Happy birthday @johncleese, celebrating in Seattle on tour with @ericidle #cleeseandidle
Just a few short hours from now, @johncleese and @ericidle will be taking the stage in Victoria, B.C. for the first of nearly three dozen North American shows down the west coast and across the Southwest and South. Here’s the info if you’re interested. Me? I’m going to take a nap. The thought of that schedule has me exhausted. #montypython #johncleese #ericidle #johnanderic
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.
Visit Kim “Howard” Johnson’s author’s page at amazon.com
Born March 29, 1943, that makes him…I’ll let you do the math. The most important thing is that @ericidle is celebrating another birthday following a frighteningly successful tour of Australia with another tall, humorous British gentleman. And to think I knew #ericidle before he was a hashtag. Happiest of birthdays and welcome to middle age! #montypython
Sitting at LaGuardia, waiting for my flight, seems like a nice opportunity to reflect on the Monty Python weekend at the TriBeCa Film Festival.
Friday night was the 40th anniversary of Holy Grail, and the TriBeCa folks certainly did it right. The huge Beacon Theatre was packed–in fact, an entire city block was annexed by the group, with a large red carpet area set up for the Pythons to meet the press. The guys spilled out of the bus and into the tent, accompanied by Mrs. Idle and Mrs. Palin, Ms. Gilliam, as well as my pal Jeff and I.
The boys began posing for the cameras as only they can.
The cameras continued to roll while the group members were interviewed by scores of reporters, most of whom managed to ask “Did you ever think Holy Grail would still be popular 40 years later?” (BTW, the answer is “No.”) After this was under way, I was enlisted to pass out coconut shells to the reporters who wanted them (which turned out to be all of them). It was amazing to be walking along the red carpet, dodging Pythons, while being besieged by grown men and women desperate for hollowed out coconuts.
Then it was into the bowels of the Beacon and the green room, where John Oliver awaited. He approached everyone and introduced himself (even us non-Pythons). A class act, in addition to being a wonderful host.
As the lights went off in the sold out Beacon Theatre, the Pythons slipped in to watch the movie, some for the first time in many years. I sat next to Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin, and was treated to their running conversation about the filming and the people involved. I am very lucky.
Just before the film ended, the guys had to slip backstage to be miked, and then it was time for the discussion, which seems like a good time to end here. To be continued…
This seems like a good time to write a little more about George.
We shared one brief moment years ago that he I’m sure meant nothing to him, but has stuck with me ever since.
The first time I met him was in the Sidi Mansour while we were filming Monty Python’s Life of Brian; George had just arrived as we were all watching rushes. At some point, as the group exited and was milling around in the lobby, I introduced myself and gave him a copy of one of my Python fanzines. He began looking through it as Eric Idle approached and asked what he was doing. He showed Eric the zine. “This gentleman just gave me one of his Python magazines,” he told him.
This gentleman. George Harrison called me a gentleman! This was particularly amazing to me because at that moment, I looked like anything but a gentleman. I had gone to the hotel directly from the hot, dusty, dry set, I was wearing a tank top and shorts. My hair looked like it was cut in a way that it would all fit under a Roman soldier helmet without any of it sticking out, that being the purpose. I may have looked like many things, but a gentleman would not have been high on the list.
But none of that mattered to George. He was all about respect, even to one odd, enthusiastic young stranger. This gentleman…
I was lucky enough to hang with him after that, but to this day, I never forgot that first moment. And in part because of his example, I learned to treat others with respect, despite how they may have appeared, and to me, they are a gentleman (or a lady) unless or until they prove otherwise. It has served me well over the years. And it’s just one more gift from George.
[BTW, I only recently learned there is apparently a little controversy over his actual birthdate. It was long thought he was born at 12:10 am on February 25, but he gave other interviews where he said it was 11:40 pm on February 24. If you’re more interested in this than I am, google it and you’ll see what I mean.)
We’ve been hearing a lot about @johncleese and @ericidle with @soanyway and @notthemessiah. What’s Terry Jones been up to?
@ericidle and NOT THE MESSIAH at Carnegie Hall Dec 15&16! Lucky New Yorkers! Here’s a video… #montypython
The scene after the show ended on the Last Night of Monty Python was–well, it was chaotic in a good way, but chaotic nevertheless.
…I don’t have much to say except that it’s a great loss, and very sad. I had a few encounters with Robin Williams, the first of which was at a party at Harry Nilsson’s house after the final night of Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl. At that time, Mork and Mindy was one of the biggest shows on television. I noticed him walking around the back yard in the near-dark, alone, and decided to approach him, as we had a mutual friend who worked on that show. It quickly became apparent that he was in a much darker place than that back yard, and I quickly excused myself. When his substance abuse problems first became public, I was not surprised.
I had a much happier memory of Robin several years later–oddly, it was when Del Close was dying. I know that Robin and Del knew each other by way of The Committee in San Francisco, of which Robin was a huge admirer (Del never actually taught him, but always called him his “grand-student”). I thought Robin should know that Del didn’t have much time left and might appreciate a call, so I asked Eric Idle to pass on the news. To my surprise, I got a phone call shortly afterward, and we chatted for a while; I filled him in on Del and he was effusive in his praise of Del. He apparently had trouble connecting with Del at the hospital–I’m still unclear whether they were ultimately successful, but if not, it was not for lack of trying. He called me several more times that week and I gave him regular updates. I remember him asking me about a couple of science fiction stories that he was considering doing as films; at first it seemed a little odd that he would ask me, a near-stranger, but then I realized that he knew that I was friends with Del, so I would almost certainly have to be SF savvy!). We had some nice chats in which he felt no pressure to perform or entertain for me over the phone, and I felt like I was talking to the real person. I liked him enormously.
There were other encounters. I can recall an elevator ride late one night at Rockefeller Plaza, after a Saturday Night Live broadcast. I found myself riding down with Robin Williams and Tom Petty, the former as animated as one might expect, apparently in an effort to entertain the latter.
It’s all very sad, sad for his family, his friends, and for comedy lovers. I’m particularly saddened for Eric Idle at the loss of his close friend. And Robin had just finished a film for Terry Jones, Absolutely Anything, in which he recorded the voice of the dog; Terry recently told me how much fun he’d had in the studio with him, and the many versions of the character he delivered. Now it’s going to be a much more poignant experience.