Remembering Terry Jones of Monty Python

RIP to The Nude Organist

RIP to The Nude Organist

Montgomery Blair

Terry Jones, a beloved actor, comedian, writer, director and founding member of comedy troupe Monty Python, died Jan. 21 at age 77.  Monty Python was founded in 1969 by Jones and four fellow Britons–Michael Palin, Eric Idle, John Cleese and Graham Chapman– along with Terry Gilliam, the lone American.  

Jones’ primary writing partner was Michael Palin, whom he met at Oxford in 1962. In an interview with the BBC after Jones’ death, Palin said, “Terry didn’t do private particularly; Terry was a very warm man, he’d talk to you about anything so what you see in the characters he plays – the slightly manic but always slightly warm and enthusiastic characters that he used to play – are very much Terry.” Through tears he added, “He was the most wonderful friend and just a terrific person to be with.”

“Monty Python’s Flying Circus” was their debut project and would air on the BBC from 1969 to 1974.  In 1975, they landed across the ocean in American living rooms. By the time the show was rebroadcast on PBS, the sextet already had a large fanbase in Britain including The Beatles’ George Harrison. 

In the same year that Monty Python gained notoriety in the United States, they released their first narrative film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Operating on an abysmally low budget they only had one location and were forced to bang hollowed halves of coconuts together to replicate the trot of horses – but the film was still a box office success, earning $5 million upon its release.  This film, along with the troupe’s last film The Meaning of Life, was co-directed by the two Terrys, Jones and Gilliam.  Next, the group would produce The Life of Brian. Released in 1979, it was considered so inflammatory that Ireland and Norway banned it.  “The Life of Brian” was the only Python film directed solely by Jones.  

The film was almost never produced because the company that purchased it decided against associating itself with the film, subsequently dropping production.  The group had to scramble for cash and found it in George Harrison, who funded half the film by putting his estate in England up for collateral against the loan taken out to complete the film. Despite the controversy, they would be another box office success, this time bringing in 20 million during its theatrical release.  

Jones and the other Pythons often wrote and played caricature roles, sometimes about women.  Perhaps the most memorable was Brian’s mother, portrayed by Jones. When asked by Norwegian interviewer Skavlan why all of the women Jones played were so similar, he responded “well I– It was my mum.”

Jones and the other Pythons have left an invaluable mark on the comedy world, with many contemporary shows and comedians – including South Park, The Simpsons, Sasha Baron Cohen, Mike Myers and Jim Carrey – crediting the troupe for inspiring their comedy.

The final Jones-directed film was the 2016 science fiction comedy Absolutely Anything starring Simon Pegg.   In his last film, Robin Williams voiced Dennis the Dog. 

Jones also wrote separately from the Pythons, producing the screenplay for the 1986 Jim Henson film Labyrinth. He wrote multiple childrens books from fairy tales to the saga of Erik the Viking. He also wrote many academic books with themes including the crusades, Chaucer and the barbarians of Roman history.  

Terry Jones, who will be fondly remembered by friends, family and fans alike, speaks to us still, in the lyrics of the Python song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”: 

For life is quite absurd,

And death’s the final word.

You must always face the curtain with a bow!

Forget about your sin — give the audience a grin,

Enjoy it, it’s the last chance anyhow!