TV

Eric Idle: "I know just how God feels at the weekends"

Monty Python's Eric Idle on travelling with John Cleese, improv with Stephen Hawking – and the best book never written

You have just finished touring the US with John Cleese. Were you sharing a tour bus?

Yes. It’s a good way to rest between gigs. But we stay at hotels. John has been delightful company. We really like each other and we have a lot of laughs about the Daily Mail, which insists we all hate each other.

That was a fly-on-the-wall documentary waiting to happen, surely?

If you live in a country where there are flies on the wall, you should leave. The great fun about doing a live show is not being followed around by a TV camera crew. It was bad enough at the O2.

Was touring together better than having the rest of the team tagging along?

Well actually yes. Michael Palin declined to do the O2 show anywhere else, and as he was by far the prettiest we decided to just leave anyone else called Terry behind.

As he was by far the prettiest we decided to just leave anyone else called Terry behind

Did you think you would be retired by now?

I have done my damndest to retire but wives won’t hear of such a thing.

So you’ve written The Writer’s Cut, probably the greatest book ever written in the history of mankind – and that is the kind of hype that the story explores.

The Writer’s Cut is simply the best book never written, and that is what the story is about. Procrastination and hype in the Post-Ironic Age, which I see as beginning with the election of George W Bush and the boom in reality TV where hype replaces hip.

The book deals with salacious ‘kiss and sell’ stories. Is that something people have always been interested in or is it a modern media invention?

Oh always – it’s far from a modern phenomenon. You only have to read the memoirs that emerged from the court of Louis XIV to know how much more interesting is the shagging than the killing. The rather unpleasant Charles II is only memorable now for his mistresses.

The BBC keeps getting a kicking from all sides, what’s your take?

The BBC is kicked by the British press because it dared to expose them and how corrupt they were – tapping phones, hounding people, corrupting police and bribing politicians. It has been sent to Manchester as a punishment, and I hope it comes back fully chastened and smart enough to continue its most excellent existence because it is one of the finest things Britain ever produced, after The Royal Society and the Cambridge Footlights.

You were in the Footlights and at Cambridge at the same time as Stephen Hawking, whom you involved in the O2 shows. Has he always been a fan?

He was a research graduate when I was there. I remember one day he came into the Footlights Club at lunch time and did an extraordinary improv but he says he has no memory of this at all. It was incredible he agreed to run over Professor Brian Cox for us… He is a huge comedy fan.

It is one of the finest things Britain ever produced

After the Monty Python reunion, you noted you had graduated from “icon” to “legend”. How does that feel? Any different?

Yes, there’s definitely a difference. Legend is one step nearer the grave, and also far less true. An icon is for worship and I find I dislike being worshipped. I know just how God feels at the weekend.

After legend, what’s the next step up?

Sadly, a step down.

Even so, do you still manage to always look on the bright side of life?

Every morning, I do. I’m an optimist in the morning and a pessimist at night.

What’s the secret?

I laugh and smile and dance and sing. Oh, and read.

The Writer’s Cut is out now (Canelo, ebook, £3.99)

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