After The Sun broke the story about 12 hours ago, it was confirmed by Terry Jones to the BBC that comedy group Monty Python’s Flying Circus are to officially reform in some capacity for a stage show and a rumored film/TV deal. There’s going to be a press conference on Thursday, according to Eric Idle’s Twitter feed.
“We’re getting together and putting on a show - it’s real. I’m quite excited about it. I hope it makes us a lot of money. I hope to be able to pay off my mortgage!”
Graham Chapman died in 1989. The last time that surviving members John Cleese, 74, Terry Gilliam, 72, Terry Jones, 71, Eric Idle, 70, and Michael Palin, 70, have all been seen in the same stage was an appearance in 1998 at The Aspen Comedy Festival.
Above, Eric Idle, looking like a member of the Cockettes (deliberately?) as “The Comparatively Good Fairy”
One of the least-known Monty Python rarities is “The Great Birds Eye Peas Relaunch of 1971,” a short advertising film that was made for the Birds Eye company’s internal use and then apparently locked away from the public eye (and probably the Python’s, too) until it magically appeared on YouTube.
It’s difficult to imagine what the Bird’s Eye brass would have made of the film back then, but the salespeople would have been delighted, I’m sure. It’s Glengarry Glen Ross meets Salvador Dali, minus all the swearing and macho angst.
“I like all my peas on the plate to be the same size.”
This is the most complete version of “the story they said was too uninteresting to be made” that’s out there.
On Friday, Eric Idle posted a photo on Twitter of what he thinks is “possibly from a very obscure ITV one off show c 1965 featuring some of the Footlights” singing a pre-Rutles Beatles parody, “I Want To Hold Your Handel.”
Music arranger John Cameron, who later worked with Donovan and producer Mickie Most at RAK Records, started out at Cambridge University with Idle. During Idle’s time as president of the Cambridge Footlights Revue, Cameron was vice president and musical director.
Cameron described “I Want To Hold Your Handel” in the liner notes to the reissue of Donovan’s Sunshine Superman:
“[Eric Idle] and I wrote a lot of pastiches of Beatles tunes… we actually wrote a thing called ‘I Want to Hold Your Handel,’ which was the Hallelujah Chorus for The Beatles. Unfortunately Messrs. Lennon and McCartney weren’t very happy about their songs being pastiched in this way and wouldn’t allow us to do it on English territory, which was a drag, but it did go on to Broadway. Eric and I used to receive royalty cheques at the Footlights in our third year at university, which put us in a rather different spending league to anybody else!”
Idle’s penchant for affectionately spoofing the Beatles developed into The Rutles on his post-Python series Rutland Weekend Television with Neil Innes, Ricky Fataar, John Halsey, Ollie Halsall, and David Battley.
The Birth of ‘The Rutles’ on Rutland Weekend Television, below:
I’ve been listening to the music of Neil Innes a lot this week as I’ve been writing and as always, enjoying his work immensely. It’s a feast. Truly he is one of the best pop songwriters we have, a chameleon of musical styles from the earliest stages of his career. Tin Pan Alley, vaudeville, psychedelic rock, Beatles pastiches, even reggae, there’s nothing he can’t do. As Innes gets older, his genre hopping songwriting gets even better, something that can’t be said of all—or even many—of his Sixties contemporaries. Sadly, although he is undeniably a musician’s musician, Innes will probably never be recognized as such. Why? Because he’s funny, too.
Since I was a wee lad I’ve been been a fanatical fan of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, the wonderfully zany group of Dada art school rejects featuring Innes and “ginger geezer” front man Vivian Stanshall. I discovered them listening to the Dr. Demento radio show when he played their cover of “Hunting Tigers Out in ‘Indiah’” (I heard Noel Coward and The Mothers of Invention for the first time during that same show, three life-long obsessions launched that fateful evening). I ran right out and spent my birthday money on The History of the Bonzos, a two LP set with a glossy booklet filled with insane photographs and a history of the group. I loved every single song on it. Still do.
The Bonzos were much beloved of all the really heavy rock groups of the Sixties and they opened for The Who, Led Zeppelin and The Kinks. Eric Clapton was a huge fan. Paul McCartney produced their only hit, “I’m The Urban Spaceman” (under the name “Apollo C. Vermouth”) and they made a guest appearance in the Beatles’ TV special Magical Mystery Tour as the band in the strip joint playing “Death Cab for Cutie” (and yes, this is where the band got their name). If you’ve never heard their seminal albums Gorilla, The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse, Tadpoles or Keynsham (my favorite) you really don’t know as much about Sixties music as you think you do, it’s just that simple.
It’s like never hearing Captain Beefheart or The Velvet Underground and thinking you’re all clever, a glaring and unforgivable cultural blind spot, sez me.
I’ve gone out of my way for three decades now hunting down Bonzo Dog Band related bootlegs, especially video. There wasn’t a lot of it about until a few years ago when the DVD of Do Not Adjust Your Set was released. DNAYS was a hip Sixties tea-time kids show, beloved of children and parents (think Pee-wee’s Playhouse from an earlier era). It starred pre-Python Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin (Terry Gilliam did animations for the show). The Bonzos were the primarly musical performers and members of the group appeared as extras in the comedy sketches. DNAYS was thought lost for many years when the ones that were released on DVD were re-discovered. Now there is a terrific amount of “new” Bonzo material for fans like me to feast on much that has been uploaded to YouTube.
After the breakup of the Bonzos, Neil Innes continued his association with his former DNAYS co-stars by appearing and writing material for the final 1974 series of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the series after John Cleese left (only Innes and Douglas Adams were ever given writing credits outside of the six Pythons during the show’s history). Innes appears in Monty Python and the Holy Grail as the annoying minstrel and singing his memorable Dylan parody, “Protest Song” (“I’ve suffered for my music and now it’s your turn…”) in Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl. Post-Python, Innes and Eric Idle created the wonderful Rutland Weekend Television series (think Brit version of SCTV) and Innes went on—solo, I think he and Idle had a falling out—to The Innes Book of Records, a musically-oriented comedy series., quite ahead of its time.
And of course there were The Rutles in All You Need is Cash, Idle and Innes’ adroit parody of the Beatles. Innes went on to a number of children’s shows in the 1980s and 90s such as Puddle Lane. He tours solo and with others and has reformed The Bonzo Dog Band for a reunion concert (with luminaries like Britwits Stephen Fry and Paul Merton filling in for the late Vivian Stanshall). A film was made about Innes’ life and career (and featuring many of his famous friends) in 2008 called The Seventh Python, which has never been released on DVD.
An inspired bit of Christmas fun from Terry Gilliam. This originally aired in 1968 on the British TV show for kids, Do Not Adjust Your Set.
Gilliam was asked to prepare something for a special show to be broadcast on Christmas day, 1968, called Do Not Adjust Your Stocking. Looking for inspiration, he decided to visit the Tate Gallery. In The Pythons: Autobiography by the Pythons, Gilliam remembered the project and how it figured into his emerging artistic style:
“I went down to the Tate and they’ve got a huge collection of Victorian Christmas cards so I went through the collection and photocopied things and started moving them around. So the style just developed out of that rather than any planning being involved. I never analysed the stuff, I just did it the quickest, easiest way. And I could use images I really loved.”
Neil Innes performs two of the quickest versions of his hit song “Urban Spaceman”.
The first is accompanied by “Testing” and is taken from Late Night Line-Up - a kind of late night BBC arts show that kicked-off in the 1960s and was revived in the 1980s. The second is from the brilliant series Rutland Weekend Television, which spawned The Rutles.
Innes is a favorite at DM, for his brilliant musical talents and his incredible back catalog as Bonzo, Python, Rutle and Book of Records. Like the dear olde Ginger Geezer, he is one of the few artists I return to with an obsessional passion. Indeed, m’colleague Richard and I have had phases when we’ve played nothing but the Bonzos for weeks on end.
My earliest memory of “Urban Spaceman” is looped to clips of playing space walks and moon landings with my brother on summer-lit lawns, at my grandparents’ house. Of wearing cardboard space helmets given away free with tasty fruit pastilles called Jelly Tots, and watching the Bonzos on Do Not Adjust Your Set. It was also the first time I learned the lyrics to a song, and became fascinated with its meaning. Who was this “Urban Spaceman”? And why didn’t he exist?
Later, in the 1970s, Innes starred, wrote and performed 3 series of The Innes Book of Records, one TV’s truly brilliant and original shows. Sadly, the BBC has been loathe to rescreen or even release this classic piece of musical culture since. But thankfully there is a petition up-and-running to get the Beeb to pull its finger out and do something useful about it ASAP. So, if like me, you want to see Neil Innes’ genius show, then please click here and sign the petition. Thank you!
More from the fabulous Neil plus bonus clip of when a Bonzo met The Beatles, after the jump…
I’m gonna look for a pair of Trim-Jeans, the “amazing space age slenderizer,” on eBay. Man, could I use a pair. Losing nine inches on my waist in three days? I could start wearing skinny black jeans again.
Monty Python’s letter—apparently thousands of these were sent out—to judgemental people who had never even seen The Life of Brian but who found it blasphemous nevertheless:
Thank you for your letter regarding the film Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Whilst we understand your concern, we would like to correct some misconceptions you may have about the film which may be due to the fact that you have not had the chance to see it before forming your views. The film is set in Biblical times, but it is not about Jesus. It is a comedy, but we would like to think that it does have serious attitudes and certain things to say about human nature. It does not ridicule Christ, nor does it show Christ in any way that could offend anyone, nor is belief in God or Christ a subject dealt with in the film.
We are aware that certain organizations have been circulating misinformation on these points and are sorry that you have been misled. We hope you will go see the film yourself and come to your own conclusions about its virtues and defects. In any case, we hope you find it funny.
I can still recall watching The Ascent of Man when it was first broadcast on TV. It was a startling experience, like taking a dive into the cold waters of a loch in November. Its presenter the scientist and mathematician, Dr. Jacob Bronowski may have been “4’ 11” in height” but he was “10’ 5” in presence.” He was astonishing on screen. Likable, super intelligent and filled with a life-loving humanity that inspired. He seemed, as a Monty Python sketch later claimed, to know “everything”.
The series had been intended as a counterpoint to Kenneth Clark‘s landmark series Civilisation, which had appeared on the BBC at the end of the 1960s. There was then still the idea that science and art were 2 different cultures, an idea which had been promoted by scientist turned novelist C. P. Snow in 1959, when he claimed in a lecture, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution, that the intellectual life of “the whole of western society was split into two cultures” of Science and the Humanities.
Snow said the British educational system had put an emphasis on the Humanities (in particular the Classics) at the expense of Science. His lecture inspired a notorious rebuttal from F. R. Leavis, Two Cultures? The Significance of C. P. Snow, in which the famed academic dismissed Snow as a “public relations man for science” and destroyed his reputation as a novelist:
“Snow is, of course, a—no, I can’t say that; he isn’t: Snow thinks of himself as a novelist….his incapacity as a novelist is … total….as a novelist he doesn’t exist; he doesn’t begin to exist. He can’t be said to know what a novel is…..[Snow] is utterly without a glimmer of what creative literature is, or why it matters…..not only is he not a genius, he is intellectually as undistinguished as it is possible to be.”
Today this type of vitriol one might expect from Simon Cowell, but back then, in the dusty quadrangles of academe, it was unacceptable, and led to mailbox filled with letters from Outraged of Oxford, Cambridge and Mayfair. More damagingly, it led to an entrenchment of views between science and the arts.
In essence, the avuncular Snow believed science, or the culture of science, contained “a great deal of argument, usually much more rigorous, and almost always at a higher conceptual level, than the literary persons’ arguments.” He went on to say:
“If the scientists have the future in their bones, then the traditional culture responds by wishing the future did not exist.”
By “traditional culture” Snow meant writers, artists, those students of Humanities, and incredibly cited George Orwell’s novel 1984 as an example of someone who did not want the future to exist.
Snow claimed that science offered optimism, while let’s call them the Arts were just plain old pessimistic. he also thought writers were suspect (obviously excluding himself here), and science was the only means through which society and the quality of existence would become better. Admirable stuff. But as Leavis was to point out, while science had indeed made the quality of life better, but it only told us how to do something once the decision had been made to do it. Science could not offer the process through which humans came to the moral / philosophical decision to do something.
This debate continued during my school years, where a lack of interest in Maths or Science, or a preference for English and Art, was considered a failing. It was therefore inspiring to watch Bronowski’s Ascent of Man, who showed this separation to not only be false but irrelevant.
“For me science is an expression of the human mind, which seeks for unity under the chaos of nature as the writer seeks for it in the variety of human nature.
Or, as he explained in this interview with James Day for his series Day at Night, recorded in April 9, 1974, just 4 months before Bronowski’s death.
Where does fact end and where does imagination begin? Well, in a sense fact is what the world faces us with, and it is chaotic. We are surrounded in nature by a multitude of phenomena, in which, if order exists it certainly does not display itself.
It is when human beings enter into that, that they ask themselves where is the trail of this chaos?
The trail is called science, if we are talking about inanimate nature.
But, if we are talking about animate nature, about living things and their personal relationships, that trail is called literature or drama or cinema.
In each case, what I the scientist , you the reader, get out of the film or the book, is a series of landmarks which say ‘Follow these steps and you’ll see that there is a hidden unity’, what I call a trail, in the variety of nature. Now, finding that requires imagination, that’s not displayed for you in the open book of nature or in the hidden book of human mood.
In 1945, Bronowski visited Japan and saw at first hand the devastation caused by the detonation of an atomic bomb over the city. It affected Bronowski deeply, and he quit his involvement with mathematics to focus on writing a book on the life and poetry of William Blake. As he wrote the book and contemplated his experiences of the war, it was became clear to Bronowski, long before Snow or Leavis fired their broadsides, that the human imagination is not passive - it is what unites Science and Art - and the pursuits of which were “characteristic of the identity of the human species.”
An early interview with some of the members of Monty Python (John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin), recorded during filming on the Yorkshire Moors - “Of course it’s changed a bit now. They’ve put the rocks in, haven’t they? That used to be the bathroom over there,” quips Palin, while Jones seeks attention by falling over, and Chapman sips his G&T. Filmed for the BBC regional news program Look North, this was originally broadcast on May 23rd, 1973.
In 1979, Michael Palin and John Cleese were invited onto a chat show, Friday Night, Saturday Morning, to discuss the controversy surrounding the latest Monty Python film, Life of Brian.
The film had outraged Christians across the world, who erroneously believed Brian was a blasphemous representation of Jesus Christ. In America, thousands turned out to demonstrate against Brian, waving banners that read, “Jesus was nailed to the cross not Screwed,” and singing “Kum Ba Yah”.
When the film arrived in the UK, there were similar candle light vigils and councils opting to ban the film from local cinemas, rather than face the ire of Nationwide Festival of Light, a prudish, busy-body Christian group, who foolishly believed they knew what was best for all the British public.
As Life of Brian was released, Cleese and Palin agreed to debate the film with professional Christian and hypocrite, Malcolm Muggeridge, and Mervyn Stockwood, Anglican Bishop of Southwark, who had the look of man who might enjoy yodeling up an altar boy’s arsehole. It was agreed the four would meet in the no-man’s land of the BBC’s chat show Friday Night, Saturday Morning, which was hosted by a variety of presenters (most successfully by the great god Ned Sherrin), but on this occasion by Tim Rice, yes that Tim Rice.
It was a brutal schoolyard battle, with most of the bullying coming from God’s defendants. At one point, the prissy Muggeridge turned to Palin and said:
Muggeridge: “I started off by saying that this is such a tenth-rate film that I don’t believe that it would disturb anybody’s faith.”
Palin: “Yes, I know you started with an open mind; I realise that.”
Neither of the Pythons seemed prepared for the Bishop’s and Muggeridge’s well-rehearsed outrage, which was a shame, and they gave their counterparts too much respect. Palin later noted in his diary:
“He began, with notes carefully hidden in his crotch, tucked down well out of camera range, to give a short sermon, addressed not to John or myself but to the audience. In the first three or four minutes he had brought in Nicolae Ceauşescu and Mao Tse-tung and not begun to make one point about the film. Then he began to turn to the movie. He accused us of making a mockery of the work of Mother Teresa, of being undergraduate and mentally unstable. He made these remarks with all the smug and patronising paraphernalia of the gallery-player, who believes that the audience will see he is right, because he is a bishop and we’re not”
I saw this show when it first went out, and I knew then it was a moment in TV history - a major cultural shift, when the accepted (and interfering) role of religion in public life was shown to be no longer relevant, or acceptable.
More from Python vs. God, plus trail for ‘Holy Flying Circus’, after the jump…
It’s that time of year when department stores fill their shelves with all those things you do not need. Today I spied this on display in one well-known high street store, Monty Python’s Mr. Creosote Vomiting Figure. This allegedly “collectable toy” originally went on sale in 2004, and according to its advertising pitch:
This is the first item ever made based on the Monty Python movie, The Meaning of Life. Squeeze Mr. Creosote and he vomits! Let go, and the vomit slides sickeningly back into his mouth and down his throat. Splatter fans, this is a must-have!
I love this little thing!!! It’s extremely amusing! You might even say that it’s more amusing than a slinky…okay…maybe not…BUT STILL!!! It’s pretty awesome!!!
Personally, I’d opt for the Slinky, but I doubt that’d help the Pythons get even richer. So, if the vomiting doll doesn’t appeal then perhaps you can be tempted with a box of Mr. Creosote’s Wafer Thin Mints?