48 years ago today, Oct 5, 1969, I don’t think anyone expected that the world would still be talking about a show that aired that night on BBC2. Happy birthday #montypython!
Sunday night saw Terry Jones honored by BAFTA for Lifetime Achievement, which you can read about here. If you viewed it while it was live streamed or simply saw clips of it since then, I think you’ll agree it was a touching night, made more so by Terry’s announcement of his dementia diagnosis. Michael Palin gave a great speech, as did Terry’s son Bill. Even John Cleese was touched–and John isn’t a man consumed by sentiment! While Terry may begin to fade from the public spotlight, his contributions will only become more obvious as time goes on. But as I’m sure he’d want me to remind you–he’s not dead yet!
I should probably point out that Terry Jones is getting a Lifetime Achievement Award this Sunday from BAFTA Wales.
As regular readers of this column know, Terry has recently gone public with his diagnosis of dementia, and although Terry won’t be speaking, his son Bill and Michael Palin will be presenting it. The ceremony will be streamed live, so anyone with internet access should be able to log on and watch. If you want to see it live, tune in to http://www.bafta.org/wales.
There’s a nice tribute page up for Terry on that site (I helped them organize some of the photos), and it should all be an emotional but celebratory time. It’s so nice to see an amazing talent and a wonderful man like Terry get the recognition he has earned, and I couldn’t be happier for him and his family. If you’re a fan of his, you won’t want to miss it.
I know Terry Jones will be very excited and happy to see all of the well-wishes from his fans from around the world, and I’ll make sure his family is aware of them. Even though they are dealing with a lot nowadays, the outpouring of love, affection, and support is pretty incredible.
In the midst of the announcement of Terry’s dementia, however, another bit of sad news for Python fans may be overlooked. Terence Baylor, one of the rep company for Life of Brian, passed away this week.
I got to spend many jolly hours with Terry B on the set of Brian in Tunisia, and he couldn’t have been nicer—I’m glad I was able to interview him for my Monty Python’s Tunisian Holiday book. He appeared in numerous roles throughout the film, from Carol Cleveland’s husband in the Sermon on the Mount scene, to the crucifee who said “I’m Brian and so’s my wife.”
One indication of how much the Pythons valued him was evident when keeping in mind how little the Pythons improvised on any of their projects. When we were filming the crowd scene outside Brian’s window, the crowd responds to Brian’s “You’re all different” with “Yes, we are all different.” Terry B, who was standing near John, suggested something to him, and there was a brief discussion. The next thing I knew, when the hundreds of people shouted “Yes, we are all different,” Terry raised his hand and said “I’m not.” It worked, and it stayed in the final edit. Terence Baylor had just improvised in a Python film!
The last time I saw him was at a Python anniversary party in London in 1989, where he and some of the other rep company members were commenting (and rightly so) on how good Carol Cleveland still looked. I didn’t see much of him afterward, as he was a busy working stage, film, and TV actor, as evidenced by his appearance in the first Harry Potter film. But even Harry Potter didn’t let him improvise!
I’ve known for quite a while that I’d have to write this post, but I was hoping against hope that it wouldn’t happen. As many of you know, Terry Jones has been diagnosed with Frontal Temporal Dementia/Primary Progressive Aphasia, which has severely affected his ability to speak.
Terry will be getting a well-earned Lifetime Achievement Award from BAFTA Wales next weekend, and the family chose to make the announcement in the BAFTA press release that was just sent out. In accordance with the family’s wishes, I will say no more, except that Terry agreed to go public with his diagnosis in order to raise awareness in hopes of helping others with this horrible form of dementia.
I spent this past week with Terry, staying with him at his house, going for hikes, hoisting a couple of beers, and I can say that he is much loved and being well looked after. Terry and I had dinner with another old friend last night (see photo), and I have seldom laughed so much in a single evening.
I know Terry is cheered by the well-wishes of friends and fans, and while he may be stepping out of the limelight, we’ll thank him for Mr. Creosote, and Mandy, and Sir Bedevere, and so many more. Love you old chum…
Been a while since I checked in with any Python news (or any news at all, for that matter).
Unfortunately, two of the three items today are sad ones.
Most folks have probably heard of the death of Kenny Baker, best known to most as R2D2, but better known to Terry Gilliam fans as Fidgit of Time Bandits. Here's a little more information courtesy of the Monty Python web site, as well as a tribute by Terry G and Michael Palin:http://www.montypython.com/news_kennybaker/373
And Flying Circus fans hold Fred Tomlinson near and dear to their hearts. The leader of the Fred Tomlinson Singers passed away in July, with more information here: http://www.montypython.com/news_FredTomlinson/368
I don't think I ever met him (although we were apparently at some of the same parties); but if his singers did nothing more than back up the Pythons on Lumberjack Song and Spam (and they did plenty more than that), I would owe him a huge debt of gratitude.
Finally, some very good news indeed. My old boss and dear pal John Cleese is receiving the Rose d'Or Lifetime Achievement Award in Berlin in September for a lifetime in entertainment. Well deserved and congratulations John; more information is here: http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-37093116
Glad I could end with a happy story!
What’s better than teaching a PythonProv workshop at the iO Chicago for 16 students from around the world?
Remembering to take photos of the class so that I could have posted them here…
Here’s an article on how Monty Python nearly ended before it began:
Although there isn’t much longtime fans didn’t know, it never hurts to point out how precarious history can be, and how important it is to save, document, and archive as much as possible.
Just a few things to point out. Terry Jones usually told me that it was Flying Circus editor Ray Millichope who gave him the warning that the Python shows were going to be taped over, but there were a couple of times that he credited someone in the archive department. Terry usually sat in with Millichope and series director Ian MacNaughton when the Flying Circus shows were being edited, which drove MacNaughton crazy at first, but Terry and Millichope became much friendlier. I suspect–and this is only a guess–that Millichope found out about the planned videotape wiping from someone in the archive department, and he passed the news along to Terry. Or, Terry became such a familiar face in that area of the BBC while he sitting in on the editing, that someone felt comfortable enough to pass the news on to him. While Terry doesn’t remember anymore, his presence at the BBC is almost certainly the reason he got the phone call.
For a short time, Terry was convinced that the videotaped copies he had at his house would be the only evidence that Monty Python ever existed, and he wanted the tapes to show to his children some day.
But it was right around this time that PBS made their first overture to the BBC about Python. It did not end well, but it gave the BBC the idea that these programs just might be worth keeping after all. And sure enough, a short time later, Ron DeVillier successfully convinced the Dallas PBS station to try the show in America. And the rest is comedy history.
And by the way, the videotape reels were not small back then, and they took up enormous shelf space, which was another reason the BBC didn’t want to keep anything they didn’t have to.
But Monty Python was almost forgotten for another reason. If they had launched Flying Circus a year or two earlier, it would have probably been in black and white instead of color. By the late 1960s, black and white shows were much less marketable than color programs, both in Britain and abroad, and there would have been much less reason for keeping them around. That’s why so few BBC comedy shows from the 60s survive–to the BBC, they looked old-fashioned and much less interesting than anything in color. And that seems to be a huge reason why Python pre-cursors Do Not Adjust Your Set and At Last the 1948 Show were thought lost–and why it has taken so many years to reconstruct both series. John says that except for the faces, the final 1948 show was not very different from the first Python shows–except, of course, the latter were in color.
It’s amazing how much that could have been easily saved, was instead wiped and thrown out. I know that several of the scenes cut from Life of Brian were saved on videotape by Terry Jones when the film was being edited. Those are apparently the only copies that still exist. One time when I was visiting Terry at his house in the ’80s, he showed me the deleted scenes on his VCR; it’s hard to believe that those were the videotaped versions used for DVD extras when the deluxe version of the film was released. The film copies were apparently thrown out, possibly as a cost-saving measure.
Less than five years ago, one of my students mentioned that he had seen some rare outtakes and rehearsal scenes from Meaning of Life, thanks to a professor friend in the Southwest U.S. I was skeptical, but discovered that he had, in fact, a large box of videocassettes from the film. It turns out that a friend of a friend knew Terry J, and when they were having dinner, Terry mentioned that he had all sorts of tapes left over from editing the film, and he was about to throw them out (he had recently finished the film). The professor recognized their value, and offered to take them. As a result, I was able to contact him, and today the Meaning of Life outtakes, rehearsal scenes, and alternate takes are all in the Python archives in London. Don’t be surprised to see them turn up on DVD when the time is right.
So, there are success stories, and we can only hope that in the future, even more Python material will turn up.
The Pythons always give credit to the BBC for giving them almost unprecedented creative freedom, but the penny-pinchers there almost wiped out the results of that freedom. Let’s be grateful that they didn’t succeed.
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It was on May 5, 1943 that the youngest of the Pythons was born in Sheffield, Yorkshire. Today, he’s still the youngest Python, and no one is able to keep up with him. So all I can say is happiest of birthdays to my pal, Michael Palin, and many, many, many more!
Busy, busy, busy… Friday night will see the last PythonProv performance (for now) of Spiny Norman, the team I’ve been exploring improvised Monty Python with at the iO Chicago.
And Sunday, I’ll be starting two more classes: my Python Process class, which will teach students the Pythons wrote, and how to use their methods to improve your own sketch writing.
But that’s not all. Also on Sunday, I’ll be teaching the SNL Sketch Writing class developed by my dear pal Michael McCarthy as part of the iO’s terrific writing program!
I always tell my students that, unlike many other writing programs, when you finish one of Michael’s writing classes, if you do the work, you’ll walk away with a complete portfolio package that you can start sending off to agents. Not bad, eh?
And in eight weeks, I’ll even have a crop of graduates ready to put on shows!
But both classes are filling up rapidly, so if you’re interested, call or email the iO Chicago now.
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@ioimprov #improv #montypython