "Nobody expects the Spanish acquisition!"

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Spanish Inquisition (Monty Python)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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