With Terry Jones’ death today at the age of 77, the number of living Pythons has been reduced to four. Collectively, the six -— Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Michael Palin — were known as Monty Python (singular), and as such, are regularly said to be to comedy what The Beatles were to music.
Born in Colwyn Bay, Wales, in 1942, Jones studied at Oxford University; it was there he met Michael Palin. He and Palin wrote together for television during the 1960s, but it wasn’t until the end of the decade that The Circus first flew onto our screens.
Jones’ passion for the absurd was essential to the show. It was Jones who pioneered the show’s stream of consciousness and the “no punchline” punchline. But his talents went beyond the comedic: He co-directed Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) with Terry Gilliam, and then directed alone both Life of Brian (1979) and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983).
Not only that, Jones was a very well-respected medieval historian, both writing books and presenting on TV. At the other end of the book store, he also wrote many books for children.
As Michael Palin said today: “He was far more than one of the funniest writer-performers of his generation, he was the complete Renaissance comedian — writer, director, presenter, historian, brilliant children’s author, and the warmest, most wonderful company you could wish to have.”
Oh, and the name, “Monty Python”? Didn’t mean anything. Legend has it that the BBC, who commissioned the show, hated the name. The group, which had creative control, threatened to change the name of the show each week unless the BBC used Monty Python.
The BBC relented, which was wise because other names under consideration included Owl Stretching Time, The Toad Elevating Moment, A Horse, a Spoon and a Bucket, Vaseline Review, and Bun, Wackett, Buzzard, Stubble and Boot.