The sketch features five sailors in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean, on the verge of starvation and with little hope of rescue. One sailor (Michael Palin) laments that there is still no sign of land, and then asks another sailor, Hodges (Graham Chapman) "...how long is it?" Hodges is bemused and remarks "That's rather a personal question, sir!" The first sailor, now frustrated yells that he was talking about how long they had all been in the lifeboat. He then breaks the fourth wall and starts the sketch over again because Hodges has spoilt the atmosphere. On the second try, Hodges replies that it's been thirty three days but then breaks the fourth wall and makes a case that he didn't ruin the atmosphere, but is quickly rebuked by the first sailor. The sketch re-starts again from the top, but this time, after Hodges answers the question, another sailor, Thompson is not paying attention and asks the others if they have started the sketch again. This prompts the others to stop and re-start the sketch yet again.
The sketch finally gets going on the fourth attempt and Hodges reminds the others that it's been thirty-three days and they can't hold out much longer. Maudling (Eric Idle) , one of the other sailors is on the brink of despair and the Captain (John Cleese) reveals that he has a gammy leg and is on the verge of death. However, he notes that the others may survive to be rescued, so he offers to sacrifice himself so that the others can eat him and survive. The others are taken aback by this gesture, although Hodges is not thrilled about eating the captain's gammy leg. The Captain re-assures the men that there is plenty of good meat left on his body, but Maudling is still reluctant to eat him. After the Captain presses him for a reason, a beat passes, and he replies "I'd rather eat Johnson sir!" which Hodges eagerly agrees with. Johnson (Terry Jones) seems perfectly content with being eaten, but the first sailor (Palin) is now hesitant to eat Johnson because he is "not kosher". Maudling puts in that that depends on how Thompson is killed, but the first sailor reveals that he likes his meat a little more lean and that he'd rather eat Hodges. This causes the men to start bickering about who they'd prefer to eat until Hodges proposes a planned menu, "Look. I tell you what. Those who want to can eat Johnson. And you, sir, can have my leg. And we make some stock from the Captain, and then we'll have the rest of Johnson cold for supper." The men begin producing food items from the bottom of the lifeboat, including avocados, as a waitress (Carol Cleveland) walks alongside the lifeboat and begins taking the men's order.
The skit is followed by the announcer reading a "protest letter" saying, "Dear Sir, I am glad to hear that your studio audience disapproves of the last skit as strongly as I. As a naval officer I abhor the implication that the Royal Navy is a haven for cannibalism. It is well known that we now have the problem relatively under control, and that it is the RAF who now suffer the largest casualties in this area. And what do you think the Argylls ate in Aden. Arabs? Yours etc. Captain B.J. Smethwick in a white wine sauce with shallots, mushrooms and garlic."
Possible historical referencesEdit
The facts of this sketch are vaguely similar to, and perhaps refer to, a famous British case about the necessity of murder under threat of starvation (on a lifeboat). See Regina v. Dudley and Stephens, 14 Q.B.D. 273 (1884).
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