"Piranha Brothers" is a Monty Python sketch, first seen in Series 2, Episode 1 of Monty Python's Flying Circus (original tx September 15 1970). The premise is a BBC current affairs documentary, inexplicably entitled Ethel the Frog, covering the exploits of the fictional brothers Doug and Dinsdale Piranha, who employed violence (including nailing opponents' heads to the floor) and sarcasm to intimidate the London underworld and bring the city to its knees. The sketch is introduced by a piece of music (the Intermezzo from Sibelius's Karelia Suite) which was used for many years, until as late as 1992, to introduce the Thames Television (and previously Associated-Rediffusion and Rediffusion London) current affairs series This Week.
Doug and Dinsdale were born, on probation, in the East End slums of London in 1929, the eldest sons in a family of sixteen. Their father Arthur Piranha, a scrap metal dealer and TV quizmaster was well known to the police and a devout Catholic. In January 1928, he married Kitty Malone, an up and coming East End boxer. Doug was born in early February and Dinsdale two weeks later, and again the week after that. They were found too mentally unbalanced even for National Service, and became extortionists, running a Protection racket after several false starts. It is said that Dinsdale was a gentleman; he bought his mother flowers and, what's more, he knew how to treat a female impersonator. He also enjoyed nailing people's heads to the floor and to coffee tables, and screwing people's pelvises to cake stands. The local Chief constable was in his employ, and would help him threaten others with a Hydrogen bomb. Known associates of the Piranhas included American musical stars, aristocrats, a man named Kierkegaard who bit the heads off Whippets, and other gang leaders.
Dinsdale was deeply afraid of Spiny Norman, an (apparently) imaginary Hedgehog who, he believed, lived in a hangar at London Luton Airport and who "was wont to be about twelve feet from snout to tail, but when Dinsdale was depressed Norman could be anything up to eight hundred yards long." Spiny Norman (created by animator Terry Gilliam) appeared in this sketch growling "Dinsdale" while towering over London landmarks such as Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square; the giant hedgehog made brief reappearances in two later episodes.
Doug was the more feared of the two brothers. Luigi Vercotti, a pimp, claims to have seen grown men pull their own heads off rather than speak to Doug – indeed, even Dinsdale feared Doug. This was largely due to his merciless use of sarcasm, dramatic irony, metaphor, pathos, Puns, parody, litotes and satire. Many of those menaced by the Piranha Brothers denied any ill will toward them, terrified into compliance with a Code of silence.
The Piranhas operated their extortion racket for years, brazenly and without fear of reprisal. However, Dinsdale's fear of Spiny Norman proved to be their undoing, as he decided to solve the problem once and for all by detonating his nuclear device at Luton Airport in February 1966. After this, the Police sat up and took notice of them.
The brothers were finally captured by Superintendent (police) Harry 'Snapper' Organs (played by Terry Jones) of Q Division, who pursued them in a series of disguises including Blind Pew from Treasure Island, the Earl of Gloucester from King Lear, Sancho Panza from Don Quixote, and Ratty from Toad of Toad Hall. However, the Piranha Brothers later escaped, and presumably returned to their life of absurd crime.
A slightly re-worked version of the sketch also appeared on the album Another Monty Python Record, which opened by announcing that the brothers had recently been sentenced to 400 years imprisonment for crimes of violence. An almost word-for-word transcript appeared in Monty Python's Big Red Book.
The sketch was obviously chiefly inspired by the real-life story of infamous London gangsters the Kray twins, although the torture methods mentioned resemble those used by The Richardson Gang and their associate Frankie Fraser. What is less well-known is that Spiny Norman is a subtle reference to the notorious former head of the London Drug Squad, Detective Sergeant Norman Pilcher, while Superintendent Harry 'Snapper' Organs is a reference to Inspector Leonard "Nipper" Read.
Pilcher made his name with a series of headline-grabbing arrests of leading pop stars in the late 1960s, including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones of The Rolling Stones, Donovan and John Lennon. Pilcher was eventually dismissed from the police in the 1970s after being found guilty of conspiracy and blackmail.
In the late 1990s an article in the The Guardian newspaper revealed that Pilcher had been in close contact with journalists from the News of the World, a top-selling British Sunday Tabloid newspaper, and that its reporters had passed information to the police about alleged drug use by pop stars. The article claimed that News of the World journalists had provided the tip-off about a party at Keith Richards's house, "Redlands", which was raided by police and led to the famous drug-possession cases against Richards and Jagger in 1967. It was later claimed by George Harrison that Pilcher was, in effect, 'working his way up the ladder' to reach his ultimate target, The Beatles.
The line in the Piranha Brothers sketch in which Supt. Organs describes how he kept tabs on the brothers' movements "by reading the colour supplements" is probably a reference to the collusion between Pilcher and the News of the World.
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