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…
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.)
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.
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.