Tag Archives: Terry Jones

Where it all began…

…On this, the 45th anniversary of the first telecast of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, it seems appropriate to watch the first scene of the first show recorded (though it was broadcast second). While Terry Jones and Graham Chapman were performing this, John Cleese was in the wings with Michael Palin, saying “You know, it’s possible that this will be the very first comedy program that doesn’t get a single laugh.” Fortunately, he couldn’t have been more wrong…

 

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The Last of the Last Night of Monty Python

 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.

 
My son and I made our way backstage very slowly, weaving through the crowd and making our way through the hallways. Camera crews were everywhere, blocking any convenient access, so we made our way back into the Green Room. It was packed with people I didn’t know, many of them apparently from the same group that was there for the live TV pre-show broadcasts, and a small band was setting up. They began playing very loudly in the rather small room, and I quickly realized that there was no way that John Cleese would ever, ever show up in this room. 
 
We waited a few more minutes, during which time I saw Eric Idle enter and wade through the crowd. The crowd showed no sign of letting up, so we decided to take our chances in the hallways. 
 
There were apparently several levels of backstage passes. We wore VIP passes, which were apparently second-highest only to the coveted AAA (all-access area). But it was difficult to discern what they actually meant. We would walk down one hallway and be turned away, and be welcomed when we came back two minutes later. We tried to enter what was apparently a small pub inside the larger pub in search of John Cleese, but were told it was over capacity and we would have to wait until some people left. So, we walked down to the Family Hospitality Suite, where Terry Jones was greeting everyone (and, appropriately, his family was in attendance; and I caught up with his son Bill).
TJ Bill HJ
We had drinks and visited, meeting new friends and old. The crowd didn’t seem to dissipate, so we walked down to the pub-within-a-pub to say hello to John. He had apparently left, but the Gilliam family was well-represented, and I walked past Terry to say hello to Prof. Stephen Hawking. I introduced myself to him and explained my Python connection to him and his assistants. Then, I said hello to Maggie Gilliam, who was astonished at the size of my now-19-year-old son, and I re-met their son Harry, who was just as tall as my son. As Eric Idle told me, “You’ve got to stop feeding him!”
 
I had a chance to catch up with the always delightful John Goldstone in the hallway, and he mentioned that the Pythons had all been called away for a final round of photos. It was getting late, and it was perilously close to the times for the last trains, so we reluctantly said goodnight and headed out. As we were walking around the darkened O2, heading for the exits, we heard some talking behind a partition that was now blocking the huge dead parrot from the public areas. I knew those voices, so we walked around in time to see the Pythons leaving, their final photo obligation finished. John called out to me and we all had a few minutes together before we had to leave. We missed the last trains of the Last Night of Monty Python, of course and had to pile into the buses, but it was worth it. 

 

 

Python Talk…

…Local reporter Mike Murphy has interviewed me many times about my various comings and goings. He did it again last week, and the result is another well-written piece that makes me sound literate, organized, and knowledgeable, and even plugs my latest Python book. Thanks Mike!

Robin Williams…

…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.

Robin

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.

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.

Coconuts and Pythons…

I just realized that this is a rather significant week for me as a Monty Python fan.

It was 39 years ago, on June 8, 1975, that I drove to Carnegie Theatre, accompanied by my pal Steve Wolf, for the Chicago premiere of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

It was also the first–but hardly the last time–that I would be up close and personal with a Python.

Graham Chapman and Terry Jones were appearing in person at the theatre, so there was no way I would miss it. We were there several hours early, and were rather close to the front of the line. The theatre was giving out free coconuts to the first few hundred people in line, and we didn’t want to miss out. I also wanted to make sure I would be as close to Graham Chapman and Terry Jones as possible.

When they opened the theatre, we grabbed our coconuts and rushed to the front row. Perfect seats for seeing the two Pythons up close (although not necessarily the best seats for watching the movie, as we soon found out).

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The theatre manager came out and introduced Graham and Terry, who came out to riotous cheers and applause, talked to us a bit, and then took a few questions. I came forward and presented the two of them with a pair of carved coconuts to commemorate their Chicago visit (which, although I never asked, I’m sure were immediately deposited in the dumpster behind the theatre).

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It didn’t matter. Steve snapped a picture of me with the two of them, and I was delighted (though in retrospect, I’d have foregone the knotted handkerchief I was wearing). Nevertheless, it would be, as they say, the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Bob Hoskins R.I.P….

Like many others, I was very sad to hear about the passing of Bob Hoskins, who will forever be known for his work in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?

But he was so excellent in so many other films, from great British movies like The Long Good Friday and Mona Lisa (for which he was nominated for an Oscar) to Hollywood roles in Mermaids, Hook, and Nixon.

I don’t have any stories about him. I only met him once. I was visiting Terry Jones, who was supervising the recording of the audiobook version of his FAIRY TALES book many years ago. Terry had recruited Bob Hoskins to read one of them. At the time, he had recently finished The Long Good Friday, but he hadn’t achieved the level of fame that he later would. It was a pleasure to listen to that familiar Hoskins voice in the recording studio, and it was an even greater pleasure to meet him afterward and realize what a genuinely nice guy he was.

Terry Gilliam was smart enough to recruit Bob Hoskins for this memorable role in his memorable Brazil. Enjoy. And rest in peace, Bob Hoskins.

More Killing Jokes…

Since I made mention of the “Killer Joke”/”Joke Warfare”/”Deadliest Joke in the World” Monty Python sketch the other day, it struck me that since most of the people reading this weren’t in my iO classroom last weekend, I should probably elaborate on the two versions of the sketch.

The original version of “Killer Joke” is in the very first “Flying Circus” show aired (which is actually the second one recorded), and runs about nine minutes. When I was interviewing Terry Jones a little while back, he mentioned that when the Pythons released their “Personal Best” DVDs, he had actually re-edited it, shortening it by over three minutes. He was proudest of the the fact that, with nearly one third of it removed, he still hadn’t lost a single laugh.

That seemed like a lot to edit, so I viewed both versions afterward. And, not surprisingly, he’s absolutely right! The original version, which is the one I’ve embedded here, is very funny, but there are still a number of slow spots that can be edited out without damaging the sketch whatsoever. The most glaringly obvious is probably the pan from the British lines to the German lines, which seems to take forever. Terry took the whole thing and tightened it up, and when you view it on “Terry Jones’ Personal Best,” it zips right along and you don’t lose a single laugh.

I use it in my classes to teach students the value of editing, and it works wonderfully. Anytime the audience isn’t laughing is a good time to examine the sketch to see if anything should be cut.

Actually, there is a third version in “And Now For Something Completely Different,” the first Python movie. It’s also shorter than the original version, but as I’m too busy to get it out and time it, you can check it out for yourself if interested. In the meantime, here’s the original.

The Killing Joke…

Had a great weekend subbing for the Writing Program classes at the iO Chicago while the regular teacher went skipping off to Malaysia (Hi Michael!).

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Here, my Spec Script students watch two different versions of Monty Python’s “Killer Joke” on three different screens to learn how Terry Jones cut three minutes out of a nine minute sketch, without losing a single joke. Great job, classes, and I’ll see you again soon!