Whilst trying to come up with a way of ending the film Monty Python's Life of Brian, Eric Idle wrote an original version of the song which was sung in a more straight fashion, which the other Python members eventually agreed would be good enough for the end of the film. However, Michael Palin noted in his diary for 16 June 1978 that during a script meeting, "Eric's two songs — 'Otto' and the 'Look on the Bright Side' crucifixion song — are rather coolly received before lunch." Despite being initially underwhelmed, the group warmed to Idle's efforts and the song was retained. While practicing during a break in filming, Idle found that it worked better if sung in a more cheeky manner. This new version was used in the film and became one of Monty Python's most famous compositions.
At the relevant point in the film, Brian Cohen (played by Graham Chapman) has been sentenced to death by crucifixion for his part in a kidnap plot. After a succession of apparent rescue opportunities all come to nothing, a character on a nearby cross (played by Eric Idle) attempts to cheer him up by singing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life". As the song progresses, many of the other crucifixion victims (140 in all, according to the script, though twenty-three crosses are actually seen on screen) begin to dance in a very restricted way and join in with the song's whistled hook.The song continues as the scene changes to a long-shot of the crosses and the credits begin to roll. An instrumental version plays over the second half of the credits.
It was arranged and conducted by John Altman and recorded at Chappell's Studio with a full orchestra and the Fred Tomlinson Singers.
The song appeared on the film soundtrack album, listed as "Look on the Bright Side of Life (All Things Dull and Ugly)". The subtitle does not appear in the actual song, and is only used on the soundtrack album. "All Things Dull and Ugly" was also the title of an unrelated track on Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album (released only a few months later), which is a parody of the popular hymn "All Things Bright and Beautiful".
The song was also released on the B-side of the single "Brian Song", the film's opening theme (performed by Sonia Jones).
The song touched a chord with the British trait of stoicism and the 'stiff upper lip' in the face of disaster, and became immensely popular. When the destroyer HMS Sheffield was struck by an Exocet cruise missile on 4 May 1982 in the Falklands War, her crew sang it while waiting to be rescued from their sinking ship, as did the crew of HMS Coventry.
When Chapman died on 4 October 1989, the five remaining Pythons, as well as Chapman's close friends and family, came together at his public memorial service to sing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" as part of Idle's eulogy. In 2005, a survey by Music Choice showed that it was the third most popular song Britons would like played at their funerals.
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