How Not to Be Seen

"How Not to Be Seen" is a popular sketch from Monty Python's Flying Circus. It was first aired as the 11th episode of the second series of the show (also known as episode 24) on 8 December 1970.

This filmed sketch purports to be a British government film (No. 42, PARA. 6.) presented for public service (in the manner of a public information film). In this sketch, the narrator, John Cleese, is trying to explain the importance of not being seen, but eventually takes enjoyment in having people and buildings blown up.


The film starts with a serene wide shot of a landscape in which there are supposedly 40 people, none of whom can be seen. The picture then changes to another serene wide shot of a different landscape. In it is Mr. E. R. Bradshaw of Napier Court, Black Lion Road, (London) SE 5, who cannot be seen. The narrator asks him to stand up. He complies and is immediately shot. According to the narrator, "This demonstrates the value of not being seen."

There is a cut to another landscape wide shot. In it, the audience cannot see Mrs. B. J. Smegma of 13, The Crescent, Belmont. The narrator asks her to stand up. She also complies and is immediately shot.

Next is a shot of a clearing near a wood with only one bush in the middle of the frame. Somewhere in the vicinity is Mr. Nesbitt of Harlow New Town. He is asked to stand up, but in contrast to the previous people, he does not comply. The narrator explains that "Mr. Nesbitt has learned the first lesson of not being seen: not to stand up. However, he has chosen a very obvious piece of cover." The bush then suddenly explodes.

Following this, we cut to another clearing with three bushes in the frame. Hiding nearby is Mr. E.V. Lambert of Homeleigh, The Burrows, Oswestry, who has presented the narrator with a poser by choosing a very clever way of not being seen. Although "we do not know which bush he is behind, [...] we can soon find out": The left bush explodes, then the right one, and finally the middle; mixed with the noise of this explosion comes the scream of Mr. Lambert. "Yes, it was the middle one," the Narrator intones.

Next is a farmland area with a water barrel, a wall, a pile of leaves, a bushy tree, a parked car, and lots of bushes in the distance. In this shot, Mr. Ken Andrews of Leighton Road, Slough "has concealed himself extremely well. He could be almost anywhere. He could be behind the wall, inside the water barrel, beneath a pile of leaves, up in the tree, squatting down behind the car, concealed in a hollow, or crouched behind any one of a hundred bushes." However, thanks to the narrator, "we happen to know he's in the water barrel." The water barrel then explodes.

There is then a panning shot across a line of beach huts along the sea while the narrator explains that Mr. and Mrs. Watson of Ivy Cottage, Worplesdon Road, Hull, have chosen a very cunning way of not being seen. "When we called at their house, we found that they had gone away on two weeks' holiday. They had not left any forwarding address and they had bolted and barred the house to prevent us getting in. However, a neighbour told us where they were", as the camera pans to spot a singled-out hut in the middle of the beach. The hut containing the Watsons explodes, accompanied by the couple's screams. The camera cuts to a Gumby-looking fellow identified as the neighbour who told the filmmakers where the Watsons were. He explodes and his boots are the only remains. "Nobody likes a clever dick," explains the narrator.

The film cuts to a shack ("And this is where he lived"), which also blows up, then changes to another shack ("And this is where Lord Langdon lived; who refused to speak to us"), which blows up as well. The picture goes on to various changes of houses ("So did the gentleman who lived here, and here, and, of course, here"), which each blow up, and then a series of atomic explosions ("Manchester, and the West Midlands, Spain, China!").

The narrator bursts into diabolical laughter and the sketch segues into Michael Palin as a presenter stopping the film. "How Not to Be Seen" then becomes a running joke in the last two sketches of the episode. Palin first discusses Mr. Roy Bent of North Walsham in Norfolk, who became the first man to cross the Atlantic Ocean on a tricycle. Palin says Mr. Bent "is in our Durham studios, which is rather unfortunate as we're all down here in London."

Palin then proceeds to interview Arsenal footballer Ludovic Grayson (voice of Terry Jones), who is crouched inside a filing cabinet trying not to be seen. Grayson explains: "It's common sense really, If they can't see you they can't get you." However, Palin points out that he can still be heard inside the filing cabinet, which has its top drawer subsequently blasted open from another explosion. The sketch concludes with "Jackie Charlton and the Tonettes" performing the song "Yummy Yummy Yummy" on a trendy pop-music set, with each member hiding inside wooden crates as the show's end credits roll.

The sketch was altered in And Now For Something Completely Different (ANFSCD). There are 47 people in the first shot (rather than 40), the farmland scene isn't shown, the beach hut scene is replaced with a tent in the woods, and the explosions of Lord Langdon's and others' houses are not shown. The government film ends here with the narrator saying, "And this is where he lived. And this is where he was born"' over scenes of the neighbour's houses being blown up, followed by him chuckling. The camera then zooms in on Cleese at a desk, still laughing. He proceeds to say, with a serious face, "And now for something completely different" after laughing, and is blown up afterwards, segueing into the opening credits.