With the passing of Dame June Whitfield and the New Year’s Honours bestowing a knighthood on Michael Palin, I found myself reflecting on the half-life of comedy.

I admit Dame June was a comedy master – her timing and sense of character were impeccable. And being best known for Terry and June obscured her involvement in more ground-breaking ensembles, such as the Goons and Hancock’s Half Hour.

But for me, growing up in the 1970s, Terry and June, sweet and funny as it was, already seemed dated and inconsequential. Compare that with Palin’s work with Monty Python, much of which remains timeless.

You want the obesity crisis? Check out Mr Creosote, the man whose gluttony in the Meaning of Life expires (along with him) after a last ‘wafer-thin mint’. How about the feelings of despair that descend while watching Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees Mogg bicker over the mess David Cameron bequeathed us? I give you the Upper Class Twit of the Year sketch.

While we’re on Brexit, Monty Python and the Holy Grail was on the money then and now, with the French taunting scene – an embarrassed King Arthur retreating with the colourful jibes of our near neighbours still ringing in his ears: “You think you could out-clever us French folk with your silly knees-bent running about in dancing behaviour?I wave my private parts at your aunties, you cheesy lot of second-hand electric donkey bottom biters.” Watch it again and try to put it out of your mind when Theresa May inevitably returns from first-footing European leaders with nothing to show for it, once again.

There is plenty more in Python that is timeless. The fish-slapping dance, which sees Palin and John Cleese duking it out on a canal-side, is 15 seconds of purest – er –slapstick which still makes my kids laugh (if I can tear them away from the depressing Youtube pranksters).

There’s been enough written about the Dead Parrot Sketch, but Palin’s performance as the reality-denying shopkeeper is key to its success. The Catholic-baiting of Every Sperm is Sacred, from The Meaning of Life, more teasing than offensive, will remain funny as long as religious authority figures still seek to police our bodily functions.

I’ve nothing against the backward-looking, gentle comedy of Terry and June. But I do think it is worth recognising that great comedy is more challenging. And at its best it touches on a truth that makes it lasting.

The superb I Want to be A Woman scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian is a case in point. If you don’t know this film I can only think you are an evangelical Christian or perhaps a post-millennial who views anything from the 20th century as archaic and unwatchable (yes, I’m thinking of my sons again).

Anyway it goes like this: Stan, a member of the radical sect the People’s Front of Judea reveals that he wants to be a woman. An argument develops during which the political comrades agree to respect Stan’s wishes to be known as Loretta from now on, and pass a resolution to defend his right to have babies.

All except Cleese’s character Reg. “What’s the point?” he argues. “You haven’t got a womb! Where’s the foetus going to gestate?! You going to keep it in a box?!”

There’s a case to be made that this scene is distasteful to the modern audience, perhaps just a little transphobic?

I disagree. The butt of the joke in the scene is not Stan. Watching the film, growing up in a left-leaning household in liberal Bristol I didn’t understand all the jokes in Life of Brian, but I understood this with perfect clarity.

The point of the whole scene – which also satirises the endless schisms with which radical political groups self-sabotage – is to poke fun at the left and what we would now call identity politics.

Stan/Loretta calls out Reg’s attitude (“Don’t you oppress me!”) and the comrades outvote him. The motion in support of Loretta is passed as “symbolic of our struggle against oppression”, leaving Reg to turn away muttering: “It’s symbolic of his struggle against reality”.

The questions the scene asks – about what it means to be a woman – remain unanswered in the film, as they do today. The unsatisfactory outcome – Reg’s frustrated misgivings are characterised as invalid and oppressive – is exactly where we find ourselves with this debate as we head into 2019.

This is so much more sophisticated than, for instance, the much more recent Little Britain, in which transwoman Emily (played by David Walliams) insists ad infinitum on her identity: “I’m a lady. And I do ladies’ things”.

Walliams co-writer on Little Britain, Matt Lucas, has since cited Emily as one of the aspects of the programme which would be left out, if it ever returned. It would upset people, he says.

I’m sure that’s true. And upset them to no good end.

But I heard a local councillor recently discuss with some passion the need for more women in politics and bemoan the extreme preponderance of men among Glasgow’s local councillors and council staff. Then, in the very same breath, she explained an idea to end period poverty by giving free sanitary cups to “everyone in the city who menstruates”.

For those not in the know, this is a kind of “woke” evasion because a very small number of “people who menstruate” in the city do not identify as female.

How do the radical left get to the point where you can preach feminism while at the same time actively removing the word ‘woman’ from your vocabulary?

I don’t doubt Little Britain’s Emily would not return today. In the end the show’s “rubbish transvestite” was just a bit rubbish.

But if the Monty Python team were still writing today, I suspect they’d still write Stan/Loretta. And the abusive Frenchman, daft accent and all, not to mention Life of Brian’s unthinking religious devotees chanting in unison: “Yes, we are all individuals”.

Like so much of their influential comedy, as a New Year beckons, they remain more relevant than ever.