Saturday, November 15, 2008

Gammy Leg

What’s a “gammy leg?” I thought Python best used the phrase “gammy leg” in the Lifeboat Sketch, where the Captain tells his shipmates to eat him to survive and another sailor goes, “Ugh…with a gammy leg?” Many Americans (not me, of course, because I’m hip) might have thought they said “gummy leg,” but no. Legs do not turn multi-colored, chewy, and fruit-flavored, not even in Britain.

A gammy leg is simply a deformed or lame leg. It’s most commonly used to refer to a leg that’s been injured. Americans would call it a “bum leg.” The term was popularized during World War II, when soldiers came back with a lot of gammy legs.

The origin of the phrase “gammy leg” is in dispute. Some say that the phrase comes from a Celtic word “kam,” which means “crooked.” Another source claims the term comes from a Welsh nobleman named David Gam, whose last name means “deformed” in Welsh, and who had a squinty eye. David Gam was also the inspiration for the comic strip character Popeye. Just kidding.


The BBC is an ever-present figure in Monty Python, so let’s start there. What exactly is the BBC?

The BBC stands for the British Broadcasting Corporation. To make it easier, you can think of the BBC as a TV network like NBC or CBS. Isn’t that simple? Unfortunately, it’s also wrong. The BBC is nothing like an American network TV station.

First of all, the BBC is partially run and funded by the British government. That means it’s more like our PBS than NBC. Unlike PBS, however, the BBC is actually enjoyable to watch. The BBC isn’t just focused on education and enlightenment. It produces a wide variety of TV shows. For example, the BBC produced Monty Python. So think of the BBC as NBC crossed with PBS.

Got it? Good. But there’s more.

You may have noticed references on Python to BBC One and BBC Two. That’s because at the time of Monty Python, the BBC ran two television channels, BBC One and BBC Two. But the two channels didn’t compete with each other, just aired different programming at different times. So think of the BBC as NBC and CBS working together, crossed with PBS.

But the BBC is more than just television. It also produces radio programs. That’s why when people in Monty Python turned on the radio, they heard the BBC mentioned. The BBC produced five radio stations, numbered BBC Radio 1 to BBC Radio 5. Just like the TV branch of the BBC, they worked in concert. If you ever wondered about the sketch in which someone pulls out increasingly small radios to get to the right station, you’ve got your answer.

Monty Python pre-dated cable television, so pretty much the only TV and radio programs a majority of British citizens got to enjoy were produced by the BBC. That means the BBC had a virtual monopoly on all entertainment outside the printed page until roughly twenty years ago. Oddly enough, this situation didn’t seem to bother anyone. That tells you something about the British.

The BBC produced the entire series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, so they were sort of like the show’s boss. That’s why Python kept on making fun of them. They enjoyed biting the hand that fed them.