Wednesday 16 July 2014

Real English: Monty Python "Dead Parrot" Sketch - Idioms for "Dead" and "Broken"

You are going to
  • watch / read a TV comedy sketch by Monty Python
  • listen to some slang euphemisms for "dead"
  • plan / write / act out your own comedy sketch using slang euphemisms for "broken"
  • write a formal letter of complaint

Note - this post is designed to get students to use common expressions often heard in the UK. There is another similar post on UK slang here

1) Discuss
  • Have you ever had to complain about something?
  • What things do people usually complain about?
  • What's the silliest thing you have ever complained about?

2) Watch
You are going to watch a comedy sketch from the BBC TV series Monty Python's Flying Circus.
  • Where is the man?
  • What is his complaint?
Before you watch look at these slang euphemisms for "dead". How many do you know?

Watch the clip. 
How many of the expressions do you hear?

3) Read
Read the dialogue from the sketch in pairs. Check any vocabulary you don't know.

The cast:

MR. PRALINE - John Cleese
SHOP OWNER -  Michael Palin

The sketch: A customer enters a pet shop.

Mr. Praline: 'Ello, I wish to register a complaint.

(The owner does not respond.)

Mr. Praline: 'Ello, Miss?

Owner: What do you mean "miss"?

Mr. Praline: (pause) I'm sorry, I have a cold. I wish to make a complaint!

Owner: Sorry we're closin' for lunch.

Mr. Praline: Never mind that, my lad. I wish to complain about this parrot what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.

Owner: Oh yes, the, uh, the Norwegian Blue... What's wrong with it?

Mr. Praline: I'll tell you what's wrong with it. It's dead, that's what's wrong with it!

Owner: No, no, it's  resting. Look.

Mr. Praline: Look, my lad, I know a dead parrot when I see one, and I'm looking at one right now.

Owner: No no it's not dead, he's, it's restin'! Remarkable bird, the Norwegian Blue. Beautiful plumage

Mr. Praline: The plumage don't enter into it. It's stone dead.

Owner: No no no no, no, no! It's resting!

Mr. Praline: All right then, if it's restin', I'll wake him up! (shouting at the cage) 'Ello, Polly! I've got a lovely fresh cuttle fish for when you wake up...

(owner hits the cage)

Owner: There, it moved!

Mr. Praline: No, it didn't, that was you pushing the cage!

Owner: I did not!!

Mr. Praline: Yes, you did!

Mr. Praline: (yelling and hitting the cage repeatedly) 'ELLO POLLY!!!!!

(Takes parrot out of the cage and thumps its head on the counter. Throws it up in the air and watches it plummet to the floor.)

Mr. Praline: Now that's what I call a dead parrot.

Owner: No, no.....No, it's stunned!

Mr. Praline: Look, my lad, I've 'ad just about enough of this. That parrot is definitely deceased, and when I bought it not half an hour ago, you assured me that its lack of movement was due to it being tired and shagged out following a long squawk.

Owner: Well, he's probably pining for the fjords.

Mr. Praline: PININ' for the FJORDS?!?!?!? What kind of talk is that? Look, why did it fall flat on its back the moment I got it home?

Owner: The Norwegian Blue prefers kippin' on it's back! Beautiful bird. Lovely plumage!

Mr. Praline: Look, I took the liberty of examining that parrot and I discovered the only reason that it had been sitting on its perch in the first place was that it had been NAILED there.


Owner: Well, of course it was nailed there! Otherwise it would have nuzzled up to those bars and VOOM! 

Mr. Praline: Look matey, this parrot wouldn't "voom" if Iput four thousand volts through it! It's bleedin' demised!

Owner: It's not! It's pining!

Mr. Praline: It's not pinin'! It's passed on! This parrot is no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet its maker! This is a late parrot. It's a stiff! Bereft of life, It rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed it to the perch It'd be pushing up the daisies! It's run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!


Owner: Well, I'd better replace it, then. 

Mr. Praline:  If you want to get anything done in this country you've got to complain until you are blue in the mouth.

Owner: Sorry Guv, we're right out of parrots.

Mr. Praline: I see. I see, I get the picture.

Owner: (pause) I got a slug.


Mr. Praline: Does it talk?

Owner: Not really.


Owner: Look, tell you what, if you go to my brother's pet shop in Bolton, he'll replace the parrot for you.

Mr. Praline: Bolton, eh? Alright.

(The customer leaves.)

(The customer enters the same pet shop. The owner is putting on a false moustache.)

Mr. Praline: Excuse me, this is Bolton, is it?

Owner: (with a fake moustache) No, it's Ipswich.

Mr. Praline: (looking at the camera) That's inter-city rail for you.

(Mr. Praine goes to the train station. He addresses a man standing behind a desk marked "Complaints".)

Mr. Praline: I wish to complain.


Mr. Praline: I beg your pardon...?

Attendant: I'm a qualified brain surgeon! I only do this job because I like being my own boss!

Mr. Praline: Excuse me, this is irrelevant, isn't it?

Attendant: Yeah, well it's not easy to pad these programs out to 30 minutes.

Mr. Praline: Well, I wish to make a complaint I got on the Bolton train and found myself deposited here in Ipswich.

Attendant: No, this is Bolton.

Mr. Praline: (to the camera) The pet shop owner's brother was lying!!

Attendant: You can't blame British Rail for that.

Mr. Praline: If this is Bolton, I shall return to the pet shop!

Mr. Praline: I understand that this IS Bolton.

Owner: (still with the fake moustache) Yes?

Mr. Praline: You told me it was Ipswich!

Owner: ...It was a pun.

Mr. Praline:  A PUN?!?

Owner: No, no...not a pun...What's that thing which spells the same backwards as forwards?

Mr. Praline: (Long pause) A palindrome?

Owner: Yeah, that's it!

Mr. Praline: It's not a palindrome! The palindrome of "Bolton" would be "Notlob"!! It don't work!!

Owner: Well, what do you want?

Mr. Praline: I'm sorry, I'm not prepared to pursue my line of inquiry any longer as I think this is getting too silly!

Sergeant-Major: Quite agree, quite agree, silly, silly... Right. Get on with it!

Adapted slightly from

4) Speak
The comedy sketch is very silly isn't it?
In pairs plan / write / act out a similar silly sketch / dialogue about someone making a complaint about something which is broken.
Look at these euphemisms for broken. How many do you know?

You must include the sentence "I wish to register a complaint" in your dialogue and as many of the "broken" expressions as you can.
Make it silly. Act out or film your dialogues. The funniest one wins.

Write a formal letter of complaint based on your dialogue. DO NOT use any of the slang expressions above.
  • Start - I am writing to complain about..."
  • Describe the problem
  • Say what solution you want - a refund. a replacement...
  • Finish in an appropriate formal way - I look forward to hearing from you, Yours sincerely...

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