MONTY PYTHON TO REUNITE AFTER 30 YEARS
Me do a silly walk? Not with this artificial hip says Cleese, aged 74: QUENTIN LETTS sees the wrinkly Pythons announce their last hurrah
- John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones return
- When asked why they have decided to reunite, Palin jokes it was 'greed'
- It's announced at press conference in London hosted by Warwick Davis
- Idle jokes that reunion is being held now to 'pay for Jones's mortgage'
- Show in July described as having 'modern, typical, Pythonesque twists'
- Sixth Python Graham Chapman died of cancer in 1989 aged just 48
From the bristling security beefcake, you would have thought it was a Madonna concert or the visit of a top-rank politician.
And like the vainest prima donnas they arrived 20 minutes late, halos distinctly evident over their balding brows.
Odd to think that the Pythons were once thought prickers of pomposity.
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We're back: From left, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Carol Cleveland, Terry Gilliam and John Cleese announce their new plans for Monty Python at the Corinthia Hotel in London
Stars: The Pythons have amassed millions of fans for their groundbreaking, anarchic comedy series and films, which also launched their own successful solo careers
TOP GAGS: BEST LINES FROM THE PYTHON PRESS CONFERENCE
Eventually, five slightly shrivelled septuagenarians stepped from the wings to announce – to much fawning from camp followers – that they would perform a comeback gig next July.
It will be held at Peter Mandelson’s Millennium Dome, of all places.
Here were the surviving members of the 1970s comedy gang that helped to tear down the old order.
The Pythons were pioneers of the permissive society.
They were Young People. They were The Latest Thing.
These ancients yesterday looked anything but sprightly.
And they intend to cash in on babyboomer nostalgia by churning out some of their old hits.
Anything Cliff Richard can do, they can do.
There will be just one performance of the show.
More than that might crock them, perhaps.
Tickets will be priced between £27.50 and £90 – ‘£300 cheaper than tickets for a Rolling Stones concerts’, they joked.
Some of the income would be spent on a backstage nurse, they said huskily.
Nurse Boobtastic better make sure she has plenty of vitamin capsules.
John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Eric Idle had settled their differences and cleared their diaries.
Not easy when they live far apart. In the past there have been spats, not least about money.
But we did not talk about that sort of thing yesterday.
In their heyday the Pythons were regarded as The Beatles of comedy and their programmes have been broadcast in 98 countries. They went their separate ways some 30 years ago.
The sixth member of the troupe, Graham Chapman, died in 1989. His demise explains the title of the O2 show, ‘One Down, Five to Go’.
Veteran comedy troupe: From left, Palin, Idle, Jones, Gilliam and Cleese as they announce the reunion show
Return: The surviving members of the Python comedy group, from left, Palin, Idle, Jones, Gilliam and Cleese
MONTY PYTHON LIVE: THE DETAILS
Would it soon be ‘Two Down, Four to Go’? One of them floated that idea. Mr Cleese: ‘My money’s on Jones to go next.’
Mr Jones, happily, did not seem to hear this. Some of them did seem a bit on the deaf side.
Since Monty Python split, Mr Palin, 70, has become a television travel-programme presenter and an embodiment of slightly spongy ‘niceness’.
Mr Gilliam, 72, is a film director and spends his spare time counting his money (£25million and rising). Mr Cleese, 74, has been a customer of the divorce courts.
The sight of old groovers getting back on the road is not always an uplifting one. It reminds us of anno domini.
Will Gilliam’s big-foot graphics and the Arthurian knights slicing one another’s limbs off and the brass-oompah music and the Peter Cook-inspired caretakers in brown coats still make fans laugh?
Depends on the audience, said Mr Cleese. But those fans will be determined to give their heroes a warm reception. Artistically and commercially, this looks a low-risk enterprise.
Despite the turkey necks and creaky bones, there was still a shadow of their old wackiness yesterday.
With characteristic Python ‘silliness’, they walked on stage yesterday all talking at the same time, and then sat down behind the wrong name badges.
As can happen with Python, some of their jokes worked. Some fell flat. The event was compered by a dwarf. It was just about possible to recognise them, though the years had taken a toll.
Carol Cleveland being held up by The Monty Python crew - left to right - Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, John Cleese - in their heyday
Mr Cleese’s face, once lined and so expressive (remember Basil Fawlty bawling at Manuel?), had taken on a pingy, startled aspect. Mr Gilliam’s had something of the walnut to it.
Mr Idle, 70, resembled a provincial undertaker. Mr Palin could have been an off-duty social worker.
They said they hoped to ‘cheer people up’ by reprising some of Python’s classic comedy turns. Did they mean ‘make ourselves several thousand quid each’? I kept wondering: what would the young Pythons have made of old comedians trying to re-enter the showbiz atmosphere? I suspect they would have ragged them rotten.
They hoped that the enterprise would make ‘a lot of money – enough to pay Terry Jones’s mortgage’.
Mr Jones, 71, rich as gooseberry fool, lives in a splashy pad in north London. He sat in the middle of the quintet and was the most avuncular of them.
Yesterday’s announcement attracted 25 television news crews from as far afield as Norway, Spain and the US.
The foreign reporters approached the question of British comedy with marvellous seriousness.
In discussion: Idle shared this picture of himself, Palin, Gilliam, Jones and Cleese discussing their show plans
Comeback story: From left, Gilliam, Jones and Idle. The show will have 'modern, typical, Pythonesque twists'
Future: Cleese said 'at first' the gig would be 'a one and only' but refused to rule out further performances
When an Australian reporter hoped they would visit Down Under, Mr Cleese replied: ‘There are planets closer than that.’
Details of quite how much lucre the five Pythons will pocket from their first stage reunion since 1980 (when they played the Hollywood Bowl in California) was not disclosed, but some of them seem to need an injection of cash.
It is no secret that Mr Cleese, for one, has lost a fortune or three to alimony payments.
Was there an element of them milking their comedy archives? ‘The cow died a long time ago,’ said Mr Idle.
A DVD of the show would be made. ‘We will be filming it and will obviously try and flog it,’ said Mr Idle.
‘After you turn 70 you can be absolutely shameless,’ murmured Mr Gilliam, 72.
The quintet said it was not only possible to be ‘silly over 70’ but it was ‘very possibly necessary’.
Quite which of them said this was hard to say, as they were still chuntering over one another like jays.
When we had a question from a Spanish reporter, Mr Palin yelped: ‘Nobody expected the Spanish Inquisition!’
The senorita frowned, not quite comprehending the crazeeey British humour. She sternly instructed them to apply themselves more fully to her queries.
Sketches such as the Dead Parrot (Mrs Thatcher’s favourite!) and the Crunchy Frog would be included in the O2 show, said Mr Idle, because ‘in rock concerts the worst thing to hear is when the band says “we’d like to play some tracks from our new album”.’
Mr Cleese added that he ‘once saw Neil Diamond booed for singing some new numbers’ at a concert.
It was possible, he added, that with some of the sketches, the audience would know the lines rather better than the Pythons.
And what is the name of your ravishing wife?: Idle and Cleveland (with Palin, rear) in the 1971 film And Now For Something Completely Different
Much-loved: Cleese performing in the famous Ministry of Silly Walks sketch (left) - which he ruled out for a return in the new show - and Palin, Chapman and Idle (right) in the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Classic sketches: From left, Idle, Jones, Chapman, Cleese and Palin. Monty Python's Flying Circus was made for TV between 1969 and 1974 and generations of fans can recite lines and whole sketches
But there would also be dancers and so forth. ‘We know we have to put on a show,’ said Mr Idle, 70.
One of the glamour girls, if that is the term, will be Carole Cleveland, 71, who was a regular in the original Python TV shows.
Sure enough, Miss Cleveland suddenly leapt from the front row of the Playhouse stalls yesterday, a fine example of the embalmer’s art. Cheekbones like a beaver.
Mr Cleese said his ‘silly walks’ sketch, when he wore a bowler hat and manipulated his long legs as though they were lengths on an anglepoise lamp, would not be attempted on the O2 stage.
‘I have an artificial knee and an artificial hip so it is impossible,’ he said.
Will their humour still resonate? Modern British humour is so news-based, so studiously egalitarian and coarse.
The Pythons never swore on stage. They mocked officialdom and speech patterns whereas today’s humour is often about love lives and grungy observation.
The Pythons were elitist, politically incorrect. After Python, the Establishment became better at disguising itself and has thus avoided attack.
Mr Jones was optimistic. ‘Silliness is always funny,’ he said. Mr Gilliam added that ‘laughing at pompous figures’ would never go out of fashion.
At which point old Cleese, who has never quite recovered his sense of self-absurdity after years spent in America, said: ‘People enjoy the experience of being with us.’ We’ll be the judge of that come July, matey.
AND NOW, DECADES ON, THEIR LIVES ARE COMPLETELY DIFFERENT
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