Monty Python: “We have spats but deep down we love each other”

Monty Python are back with a new show. Terry Jones talks Spanish Inquisitions, sex parties and letting the parrot out of the bag. By Jane Oriel

You leaked the Monty Python reunion show news ahead of the planned official announcement. How did that happen and was it really an accident?

I think it was an accident. The BBC was interviewing me at the time and I didn’t know what to say, then something just came into my mind.

How did it go down with the other Python chaps?

Were they a bit cross with you for jumping the gun? Um, well, sort of, well, yes. But I think it did everyone a favour really because it got the thing going, but yes they calmed down in the end.

It was a bit of a blow because we are usually lucky with court cases

John Cleese said the reunion is to help pay off your mortgage. Isn’t it really about Cleese’s alimony?

Well yes, I think in John’s case it is to pay off his alimony but also we’ve got the settlement and the huge legal fees to pay after we lost the Spamalot royalties lawsuit brought by Mark Forstater [producer of 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail]. It was a bit of a blow because we are usually lucky with court cases.

Who was last to get on board with it and say yes?

I think we all agreed immediately, actually. We’ve all mellowed over time and I know everybody says John hates Eric or Eric hates John, but I think we actually love each other. It’s like a married couple: we have spats but deep down we love each other.

Will you be rehearsing much?

We are doing a week of rehearsals. We’ve got professional dancers being choreographed by Arlene Phillips so the whole thing is going to be quite a ding-dong. So yes, it’s going to be an all-singing, all-dancing spectacular. And we have to fill the O2.

Some of today’s comics, like Michael McIntyre, can fill massive auditoria like the O2 Arena. Are you worried that just as you changed comedy, it might now be your comedy that is stale?

I don’t have a television set so I don’t actually know who Michael McIntyre is. I don’t know much about modern comedy but my wife tells me about anyone she likes. I do love Eddie Izzard though, and there are others, but I can’t remember their names.

DID YOU KNOW…

There are currently around 1,450 Big Issue sellers working hard on the streets each week.

Now that you will be playing the rock star venue of the 02, what will you be asking for in your rock star rider?

On my rider? What’s a rider? There has always been a massive demand for Monty Python in America… Yes, we are expecting to see a lot of interest from America with people coming over for the show.

Well, I was thinking the other way round, actually. Will you take the show over the Atlantic?

There’s always been an aura in America about the team, which means we might be able to do some shows over there. John wants to do it as he has done several things in America before.

Do you think doing several performances and taking it out to the masses who are so familiar with the original sketches might actually damage the Python mythology?

Well it’s quite possible, yes. I wish you hadn’t said that. You’ve got me quite worried now.

In New York there was an almighty roar, a Wembley roar, when they walked up to do the parrot sketch

People do love the old sketches. How are you going to be able to hear yourselves above the mighty 02 audience who are likely to be going word for word with you through all the old favourites?

Yes, this is true, but John said when he was performing in New York there was an almighty roar, a Wembley roar, when they walked up to do the parrot sketch. There was silence all through the sketch and then there was a roar at the end. Not being used to this, he asked a stagehand what was going on and the stagehand said they were miming their way through the sketch. They were just mouthing the words. That must have looked very strange.

I am sure you still have people coming up and quoting Python lines to you but after all these years, which are you getting most fed up of hearing?

Oh I’m not fed up with them at all really because people enjoy them, but the one I am asked to say the most is: “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy.”

What sketches are you looking forward to reviving?

We are looking forward to doing the sketches we haven’t done on stage before, such as the Spanish Inquisition. But nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition! There is also one about a Catholic family across the road, and for this I’m playing the part Terry [Gilliam] played and he’s playing the part that Graham [Chapman, who died in 1989] played, so I’m looking forward to doing that.

With twists like this, will you be updating or even tampering with other scripts to freshen them up a bit?

Yes, we will. Eric has already gone through it all and has prepared scripts for us. He’s made some tweaks and has written some new material. We had a read through this week and were surprised at just how funny it was.

Since Python ended, you’ve all gone on to have brilliant careers in areas such as opera, musicals, travel, writing, broadcasting, films and directing – so is it fair to say that you have had more success individually than together? Are you perhaps worth more than the sum of your parts?

Not if we take the reaction we have had since announcing our reunion for the show. It really put me in my place. For instance, we had the full front cover of The Sun. I don’t think I could ever expect to have a front cover on my own for anything I did. Oh, wait a minute – I did. I was on the front cover of The Sun. It was when I went to one of Cynthia Payne’s parties and someone took a photo of me coming out of her front door. I was making the film about her at the time, Personal Services. It was all over the front page about “Terry Jones has attended a sex party”.

Humanity doesn’t change all through the centuries

Did they believe you were only there to research?

Well no, it didn’t matter because they just ran with the story. I did give evidence for Cynthia Payne in her court case that followed. I gave evidence saying I was there on research to learn about what happens there.

You have published books and have presented TV programmes about the medieval period. Are there lessons today’s government could learn from the ways things used to be done?

I think the main thing to learn is that nothing ever changes. My constant theme is that the medieval world is similar to ours in that the same people always take advantage of the same people. Humanity doesn’t change all through the centuries. National Theatre Wales’ new production is Silly Kings, which comes to Cardiff Castle for the festive season. It’s a big Christmassy family show based on your very popular children’s book, Fairy Tales, published in 1981. I decided to write my own fairy stories for my eldest daughter, who was five at the time. I wrote two a day for the first week, then one a day for the second week, and then the strike rate went down. I really like those stories.

Have you had much involvement in bringing Silly Kings to the stage?

No, I haven’t really. I didn’t realise it was going on until recently. Jo Davies, the director, took me through it and I am really enthusiastic about it and really happy with what she is doing. They are combining lots of the stories into one with the Silly King story being the main one. Jo said she is trying to avoid making this like a pantomime with those kinds of traditions, but I am told there will still be audience involvement. It’s going to be a great family festive show with a princess, four crazy knights, an angry fairy, a dragon, of sorts, and a very silly king.