the cambridge footlights

I admire the Monty Python creation and I think they were men of genius, but they were shits. Cleese, Idle, Graham Chapman. They were horrible [as was Bill Oddie of The Goodies].

In those days, women were not meant to be funny. They were meant to be decorative and I was never decorative so they didn’t like me. And I didn’t like them. My confidence and show-off-ness were very reprehensible, according to the people in the [Cambridge] Footlights.

I only like Eric Idle and Tim Brooke-Taylor [of The Goodies] - I recently connected with him and he did apologise. He was sort of shocked and embarrassed because he hadn’t quite realised what had happened. I don’t know how he missed it.

They went into light entertainment and I went into drama so, thankfully, our paths would seldom cross.

I was a pert little madam. I thought I was as good as they were - and they didn’t. And they thought I was just jumped-up. They were minor public schoolboys, where a lot of that attitude springs from, and weren’t used to dealing with women.

This was before feminism. They found me unbearable and the way they showed that was by refusing to speak to me, sending me to Coventry. It meant during the running of the Footlights review - and I was the only girl in 1962 - they did not speak to me at all.

They made it very clear. I’ve never met cruelty like that. It was a horrible, memorable experience.


Miriam Margolyes  voiceover artist; comedian; actress; BAFTA winner; Professor Sprout; lesbian; sole woman in the 1962 Cambridge Footlights satirical revue alongside John Cleese, Bill Oddie, and Graham Chapman.

When I was a student at Cambridge I remember an anthropology professor holding up a picture of a bone with 28 incisions carved in it. ‘This is often considered to be man’s first attempt at a calendar,’ she explained.

She paused as we dutifully wrote this down. ‘My question to you is this – what man needs to mark 28 days? I would suggest to you that this is woman’s first attempt at a calendar.’

It was a moment that changed my life. In that second I stopped to question almost everything I had been taught about the past. How often had I overlooked women’s contributions? How often had I sped past them as I learned of male achievement and men’s place in the history books?

I knew I needed to look again. History is full of fabulous females who have been systematically ignored, forgotten or simply written out of the records. They’re not all saints, they’re not all geniuses, but they do deserve remembering.


Sandi Toksvig — Danish/British writer, broadcaster, mother, comedian, lesbian.