The world received the sad news of the death of actor/writer/filmmaker/historian Terry Jones a couple days ago, so I decided to interrupt my January hiatus (unannounced, sorry about that) to throw in my few cents worth.
It was sometime in 1974, when PBS television stations across America began playing a very strange, very British sketch comedy program. A story a friend of mine tells of his first encounter with the show is of his father gathering the family around the TV console to watch a new (to America) comedy show from England. The company his father worked for at the time was sponsoring the show, so he figured the family ought to check it out. 30 minutes later there were two adults baffled by what they just witnessed and three kids, my friend and his sisters, completely on board. It was silly, irreverent, and the parents didn’t get it. What’s not to love?
My early recollection of the program was that sometimes women’s boobs could be seen. Even at that tender age, I must have been about ten, I took great interest in those bumps on women’s chests. Any show that would put boobs on display and was silly and funny just had to go onto my regular television viewing list.
I didn’t get everything at first. It was very British and that meant certain references wouldn’t be understood by Americans, especially American kids. However, over the years more and more of the brilliance of the show became apparent to me. The troupe of actors/writers and one cartoonist were educated, intellectual (the cartoonist maybe not so much of an intellectual, but he’s a cartoonist, what are ya gonna do?), and more than willing to attack every convention and institution, all while being completely silly and ofttimes in drag.
The troupe was Graham Chapman (who died in 1989), John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. They all came from other British TV comedy shows, through which some met and worked together. Eventually everything led to the six of them getting a comedy sketch show of their own. It was called Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-1974). The men would write and perform on what would become the greatest TV comedy sketch program of all time. (Hyperbole!)
Embarrassing fact: When I first started watching the show, I thought John Cleese was Monty Python. He seemed to have the most authority. And he was the tallest. “I’m six foot five!” What else was I gonna think?
Each member of the troupe could play the everyman (or woman) and the voice of authority. They could be the gentleman and the creep. Jones played the everyman (or woman) and creeps very well. He was Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson and the man with three buttocks. He was the flasher who was fully clothed under that trench coat, but he had the look of a masher and a sign which read “Boo!” hanging around his neck. He was the completely innocent fellow wanting to to go for a swim at the beach, but couldn’t find anywhere to get undressed, until he ended up on a stage with an appreciative audience. “It’s a man’s life taking your clothes off in public.”
In their film Monty Python’s The Meaning Of Life (1983), he was Mr. Creosote, a man so large and with an appetite so voracious he literally ate until he exploded. He was Prince Herbert in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), who just wanted… to… sing… “Stop that! Stop that!” Also in Holy Grail, he was Sir Bedevere the Wise, the knight who knew the best way to determine whether or not a woman was a witch. And he was Brian’s mother in Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979). “He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!”
Jones not only performed and wrote for Python, he also stepped behind the camera to co-direct with Terry Gilliam the Holy Grail and direct Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life. Later and apart from Python, Terry Jones would write and host several history documentaries for British television. And he was the author of many books. I especially loved his idea of a children’s book. He produced one called Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book. A book he wrote and Brian Froud beautifully illustrated detailing the various kinds of fairies with examples “pressed” between the pages. Brilliant.
The man did a lot of work. What a legacy.
In 2015, Terry found out he had a form of dementia that would cause him to almost completely lose the ability to communicate. He wouldn’t be able to speak. For a man for whom language and words were so important to his life’s work this most have been especially horrible. My father-in-law suffered from the same illness. It became more and more difficult for him to get the words he had in his head to come out of his mouth. However, Dad’s dementia wasn’t able to get as advanced as Terry’s. My father-in-law would lose his life to lymphoma before he completely lost his words.
Dementia finally shut Mr. Jones down this past Tuesday. He will be remembered and missed for a long, long time.
Oh! And before you get upset about the insensitive nature of the headline for this blog, you should know I am quoting from a tweet released by fellow Python John Cleese.
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Images used under Fair Use.
Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.