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.
Enjoy your visit to Zelo Street? You can help this truly independent blog carry on talking truth to power, while retaining its sense of humour, by adding to its Just Giving page at