The British phrase the full monty, which 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 earliest occurrence that I have found, from an article, published in The Stage and Television Today (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 phrase was mentioned by Ken Howarth 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.
It also appeared in Street Talk: The Language of Coronation Street (CBC Enterprises: 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.’
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 this article about the forthcoming film, from the Daily News (New York City, N.Y.) of 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.