The British phrase the full monty, which apparently originated in Lancashire, in north-western England, means everything which is necessary, appropriate or possible.
Many suggestions have been made as to its origin, but none of them is supported by reliable historical evidence. Perhaps the most plausible explanation is that the second element reflects a colloquial shortening of Montague in Montague Burton, the name of a British chain of outfitters, and that the phrase originally referred to the purchase of a complete three-piece suit.
This seems to be supported, to some extent, by the text containing the second-earliest occurrence of the full monty that I have found—this text is an article, published in The Stage (London, England) of Thursday 30th August 1979, about Tommy Cannon (Thomas Derbyshire – born 1938) and Bobby Ball (Robert Harper – born 1944):
“You can never manufacture a double act,” says Bobby Ball.
“One of the reasons why we get on so well together is that we weren’t two separate acts who met up in a club one night and were thrown together,” said Tommy Cannon.
In fact, as they will tell you, “we were two lads working on the shop floor as mates and it just happened”.
The happening was 15 years ago. Robert Harper and Tommy Derbyshire were working as welders in a Lancashire engineering firm. In the evenings they went around the northern clubs as a singing duo, The Harper Brothers, without a thought of a comedy act.
But Bobby was and still is irrepressible. Comedy just spills out of him. It spilled into their singing act where Tommy, who might have been excused for becoming irritated, developed an ability to remain straight-faced. He was the perfect foil.
“How we turned professional starts as the conventional storybook situation”, they tell you. “We went out one Friday night to a pub with the boys and after a while we got up and sang a song.
“There was a fellow sitting there with the full monty on, big gold rings, all that. ‘I’m from London,’ he said. ‘You come back with me and I’ll sign you up’.”
They went and they signed.
The earliest occurrence of the full monty that I have found is from an article by Peter Blackman about the British boxer Chris Finnegan (1944-2009) and his wife, Cheryl *, published in the Evening Standard (London) of Monday 22nd September 1975:
Cheryl (she has a laugh that explodes like a swamp bubble) is boxing’s leading female ringsider—and definitely the wrong woman to argue with as the tension mounts.
Sitting or standing Cheryl delivers a non-stop barrage of encouragement to Chris: “Give it the full monty,” she yells. “For Christ’s sake, Chrissie, get those bloody hammers going.”
* The only piece of information I have found about Cheryl Finnegan is that she is, or was, a cockney, according to Frank Keating in The day Cheryl Finnegan added brass to the golden hoard, published in The Guardian (London and Manchester, England) of Thursday 28th September 2000.
Ken Howarth recorded the full monty in Sounds Gradely: A Collection of Dialect and Other Words Used in Lancashire Folk Speech (North West Sound Archive, Clitheroe Castle, Lancashire – 1985) — its pronunciation is given in brackets and the last line indicates the place where it was recorded:
FULL-MONTY (ful mon’ti)
Everything included a thorough display – no messing about.
The phrase the full monty also occurs in Street Talk: The Language of Coronation Street (Toronto, 1986), compiled by Jeffrey Miller and edited by Graham Nown. This book is “a compendium of idiomatic British English, mostly Lancashire English as, and only as, that language is portrayed in the scripts of Coronation Street”, a television soap opera created in 1960, set in Weatherfield, a fictional town based on Salford, near Manchester, in north-western England:
full monty: everything included. To avoid the awkwardness of stumbling through an unfamiliar menu, someone might tell the waiter: ‘We’ll have the full monty.’
Joan Burnie and Andrew Baker recorded the phrase in How the other half talks, a glossary of British regional words and phrases, published in the Sunday Telegraph (London, England) of Sunday 22nd March 1987:
To get very drunk indeed
An idle woman
An idle man
A dirty, untidy person
Finish your drinks
Yer a long time dead
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
All in; everything included
A slap with the back of the hand
(not a bribe)
Well, I’ll go to the top of our stairs
Frankly, I don’t find that as surprising as you do
A face like a wet week
A downcast countenance
Russell Nash used the phrase attributively in this review of The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, published in The Stage (London, England) of Thursday 1st September 1994:
The Dave Schneider Show
Dave Schneider – Top Man. An old fashioned rubber faced clown who does rock n’ Roll satire, stand-up, mime and sketches is a first rate comedy performer.
A full monty entrance, complete with dry ice and a soundtrack by The Cure, heralds a frenetic gallor [sic] through television, football, movies, karaoke, acid house and helpful advice on how to behave in the Assembly Rooms bar.
Best known for doing the weather on BBC2’s The Day Today, Schneider is a sort of cross between Mr Bean, Rabbi Blue and a wayward giraffe. Full marks also for managing to give out his agent’s phone number at least six times in an hour.
The use of the phrase in the sense of a striptease performance involving full nudity was popularised by the British film The Full Monty (1997), directed by Peter Cattaneo, about a group of men who become strippers after being made redundant.
In the following about the forthcoming film, from the Daily News (New York City, New York, USA) of Wednesday 1st January 1997, the phrase is probably still used in its original sense:
You just knew we were going to notify all of you when one of the guys from “Trainspotting” was appearing in another flick. And we are. Turns out Robert Carlyle, who played tough-but-tender pal Begbie, takes the star turn in “The Full Monty” for Fox Searchlight Pictures. The movie, however, plays like what might occur if the Village People jammed some junk with Begbie, Sick Boy, Renton and Spud. Strapped for cash, and inspired by a visit from the Chippendales dancers to their town, six out-of-town steelworkers try to turn things around by forming an unlikely strip act. Carlyle plays a 30-year-old wild man, who convinces his friends (a well-endowed handyman, a suicidal security guard and an old geezer) to join him in the strip-for-cash scheme. Together they prepare a sexy revue that culminates in going “the full Monty”—baring it all in front of crowds of women and steelworkers.