On the 16th September 1978, filming began on Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Seen by some as the greatest comedy film of all time, the film has courted controversy since its release due to its satirical portrayal of religion that is interpreted by some as blasphemous.

Life of Brian was the third motion picture to be released by the Monty Python comedy troupe, and is said to have had its origins in the publicity circuit accompanying their previous film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The box-office success of Holy Grail had proved that there was significant demand for feature-length creations from the group, and soon the idea of lampooning organised religion became a focus for development.

Two members of Monty Python, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam, dismissed the idea of a direct satire of Jesus Christ since they agreed that – despite both being non-believers – there was nothing to mock in his teachings. Therefore they settled on the idea of his neighbour, Brian, being mistaken for the Messiah despite not wanting the attention.

It took just over a year for the script to be completed, and EMI Films had been lined up to fund the project. However, just two days before filming was due to begin the funding was withdrawn on direct orders of the company chief executive. Faced with catastrophe Eric Idle confided in his friend, ex-Beatle George Harrison, who stepped in to save the film by providing £3 million through his production company HandMade Films. It grossed over $19 million in America alone during its first year of release.

Michelangelo’s David is considered to be one of the greatest examples of Renaissance sculpture. Carved from a piece of marble from a quarry near the Tuscan town of Carrara, the statue is a nude male standing 517cm tall without his pedestal.

Michelangelo was not the first artist to begin carving a statue of David from the marble block. The Florentine sculptor Agostino di Duccio had first been contracted by the Overseers of the Office of Works of Florence Cathedral in 1464 to create the statue as one of twelve figures to appear on the buttresses of the recently-completed cathedral. Having begun to shape the feet and legs, he stopped work on the statue in 1466 and work only resumed a decade later when Antonio Rossellino took over.

Rossellino did not do much more to the marble before his contract was terminated shortly after it had been awarded. The block then remained on its back in the cathedral yard for 25 years before Michelangelo was recruited to complete the statue two years after he finished work on the Pietà.

The 26 year old was given two years to produce David and, according to the written contract, was to be paid ‘six broad florins of gold in gold for every month’. Dr Barrie Cook of the British Museum has since used the Bank of England’s price inflation index to calculate that Michelangelo was therefore paid just £40,000 at today’s prices for the finished piece.

On its completion the sculpture was placed next to the entrance to the Palazzo Vecchio, although it has been displayed in the Accademia Gallery since 1873 to protect the fragile marble.

Elvis Presley appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, the USA’s most popular television show, for the first time.

Ed Sullivan was a former New York entertainment columnist who had once vowed never to have Elvis Presley appear on his variety show. He had previously turned down an opportunity to hire the singer for $5,000 but realised his mistake when his show ratings were crippled by Elvis’ appearance on a rival show hosted by Steve Allen.

Sullivan consequently agreed to pay the unprecedented sum of $50,000 for three appearances, the first of which took place on the new season premiere. Sullivan, however, was not able to host the show as he was recovering from a head-on collision that had almost killed him. British actor Charles Laughton was recruited as the stand-in host, and introduced the rock n roll star with the words “…and now, away to Hollywood to meet Elvis Presley!”

Elvis needed to perform at CBS Television City in Los Angeles, rather than the New York studio where The Ed Sullivan Show was based, because he was in the middle of filming his debut movie. Having opened with his recent hit ‘Don’t Be Cruel’, Elvis went on to perform the title song from the forthcoming film, ‘Love Me Tender’.

He appeared again later, performing Little Richard’s hit ‘Ready Teddy’ and a shortened version of ‘Hound Dog’. This segment included some full-body shots of Elvis, but when he began dancing the cameras tended to focus only from his waist upwards.

Sullivan’s decision to hire Elvis to appear on the show paid off. 60 million people tuned in to watch the show, a staggering 82.6% of the evening’s television audience. Knowing they would be unable to compete, Steve Allen’s network chose only to show a movie.

Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre on the 21st August 1911. Described by some as the greatest art theft of the 20th century, the museum itself didn’t even realise that the painting had been stolen until the next day.

Italian Vincenzo Peruggia had previously worked at the Louvre. Acting alone, he hid in a cupboard inside the museum on the evening of the 20th August and exited on the morning of Monday 21st – a day when the museum would be closed for cleaning – wearing a smock identical to all the other museum employees. With the museum deserted of visitors, he entered the Salon Carré where the painting hung and simply removed it from the wall.

Making his way to a stairwell, Peruggia removed the glass that had only recently been fitted to protect the painting from vandalism, and discarded the frame. Leaving both the glass and the frame behind, he simply hid the painting – which was painted on a plank of poplar wood – under his smock and left the museum.

The Mona Lisa lay hidden in Peruggia’s Paris apartment for two years before he decided to take it to Italy in 1913. Here he made contact with Alfredo Geri, a gallery owner, on the 10th December who in turn contacted the director of the famous Uffizi gallery. The two men took the painting ‘for safe keeping’ and informed the police. Peruggia served just six months in jail for the robbery, and was hailed by many Italians as a nationalist hero for returning the Mona Lisa to her real home.

Today is World Fringe Day where people around the world are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the world famous Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which took place for the first time in 1947. HistoryPod is proud to be able to celebrate #WorldFringeDay, and the foundation of the Fringe movement, in this special live recording from the Buxton Festival Fringe in the wonderful English spa town of Buxton in Derbyshire. I’m recording today’s episode in front of a group of Buxton Fringe-goers, and we’re very lucky to be situated within a beautiful Victorian building that now serves as Scrivener’s Bookshop on the outskirts of the Peak District National Park in England.

When Sir Rudolf Bing, a controversial Austrian opera impresario, curated the first Edinburgh International Festival in the summer of 1947, he focused the programme on what he called the “highest and purest ideals of art in its many and varied forms”. This high-brow mission statement immediately drew criticism from many artistic groups who felt alienated by the festival’s exclusivity. The fact that approximately £60,000 was being spent on an elite cultural celebration just two years after the devastating effects of the Second World War also seemed to ignore the fragile state of Britain’s economy and social fabric.

Despite these concerns, companies including Glyndebourne Opera, the Halle Orchestra and Sadler’s Wells Ballet converged on Edinburgh for the inaugural festival. However, another eight theatre companies who had not been invited to perform took matters into their own hands. Although it is unlikely that they had conspired in advance to provide an alternative programme, the companies – who soon referred to themselves collectively as the ‘Festival Adjuncts’ – benefitted greatly from the audiences who had travelled to Edinburgh for the official festival. Consisting of six Scottish and two English theatre companies, this loose collection of like-minded groups caught the eye of many festival-goers with what was referred to by Alistair Moffatt in his 1978 book about the Edinburgh Fringe as their ‘missionary zeal’.

Since the major venues in Edinburgh were already in use for the official festival performances, these other companies were forced to find alternative spaces to stage their productions. These ranged from smaller theatres in the city to the innovative use of Dunfermline Abbey to stage a production of the medieval morality play Everyman. The Abbey’s location, about 20 miles outside Edinburgh, led to a critic lamenting its location ‘on the fringe of the Festival’.

This is the first recorded use of the term ‘fringe’ in the context of the Edinburgh Festival, although it’s important to note that it was written with a small letter F. This happened again the following year when the Scottish playwright and journalist, Robert Kemp, commented on the wealth of ‘private enterprise’ that was taking place ‘round the fringe of official Festival drama’. It wasn’t until 1958 that the Festival Fringe Society was created to coordinate what the Scotsman newspaper referred to as an ‘official unofficial festival’. In the wake of this more formal organisation, the Fringe finally acquired its all-important capital F twelve years after the first performers converged on Edinburgh, and the Fringe was recognised as a festival in its own right.

A key value of the Fringe is that it is an unjuried festival – meaning that there is no selection committee, and that anyone who can secure a venue is able to perform. This has led to some innovative uses of the available spaces, and where we’re recording this podcast at the Buxton Festival Fringe is no exception. Scrivener’s Books and Bookbinding shop is situated on the High Street of this ancient market town in a building that was originally a Victorian tobacconist’s shop. Consisting of five floors of rare and not-so-rare books, and even featuring a small Victorian museum in the cellar, I frankly couldn’t imagine a better place for a history fan like me to speak to history fans like you.

And Buxton itself has a fascinating history. The Romans established a settlement here, naming it in honour of the natural spa waters that have been a focal point for the town ever since. The spa water drew the Earl of Shrewsbury to the town in 1573 when he and his wife, Bess of Hardwick, brought the imprisoned Mary, Queen of Scots to stay at the Old Hall Hotel in the centre of the town. This hotel continues to stand on its original site next to the later 18th century Crescent, which was built by the Dukes of Devonshire when they transformed the town into a Georgian holiday resort similar to Bath in the South West of England. The popularity of the town continued throughout the Victorian era as the arrival of the railway allowed people to travel from all over the country to take advantage of the reputed healing properties of the waters. This period saw the landscaping of the Pavilion Gardens which are overlooked by the imposing cast iron Dome of the University of Derby, which is housed in what were originally the Great Stables of the Duke of Devonshire.

On the 19th June 1978, the Garfield comic strip was first published. It has since grown to hold the Guinness World Record for the world’s most widely syndicated comic strip, being printed in just under 2,600 newspapers around the world.

Garfield was created by Jim Davis, a cartoonist who began working for an advertising agency before developing his own comic strip. Having failed to gain a syndication deal with his first comic strip, Gnorm Gnat, about a group of insects, he turned to his experience of growing up on a farm with 25 cats to develop the Garfield strip.

Part of Garfield’s broad international appeal is that it focuses on ordinary household situations without turning to political or social commentary. Garfield’s pessimistic and often cruel treatment of his owner, Jon, and pet dog, Odie, is also a popular feature of the cartoons.

The popularity of Garfield has led it to become much more than simply a comic strip.  Paws, Inc., the company founded by Jim Davis in 1981 to manage the Garfield brand, generated merchandise revenue of $15 million in its first year. Subsequent growth of Garfield to include television series, video games, and even two motion pictures, has led to merchandise sales of up to $1 billion by the early 2000s.

Davis continues to work on Garfield as a writer and continues to draw rough sketches of new comic strips, although his primary role is to supervise production of the cartoons by a large team of 50 artists who are responsible for inking and colouring the completed frames.

On the 17th June 1885, the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbour on board the French steam ship Isère. It arrived disassembled, and remained in its 210 separate crates for 10 months while construction of the enormous pedestal it was to stand on was completed.

The statue was designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, a French sculptor, who claimed that he was influenced by a conversation with the president of the French Anti-Slavery Society to construct a statue commemorating the Union’s victory in the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery. The proposal was that France would pay for the statue itself, and America would pay for the pedestal. The project was announced in September 1875, when the name of the statue was revealed – Liberty Enlightening the World.

The internal structure that supports the statue was designed by French structural engineer Gustave Eiffel, who is arguably better known for the iconic Eiffel Tower that he built in Paris a few years later. Eiffel created a wrought-iron skeleton, onto which the 350 separate copper plates that make up the skin were attached. The construction enables the statue to move slightly in the harbour’s strong winds, reducing the risk of cracking or other damage.

The completed statue was finally dedicated on the 28th October, 1886. As the celebratory parade, led by President Grover Cleveland, made its way past the New York Stock Exchange the traders inside spontaneously threw ticker tape onto the streets below in celebration. This was the first occurrence of a ‘ticker tape parade’ in New York City.

On the 1st June 1967, the Beatles released Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, their 8th studio album. It won four Grammy Awards following its release and is widely regarded as one of the most influential albums ever released having sold in excess of 30 million copies worldwide.

The Beatles had declared their retirement from touring on 29th August 1966, after having played to a crowd of 25,000 people at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.  The decision to stop performing live gave them the freedom to focus on creating music in the studio that would have been impossible to recreate on tour.

Consequently the album made use of a huge range of instruments and studio effects. Together with their producer, George Martin, and audio engineer, Geoff Emerick, they creatively applied audio compression, limiting, and reverb. The studio engineers also devised creative solutions to offset the limitations of the studio’s four-track recording equipment, enabling a 40-piece orchestra to be recorded after the band had already finished their tracks.

Sgt. Pepper’s was the first Beatles album to be released simultaneously worldwide, and it received almost universal praise. Just three days after its release, guitar legend Jimi Hendrix opened a live show in London by performing the title track – something that Paul McCartney regards as one of the greatest honours in his career.

As well as being famed for its musical impact, Sgt. Pepper’s is also highly regarded for its iconic cover art. Designed by pop artists Peter Blake and Jann Haworth, the elaborate cover alone cost £3,000 to produce.

On the 30th March 1939, Batman made his first appearance when Detective Comics #27 went on sale. This particular comic is now widely considered to be one of the most valuable comics in the world, with the most expensive copy selling for $1,075,000 in February 2010. It originally retailed for 10 cents.

The first issue of Detective Comics appeared years earlier, in March 1937, and featured an anthology of hard-boiled detective stories. It was the third series to be released by National Allied Publications, which had experienced enormous success with Superman, and by early 1939 was looking to include more superheroes in its publications.

Batman was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and first appeared in a story called “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” along with Commissioner Gordon. In the story, the Bat-Man (with a hyphenated name) solves the death of a chemical manufacturer. At the end he is revealed to readers to be the alter-ego of billionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne. The popularity of the character in subsequent issues of Detective Comics led to him being given his own title in 1940, which by 1941 was selling 800,000 copies every issue.

Interestingly, although the cover date of the first issue was May 1939, it was normal – as indeed it still is – for magazines to go on sale before their cover date. One reason is that an advance sale fools customers into thinking that a particular issue is still ‘current’ and so secure higher sales. Another reason is that cover dates act as an indicator to retailers of when to remove that issue from sale.

On the 6th November 1975, the Sex Pistols played their first gig at St. Martin’s College of Art in London. Supporting pub rock band Bazooka Joe, they played a few cover songs on equipment borrowed from the headliners, but the plug was pulled after twenty minutes. Bazooka Joe failed to find commercial success, but the Sex Pistols went on to become one of the most influential bands in rock music.

The Sex Pistols had developed from a band called The Strand, who had been managed by Malcolm McClaren. After returning to the UK after a period working with the New York Dolls, McLaren developed the image for a new line-up which added bass guitarist Glen Matlock and singer Johnny Rotten to the band.

The St. Martin’s College gig itself was arranged by Matlock who was studying there. After the plug was pulled on the band after just five songs, a short fist fight broke out. Hazy memories of people who were there at the time mean that there are difference recollections over who exactly chose to end the set. However, everyone agrees that the Sex Pistols’ performance was not very polished but incredibly loud.

The bassist with Bazooka Joe, Stuart Goddard, was the only member of the band to be impressed by the Sex Pistols. Energised by the rawness of the punk sound and image, he soon quit the band and formed a new group under his new stage name of Adam Ant. Daniel Kleinman, another member of Bazooka Joe, is now better known for designing seven of last eight James Bond title credits.