Knights and cardinals: Fans await Monty Python's return

British comedy troupe Monty Python, (left-right) Eric Idle, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, and Terry Jones pose for a photograph at the back door to the London Palladium in central London on June 30, 2014. Fans arrived for the first
British comedy troupe Monty Python, (left-right) Eric Idle, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, and Terry Jones pose for a photograph at the back door to the London Palladium in central London on June 30, 2014. Fans arrived for the first night of Monty Python's reunion shows in London on Tuesday, feverish with excitement at the cult British comedy troupe's return to the stage after more than 30 years. -- PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP) - Fans arrived for the first night of Monty Python's reunion shows in London on Tuesday, feverish with excitement at the cult British comedy troupe's return to the stage after more than 30 years.

More than 14,000 people are expected at London's 02 stadium for the first of 10 gigs featuring surviving stars John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle and Terry Jones.

Some fans marked the occasion by dressing up as their favourite Python characters, from the knights of the Holy Grail movie to the red cloaks of the cardinals in the Spanish inquisition sketch.

"I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to this show," enthused Dan Stead, an IT worker from the northern city of Leeds who was wearing a white knight's tunic over gold chain mail.

"The thought of them being in the same room and hopefully remembering the same lines - it's a big event, a bit of history." Aged 30, Stead was not born when the Pythons' ground-breaking Flying Circus was broadcast on television in the 1970s, but he says their unique mix of physical comedy, songs and surreal skits is timeless.

"Everybody loves stuff that's a bit silly," he told AFP.

The Pythons have promised a spectacular show filled with dancing girls, lots of songs and a cameo in some form by world-famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.

Dubbed One Down, Five To Go in tribute to sixth Python Graham Chapman, who died of cancer in 1989, the show will feature no new material, but their audience are unlikely to care.

"I hope they do the dead parrot, and anything from the Holy Grail," said Eric Watcham, a heavily tattooed 24-year-old warehouse worker from the coastal town of Brighton.

His mum introduced him to Monty Python, and bought him his ticket. "I don't care how old they are, they're all a bunch of legends!" he said.

- 'Better than stand-up' -

The Pythons are all now in their seventies and admit their reunion, which they once vowed would never happen, is driven primarily by financial reasons.

But while they may be a little slower on their feet, their comic timing is as good as ever and they are determined to go out with a bang.

The final show on July 20 will be broadcast live to cinemas around the world and TV rights have been sold for more than 100 countries, from Afghanistan to Yemen.

"It means we're actually going to say goodbye publicly on one show. Nobody ever has the chance to do that - the Beatles didn't get a last good night," said Idle.

The reunion show has sparked global interest, a testament to the appeal of the Pythons' weird humour well beyond Britain.

"It's better than stand-ups, with punchlines every minute. You see it and you laugh half an hour later," remarked Lars Gredersen, a 50-year-old fan from Denmark who has come to watch the performance with his wife and three teenage children.

The Pythons are already facing calls for more shows in other countries. But Cleese, the oldest of the troupe at 74, insists this will really be the last.

"It's much better to do it once really well, in England where it started, and then just leave it at that," he said.