R.I.P. Terry Jones

Jones as Mr. Creosote, whose gluttonous explosion is one of my favorite images and moments in all of comic cinema.

We are very sorry to hear we have lost Monty Python’s Terry Jones at only age 77, although of course we lost him several years ago to the aphasia from which he suffered. I often thought of Jones as my favorite member of the group, maybe not as a performer, but as a Prime Mover, for he was a behind the scenes leader, devising in large part the flowing structure of the Monty Python show (where one sketch ellided into the next — sort of the opposite approach to a “blackout”), as well as co-directing the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), and directing The Life of Brian (1979) and The Meaning of Life (1983). The latter has always been a particular favorite of mine. Jones was a Medieval scholar, drawn to the topic from a love of Chaucer, which he developed while at Oxford. Chaucerian ribaldry was a hallmark of all he did, and anyone who’s cracked a book or two from the classics shelf can see the influence of comic minds like Swift, Voltaire and Rabelais on what he did. I was delighted to hear his comments as an extra to Jacques Tati dvds a while back. His classical approach to comedy was something that appealed to me very much.

For many years, Jones’ comedy/writing partner was Michael Palin, whom he met at Oxford. As a performer, I would imagine Jones polled dead last as an audience favorite from among the Python troupe. I’d guess that many people don’t even know his name. On the show, he specialized in dowdy drag roles and cheesy game show hosts, but they sort of all did. But his turn as the exploding glutton Mr. Creosote in The Meaning of Life is one of my favorite things to happen anywhere. It’s disgusting? Gluttons are disgusting. I don’t believe satire should pull any punches. Aim directly for the heart.

Jones’ other tv work included The Frost Report, Do Not Adjust Your Set, The Complete and Utter History of Britain and Ripping Yarns. His post-Python films included Erik the Viking (1989) starring Tim Robbins, and The Wind in the Willows (1996). And he wrote lots and lots of books, mostly works of history, and children’s literature. It’s funny we get the news just now, for Jones appeared in The Crimson Personal Assurance with Leslie Sarony, the subject of our last post.