Saturday, February 13, 2010

Featured Pipe Smoker: Graham Chapman

Graham Arthur Chapman (1941 - 1989)

The humor of the group collectively known as Monty Python has been a great influence on me. Here is a collection of photos of Python member Graham Chapman smoking a pipe.

During a break in filming Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in which he starred as King Arthur.

Taking some shelter in the cold with most of the other pensive-looking Pythons.

Mr. Chapman appeared to favor straight pipes with longish stems and tall, straight bowls.

One of the earliest group publicity photos, taken (I think) sometime in 1969. Mr. Chapman is seated in the center, pipe in mouth, along with fellow Pythoners John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and Eric Idle.

This shot was taken in 1982 at the Hollywood Bowl, Mr. Chapman again in the center, surrounded by the other members of Monty Python, this time also including animator Terry Gilliam, to Chapman's immediate right.

This shot, also with Mr. Chapman in the center, is from the "Twit of the Year Contest" skit. His character was named Oliver St. James Mollusk, and he somehow managed to run over himself with the car.

Chapman was born in Stoneygate, Leicester. He became a fan of radio comedy at a young age, especially a program called The Goon Show. He qualified as a physician at the Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry but never practiced professionally. He became most famous as a member of the comedy troupe Monty Python and went on the play the starring role in two of their movies: Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Life of Brian.

For a great many more details regarding his life and work, I refer you to his Wikipedia entry.

Graham Chapman died of spinal cancer in 1989, one day before the 20th anniversary of the first broadcast of Monty Python.


  1. The python crowd did some brilliant work and no mistake. I'll never forget the pipe smoking in the "Society for putting things on top of other things" skit. Great stuff!

  2. There was a great recent magazine photo of remaining Pythons in formal suits wreathed in smoke. Some smoke is so thick that it looks like cotton wool. group sitting at table perhaps.

    Must have been in honor of Mr. Chapman. Was his early death smoking related?

    Would love to have copy of that photo, but cannot find it. Yet.

  3. Hate to be a party pooper, enjoy the pipes myself some but let's be honest. Graham died of throat cancer that spread to his spine. Hard to believe a lifetime of pipe smoking didn't have anything to do with this. Sorry.

  4. It was pretty obvious that the cancer on his tonsils which spread to his spine was caused by smoking. A dirty and very dangerous habit. I enjoy a cigar now and again but only a few times a year. Used to be a full-time cigarette smoker.

  5. I'm a little surprised and ashamed of the comments linking Mr. Chapman's tonsil cancer to pipe smoking. I expect ignorance of how to smoke a pipe from the average 'person on the street,' but frequenters of The Briar Files should know better.

    Pipe smoke (and cigar smoke) is drawn into the mouth, not the throat or lungs. An experienced pipe smoker, which Mr. Chapman obviously was, would not be exposing his tonsils to pipe smoke.

    Of note: alcohol abuse is a risk factor, and Mr. Chapman was famous for his consumption. In fact, in an interview with Dick Cavett, Chapman said that at one point he was drinking two and one half quarts of gin a day. That did pass by his tonsils, whereas the pipe smoke didn't.

    Get all the facts, and don't let the anti-tobacco hype short-circuit your critical thinking.

  6. Yes, but some pipe smokers do inhale smoke. I don't, but some do.