Tag Archives: life of brian

Terry and Terry

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.

tj-hj-selfie

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.”

tb

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!

What I learned from George Harrison…

This seems like a good time to write a little more about George.

I’ve talked about my various encounters with George in the past on this site.GH

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.)

Python Gets Stoned…

Python Brian JC stoning

It was during this week in 1978 that filming began in Tunisia on Monty Python’s Life of Brian. The first day, September 16th, wasn’t even supposed to be the first day, but everything was going so well that they decided to begin that Saturday instead of waiting until the next Monday. And so, the cameras rolled on the Stoning Scene. Our still photographer, David Appleby, hadn’t even arrived yet. I had mentioned to Graham Chapman that I had bought a new camera for my stay in Tunisia, and so I ended up being asked to take a few rolls of film. A little intimidating for my first day ever on a film set, but I happily complied. I don’t know how many, if any, of my shots were ultimately used, but somebody’s were…

The Unofficial World Cup Anthem

I meant to get this posted a few days ago, and I didn’t, and now England has already lost to Italy. Which only makes it more appropriate, I suppose.
The first time I ever heard this song was on the set of Life of Brian in Tunisia. Eric Idle had apparently recorded it in John Goldstone’s hotel room, and brought it down on the set for all of us to hear. Of course, it ended up as the closing number for Brian, and has gone on to become the unofficial anthem of losing football fans, comedy lovers, and funerals everywhere. This version includes a new verse to coincide with the World Cup and is, I should point out, available on itunes. It’s a great way to help you get over a World Cup loss. Just saying.

Happy birthday Graham!

Happy birthday, Graham Chapman! Graham would have been 73 years old this Wednesday, and the world is a far less silly place without him. He left us nearly a quarter of a century ago, and he is sorely missed.

ImageReaders Digest used to run a feature about "The Most Unforgettable 
Person I Ever Met." While I have known a few people who would qualify, I don't know if anyone fit the bill more than Graham. In addition to being a member of Monty Python, he was also a goatherder, a Petula Clark writer, an alcoholic and then a recovered alcoholic, openly gay at a time when it wasn't well-accepted, a mountaineer, and a fully qualified medical doctor who went to New Zealand as the result of an off-handed comment during a meeting with the Queen Mother. He was sometimes prolific, sometimes not, though at one point, he was simultaneously writing for three different television shows. [He would undoubtedly have been at the forefront of the gay rights/gay marriage movement over the past 25 years, as he was when he was alive--he never really got the credit, but he was, arguably, the first openly gay star of a Hollywood movie.] His greatest accomplishment may have been his triumph over alcohol. He used to party with his friends Keith Moon, Harry Nilsson, and Ringo Starr, a group not known for their temperance (they all eventually quit--or in the case of Keith, tried to quit--drinking; all but Ringo are gone now). At the beginning of the filming of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Graham self-diagnosed himself as alcoholic and made the decision to quit drinking, though it took some time. But when he finally came out of it newly sober, he proved himself to be wonderful capable in films like Life of Brian. The first couple of times I met Graham, he was still hampered by alcohol. The Chicago premiere of Holy Grail (where he was accompanied by Terry Jones) was early in the day, and he did not seem to be affected. The following year, I met him again backstage at New York's City Center, between two Saturday evening performances of the Monty Python Live! stage show. He wandered around shirtless with a large tumbler of something that looked suspiciously like Gordon's Gin. He emitted the occasional random squawks! and sang "Ya De Buckety!" for no apparent reason. But he held himself together enough during the performance that I saw, and I enjoyed it immensely.
Image When I flew to London two years later, I met a completely changed Graham. Quiet and soft-spoken, but still with a wickedly funny sense of humor, he had quit drinking at the beginning of the year and was a totally different person. He invited me to stay at his house on Southwood Lane, along with his partner David, foster son John, dogs Harry, Sly, and Clint, and a semi-regular assortment of drop-in guests, including a semi-scary man in black leather called Spike, and Bernard McKenna, with whom he was writing at the time. He introduced me to the Angel Pub in Highgate (where there is now a plaque in his honor), where he drank ginger ale. Having read about it in guidebooks, I ordered the shepherd's pie; when it came, Graham eyeballed it, looking a bit disturbed, and asked me "Are you sure that's what you wanted?" (Graham was right about the shepherd's pie.) And so began our long friendship, one which lasted as long as Graham himself. Happy birthday, Gray.

Pythons United, Part 2

ImageAs Judith told Reg in Life of Brian: It’s happening, something’s actually happening!

That’s the answer to the question I’ve been getting all day. The Python Reunion is on. 2014 is going to be the biggest Python year since 1983, when Meaning of Life was released.

I’ve known about this for months now–so much for everyone who said I couldn’t keep a secret!–but when I first found out, my reaction was much the same as everyone hearing about it today.

Even though Graham Chapman died in 1989, he will be included in the show. He wouldn’t have it any other way. But details are still being worked out. The guys just spent all day together, and scripts are being finalized.

There will be a press conference on Thursday in London, with the group announcing when and where. I’m still biting my lip, so you’ll have to come back here Thursday for all of the details. It’s going to be worth it.

George Again

Monty Python’s Life of Brian opened in New York the year after shooting wrapped in Tunisia. It was a soft opening at first–it was slipped into one theatre and ran largely without controversy for several weeks. Then in September, the Pythons themselves all flew into town (and so, naturally, did I). They kept to a rather busy schedule, doing lots of TV, radio, and press interviews to promote the film, which was getting great reviews but also upsetting a few folks (Graham Chapman told me “There are some people whom one would wish to offend”). While I was walking to their Central Park South hotel, I saw a full-page tabloid headline from one of the smaller newspapers–I can’t recall precisely what it said, but it seemed a little jarring to see a full-page headline devoted to the film. When I got back to their hotel, I ran into one of the people with Handmade Films. When I told her about it, she was quite interested, so I promised to get her a copy if I could find one.

Not long afterward, I found and bought the last remaining copy I could find of the tabloid, and dutifully headed back to the hotel. For some reason, there were dozens of people gathered in front, but I brushed past them and made my way to the elevator. I rode up to the suite that was serving as base camp for Handmade and knocked on the door. A smiling John Goldstone, the film’s producer, opened it and said hello. “Hi, John,” I smiled, and brushed past him, heading toward the adjoining room. I had planned to drop off the newspaper and leave. John appeared a little uneasy, but I was moving too quickly for him to stop me.

Then, from the far corner of the room, I heard someone call “Howard? Howard Johnson?” I turned to see George Harrison grinning back at me.

GeorgeHarrison

I was a little stunned. The one and only time I had met George was nearly a year ago, in Tunisia, during the slightly chaotic evening that I wrote about last week. I hadn’t noticed him, but he recognized me! I later realized that in addition to our conversation, he probably recalled me from the Python fanzine that I had given him a year ago. If he could remember that, he was a serious Python fan.

We chatted for a few minutes, then John Goldstone politely interrupted George and reminded him that they had an appointment for lunch. I rode down the elevator with them, with George chatting away. I asked him about the rather large crowd in front of the hotel, whether it was for him, but he shook his head “no” and speculated that it was for The Who, who were playing their first concerts since Keith Moon’s passing. When we got to the first floor, he didn’t seem to want to leave. But business called, and they slipped through the lobby to the adjacent Stork Room, avoiding the crowd outside.

Later that day, I came down the elevator with another guy who looked vaguely familiar. We got off and he walked outside, into the crowd, which swarmed around him for autographs. I thought it might be Kenny Jones, who was filling in as drummer for The Who at the time. So I asked an enthusiastic member of the crowd, who gasped breathlessly “That’s Bruce Springsteen!” He was playing that weekend for the No Nukes concert. A lot happens in New York…

I was a little surprised I hadn’t recognized him, but not particularly bothered. Riding in an elevator with Bruce Springsteen was anti-climactic after visiting with my pal George.

George

As long as I’m keeping track of Python anniversaries, it was on this date, way too many years ago today, that I first met George Harrison. (It’s easy to keep track of these sort of things when you publish your journal–otherwise, I’d be hopeless.)

George HI’ve told the story before, but who doesn’t like to hear a George Harrison story?

I was on the set of Monty Python’s Life of Brian in Tunisia, and we had been filming for 4-5 weeks. George had famously stepped in when the original backers of the film backed out (actually, chickened out is more accurate). He simply wanted to see the movie, and so agreed to bankroll the entire production. That’s the kind of bloke he was.

There were rumblings on the set that the executive producer (George) would be flying down for an overnight visit. (“He wanted to see how we were spending his money,” quipped Eric Idle.) But as time went on, it grew dark and we had to wrap for the day. Some of us headed to the downtown hotel to watch the rushes. The screen and projector were set up, but there was more milling around than usual, and it became obvious that they were being delayed for a reason. I overheard Eric mention that they’d like to hold out a few minutes longer so that George could see them, and so we waited even longer. But finally, we could wait no longer and they began.

About halfway through. there was a slight commotion in the back as a small group entered the room. I could make out Eric and his wife, and a couple of other people. They found seats and settled in, but there was still an air of excitement in the room. But the rushes played on, to much laughter, and notes were made. When they drew to a close, the audience stepped out of the small room, and people mingled outside the production office. I took the opportunity to slip George one of my Monty Python fanzines, and he thanked me and continued talking to Michael Palin.

A very dark and blurry picture of the gathering outside the production office. In the foreground ( l-r): Me, George, Michael Palin, John Cleese, John Goldstone

A very dark and blurry picture of the gathering outside the production office. In the foreground ( l-r): Me, George, Michael Palin, John Cleese, John Goldstone

I decided to grab a drink in the bar, and a few minutes later, George and Eric entered. George began thumbing through my Python zine, joking and making general comments about it. I was happy to discuss it with him briefly, and he asked if I was joining them for dinner. “Sure,” I said, being no fool. As it turned out, George and his then-business partner, Denis O’Brien, had decided to buy dinner for some of the cast and crew, and he included me in the group. We had drinks while the large table was set up in a separate room, then we filed in and found a seat.

Drinks soon materialized, and George made a toast: “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow the money runs out!” he joked. He pulled out a photo of his baby son Dhani, and showed the group. Baby Dhani was dressed in a miniature Gumby suit, thanks to his Uncle Eric.

Meanwhile, someone thought it would be a good idea to send in a Tunisian band, but the volume was obviously too much for the small room. George showed a producer’s ingenuity by grabbing a bread roll, tearing off a couple of small pieces, and shoving them in his ears until the musicians were politely dismissed. It was, as the Brits would say, a very jolly evening.

And, it wasn’t over.

Next: George and I become pals.