There are still - decades after the group’s last film was released - few who have no knowledge of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the group whose BBC sketch shows, live performances and feature-length escapades defined great comedy for so long. They were alternative before the term was coined, worthy successors to Spike Milligan’s oeuvre, which spanned the Goon Show and the various Q series.
Terry Jones as Mrs Cohen in Life of Brian
That is why there has been genuine sadness today at the passing of Terry Jones, who had been suffering from a form of dementia, at the age of 77. He was a genuinely funny, but thoughtful and highly talented individual who had been Michael Palin’s writing partner in the earlier sketch shows, but later worked behind the camera too, directing both Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life. He was also a children’s author and historian.
During the BBC series, he was often cast as the straight man, as when Eric Idle played his “cheeky chappie” persona in the Nudge Nudge sketch, or as Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson, who wanted to be known as a classical composer, rather for having a garden shed and thinking of building another. His tendency for the surreal was typified by the character Kevin Phillips-Bong in the Election Night Special sketch, representing the Slightly Silly Party (“polled no votes at all - hopes to double that next time”).
But what most will remember him for is those two last Python films: he was Brian’s mother in Life of Brian, and in one sketch of The Meaning of Life played Mr Creosote. Perhaps it was because he directed Life of Brian that he had so many great lines - “Why can’t women go to the stoning, Mother?” - “Er, it’s written, that’s why”, “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy”, “There’s no Messiah here, there’s a mess, but no Messiah”.
But Sirrr, it is only a waffer thin mint
And with Mr Creosote … look, there are some film scenes that, once seen, cannot be unseen. “The Autumn Years” from The Meaning of Life, where a morbidly obese man - Mr Creosote - waddles into a restaurant, vomiting profusely over the carpet, the staff, the table, fellow diners, the menu and his own food - is one of them. Then there is the food.
He is served moules marinières, pâté de foie gras, beluga caviar, Eggs Benedict, a leek tart, frogs' legs amandine and quail's eggs with puréed mushrooms all mixed in a bucket with the quail eggs on top and a double helping of pâté. The appetizers are followed by the main course of jugged hare, with a sauce of truffles, bacon, Grand Marnier, anchovies and cream. This is washed down with six bottles of Château Latour 1945, six litres of Champagne, and six crates, or 144 bottles, of brown ale.
Ms Creosote is then persuaded by John Cleese’s Maître D’ to accept and consume a “wafer thin mint” (“But Sirrr, it is only a waffer thin mint”), after which he literally explodes, spraying the restaurant and the remaining other diners with viscera and vomit.
The problem for all those wanting to call out the Pythons for bad taste is that the extreme gluttony, combined with Cleese calmly observing the explosion, then strolling up to the still-alive Mr Creosote and declaring “Monsieur, the check”, makes the sketch such compulsive viewing and very funny. Even if you have to have a strong stomach.
They really do not make them like that any more. Farewell, Terry Jones.
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This is one of my favourites: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J1FfrnOXGHg
And where would Paul 'Guido' Staines have got his signature look from if Mr Creosote hadn't blazed a trail for it all those years ago?
I always thought Staines resembled nick griffin in peripheral vision.
I here Staines is stuck in the media lobby.
Did they offer him a wafer theen mint whilst he was waiting?
That reminds me.
Tim, when you were accused of being some guy who worked for a time company and accused of being a nonce, did you take legal action?
If not, why not?
He saved the first series. He got a tip off from someone at the BBC that the tapes were to be wiped and nipped round with his video recorder and copied them.
A similar thing happened with the 1970 series of Steptoe and Son. Unfortunately, Ray Galton or Alan Simpson only had a black and white video recorder and the tapes also deteriorated due to poor storage.
His Guardian column was very good.
Hopefully he will eat it.
Indeed, the 1960s and 70s BBC policy of wiping these old broadcast tapes remains a mystery! Steptoe and Son, Doctor Who, Dad's Army, important parts of British television history lost to time. Of course, sometimes tapes for these missing broadcasts have been found in various places- there is a man who travels the world and has succeeded in finding various 1960s episodes of Doctor Who thought lost for example. I would hope that there are tapes somewhere of everything lost, but alas I think there are some that really are lost forever, a great shame.
Although I have been glad that there seems to be some incentives for recreations. The recent Dad's Army recreations for Gold have been well received, and some Doctor Who could be brought back with help from David Bradley, who has played William Hartnell's character and already created scenes for Doctor Who that follow directly on from surviving scenes of lost episodes.
Tapes were wiped because they were expensive and programmes were considered ephemeral, so it was financially expedient to re-use videotape where possible. Plus there was no such thing as a 'home video market' then.
Videotapes also took up a lot of space.
By contrast, just think how little space it takes to store digital data.
Not everything that was lost will be recovered. However, I still think there is more to find.
Something that was colour but now only exists in black and white can also be restored because the information is retained in dots on the screen
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