Tag Archives: Michael Palin

Happy Birthday Michael!

Palin globesA ridiculously Happy 74th to Arthur Putey, Mr. Gumby, the It’s Man, Cardinal Ximenez, Heinrich Bimmler, Mr. Pither, Sir Galahad the Pure, Ex-Leper, Ken Pile, Luigi Vercotti, Debbie Katzenberg. And so many more…

 

Terry…

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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…

 

Why #MontyPython is still not dead yet

Here’s an article on how Monty Python nearly ended before it began:

https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2016/06/the-unknown-hero-who-saved-monthy-pythons-flying-c.html

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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Cinco de Palin

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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!

 

Twenty-five years. A quarter of a century. That’s how long ago Graham Chapman was snatched away from us after his battle with cancer on October 4, 1989.
Graham
It doesn’t really seem possible, because Graham seems more alive than ever. He was much-remembered in the Monty Python Live (Mostly) reunion show at the O2 last summer. And, John Cleese does an excellent job of bringing his old writing partner back to live in the pages of his upcoming autobiography So Anyway

But of course, none of that can replace the living, breathing, squawking man that so many of us know and love, and I count myself fortunate to have so many personal memories. I try to blog an occasional Graham story and should do so more often. For instance…
Graham and his son John Tomiczek were in Chicago over a long weekend, when Graham was on one of his lecture tours. I had met up with them, as I usually did, showing them some of the more interesting people and places, catching up, and having a good time in general. Not long after they arrived, they made an unfortunate discovery: the hotel did not provide laundry service over the weekend. None of the other options had a sufficiently short turn-around time, and they wouldn’t have a chance to get their laundry done before leaving town. They had been counting on this and were down to the last of their supplies. When I arrived at their room, Graham was concerned enough to mention it to me. Don’t worry, I assured him, I know what we can do. And so, we piled into my car, laundry in the trunk, and headed to my parents’ house in Ottawa, Illinois.
About two hours later, we arrived late in the afternoon, and my parents were apparently about to leave to go out for dinner. But when Graham walked in, their plans went out the window. We all sat down and visited for a few minutes, and I explained their predicament. Dinner plans went out the window and my mother, bless her heart, immediately began doing their laundry. Shortly after that, I took Graham and John out to show them the sights of Ottawa, which did not take terribly long. But when we arrived back at my parents’ house, the laundry was finished. “She even folded everything!” admired John, as indeed she had, down to the socks and underwear. Graham and John were tremendously grateful, and we packed things up and went back to Chicago. I later told the story to Michael Palin, who dubbed her “Marge Johnson, Laundress to the Stars!”
It’s hard to imagine what Graham would be up to now if he were still with us (though I’m sure he’d be more organized with his laundry). Still, I can’t help thinking how unfair it was that he wasn’t about to join the other five at the O2. But I can tell you this: for the limited number of days he had, Graham lived each one to the fullest.

The Penultimate Night of Monty Python

The scene backstage after the July 19 show was one of subdued excitement.

Python live photo op
 
Many of the folks in the green room had already seen one or more of the reunion shows, and were just enjoying the afterglow. Eddie Izzard, who had just seen his sixth show was at the bar, apparently being interviewed. It was his first time as the onstage celebrity during the Blackmail sketch, though, and he seemed to have really enjoyed his time up there with the Pythons.
 
After a few minutes, Terry Jones entered the room, and made a beeline to my son and me.We discussed the show, and Terry again marveled at how their audience just lifted them up and made it such a special event. Not long after, John Cleese entered and headed straight for us. I secretly enjoyed noticing that Eddie Izzard watched both John and Terry make a point of greeting me immediately, and he seemed to decide that I was someone worth noticing… Eddie joined us, and he gave John a couple of suggestions (undoubtedly solicited by John) about a couple of moments. I asked John if, during a couple of moments when lines were shaky, he had done what he had done in other live shows–leaning over and asking the audience “What’s the next line?” He said that no, he hadn’t, but might well utilize it the next night if the situation arose. 
 
The rest was a blur. Terry introduced me to Ian Davidson, a familiar name to Python fans but someone I had never before met. Carol Cleveland walked through the room in showgirl costume, too far for me to get her attention. Michael Palin came over and said hello, and we were able to catch up for a few minutes. Then he begged off, explaining that they had to do a meet and greet, and I told him that John had invited us along if that was okay. He was very happy to have us along, and so our group, the five Pythons and a few of us stragglers, tailed by a camera crew, made our way through the hallways of the O2, and finally came to a freight elevator. We all piled in–the five Pythons, my son and I, Eddie, their manager, the promoter, the camera crew, and a couple of other miscellaneous folks, all crammed inside. I think we went up several floors, though we may have descended–I’m not really sure, that’s how crowded and hectic it was. We got off in a large darkened storage area and headed toward what turned out to be a working pub crammed with fans who had opted for the meet and greet opportunity.
 
While the Pythons were being miked, Eric Idle noticed me for the first time, greeted me warmly, and asked how my little boy was. I pointed out that the young man towering over both of us was the little boy that he had remembered.
 
They entered the room to a rousing response, and fans who had literally come from around the world. They asked questions and Eddie moderated, and all seemed to have a great time. After about a half hour, the Pythons and the rest of the group headed back the way we came, down the elevator, and back to the bowels of the O2. Terry offered us a ride back to our bed and breakfast, which we gratefully accepted, and we had a drink in the Family Reception Room while he ran back to his dressing room for his bag.
 
As we rode back to North London, Terry explained that after the first show, as an experiment and at their promoter’s behest, they did an extensive meet and greet with fans, posing for photos and signing autographs. Unfortunately, it took them over two hours, and they were totally exhausted afterward, so from that point on, they did the up-close-and-personal Q&A sessions instead–otherwise they’d probably have been too exhausted to make it through the weeks of shows. I asked question after question–after all, we hadn’t seen each other in nearly five years–but it wasn’t long before the adrenalin wore off, and we were all longing for bed. We thanked Terry again as the car pulled up in front of our inn, and promised we’d see him tomorrow night for the Last Night of Python. 

Secret Police

Thirty-five years ago this week, on June 27, 1979, the first Secret Policeman’s Ball was presented in London to benefit Amnesty International. It wasn’t the first Amnesty benefit, and it wouldn’t be the last, but it was certainly one of the best shows. In addition to John Cleese, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Neil Innes, it offered a whole slew of other British comedy greats. And they didn’t come much greater than Peter Cook. This is one of the highlights of the highlights–Peter Cook playing opposite John in “Interesting Facts.” I think you’ll really enjoy this one.

Brazil from Gilliam to Palin…

When Michael Palin shot Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil,” he had never been to South America–not that “Brazil” had anything to do with South America, mind you. But many years later, after he had been poking around just about every other corner of the world, Michael decided to visit for himself and make it the focus of his most recent travel series. It originally aired on BBC One in late 2012 and, surprisingly, hasn’t been officially presented in America yet. But that’s about to change. The four-part series is set to debut in Chicago–and probably a lot of other places–on Monday June 9. Brazil is going to be much in the public eye because of the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, so this is a chance to experience the world’s fifth-largest country. The attached video was apparently shot at a book festival appearance. Enjoy.

Cinco de Palin

And a happy birthday to my globe-trotting friend Michael Palin.

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Born May 5, 1943, Michael is still the youngest Python, though that doesn’t really mean as much as it used to. Hope he’s resting up for 10 performances–two months from the moment that I’m writing this, he’ll be on stage with the others at the O2 Arena. making John Cleese laugh during the Dead Parrot Sketch. Happy 71st Michael!