Sunday Life’s Jane Hardy recalls an unforgettable encounter with the late, great Terry Jones
I was lucky enough to interview Terry Jones and Michael Palin in the mid 1980s for SHE magazine where I started out.
It was a slightly bizarre encounter involving the two Pythons, a topless Page 3 model and a large salmon in a photographic studio in Soho.
Our art director Tony Cohen had designed some of their early books and so the appointment was made.
When I arrived at the studio on a steaming hot London day, the Page 3 girl, 18-year-old Sue, wasn’t wearing very much.
They were shooting new illustrations for Jones and Palin’s Dr Fegg’s Encyclopaedia of All World Knowledge.
“Only a slight rip-off,” Jones said, deadpan. “Actually, it’s very reasonable. What’s the price?”
Palin actually posted online last May how he visited his ill-friend Jones in London and read to him from Dr Fegg’s Encyclopaedia, a ‘compendium of humorous facts’ they wrote together in 1985.
Terry was in charge of the angles, directing the photographer and the poses. No surprise there, as Terry had already directed Life of Brian (1979) and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983) for the famous five – plus Personal Services a few years later about the notorious London madam Cynthia Payne.
In fact, he achieved the dubious honour of having no fewer than three films banned in Ireland.
What was he like?
Loud, confident, attractive with that fairly risque sense of humour much in evidence.
“Pout, do innocence surprised”, he said in that Oxford accent to our topless model.
“Nobody’s going to be offended here.”
So the salmon went here, there and everywhere as the illustrations for the supposedly clean-living compendium got some new, pretty filthy illustrations. But not too top shelf, as Jones helpfully added: “No, not between her legs. This isn’t a sex thing.”
Then, with impeccable comic timing he said: “Cut. The fish is tired.”
The chit chat was fun.
Asked about whether Monty Python was satirical, Palin said it depended what you meant. “Our greatest achievement was to break the sketch formula. Pre-’69, all the comedy sketches at the Beeb had to have a beginning, middle and an end. Ours sometimes didn’t have a beginning.”
The chaps were courteous, also asking the model if she needed a break as the afternoon wore on. While Palin wanted to know if anybody had any hand cream as you needed something to remove those salmon scales (I supplied the old Givenchy moisturiser), Jones (left) project managed.
Afterwards, I wrote my 500 words, to be accompanied by a moody monochrome shot of the men with Terry Jones’ hand wave blocking Michael Palin’s face. I finished with the detail that at the end of the shoot, Terry Jones grabbed the 20 pound fish, bought earlier from Harrods, and generously asked who wanted to take it home for dinner. We all shook our heads, even though it was a top quality fish, as we knew where it had been. He was amazed and boomed: “Does nobody want it? Then I’ll have it.”
When the piece duly appeared the following month, my editor said he’d had a complaint from the Pythons, indicating the afternoon hadn’t panned out as we’d reported. Had I taped the encounter? No, but I had loads of notes.
Strange that comics famous for pulling the rug from under the establishment, didn’t entirely appreciate the joke. But by then the Pythons were deservedly comedy royalty.
It’s been a bad time for the Monty Python gang. Former Bonzo’s stalwart and self-described seventh Python Neil Innes (who whistled through Always Look on the Bright Side of Life) died a few weeks ago.
Jones will never be forgotten, as he gave us, alongside Michael Palin, John Cleese, Eric Idle and the late Graham Chapman, some of the most incisive, absurd, clever and frankly lol routines ever seen — from Hell’s grannies to the immortal dead parrot sketch.
As Michael Palin mentioned in a very emotional interview this week, his friend and fellow comic genius did some of his best work in a frock.
He apparently modelled the famous, “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy” Life of Brian scene on his mum.
So RIP Terry Jones, great man, expert on Chaucer, brave fighter of the dementia that killed him. One word finally — Spam!