Classic Interview: Terry Jones

In 2014 I interviewed Terry Jones for Reader's Digest. The piece coincided with an exhibition at the British Museum that historian Jones was speaking at. But maybe of greater importance, it had just been announced that Monty Python shows were to take place at the 02 Arena. Jones was probably the most affable interviewee I have ever encountered. Despite his star status we arranged the interview directly via phone (thank you to publicist Gaby Jerrard for putting us together) and he invited me to do the interview at his nice modern house in Highgate. Looking back it is easy to say that there were signs of his illness already there. He was on the scatty side and the interview jumped around a little, but that could have been as much down to my nerves at meeting a legend as anything to do with him. What I will take away from the afternoon spent with him is the memory of a funny, lovely, creative man who had a real zest for life. He will be missed but his work will live on.

Read the Reader's Digest online version here.

Picture by Steve Ullathorne. 

At an age when most sensible people might be toying with the notion of slowing down, 72-year-old Terry Jones seems to be speeding up. Maybe it is something to do with all the espresso he drinks. 


During our interview in the airy study of his modernist Highgate home, this veritable renaissance man repeatedly pops downstairs for another little cup of coffee. It seems to give him a burst of energy and he is going to need plenty of that in the coming months. He is directing a film, working on a musical and, in case you have been living in a cave recently, performing onstage with the rest of the Monty Python team for the first time in 34 years. 


While the media has had a field day wondering whether the comedy gods will still be able to deliver the comedy goods after all these years, Jones could not appear more relaxed if it was a Sunday afternoon performance in a friend's front room. "It's all good. The size of the auditorium doesn't inhibit me at all. Though I haven't seen it yet!" 


Nervousness has never been a problem. "You have to have some nerves to get up onstage, but I've never suffered from nerves. We played to six million on television so 16,000 fans is nothing. I used to go to sleep before the TV shows. Have a little snooze in the dressing room." None of the other illustrious members of the team – John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam – seem that anxious either, according to Jones. "I think it will be exhilarating to play to a large audience. We don't talk about nerves. It might make us nervous!"


If Michael Palin is considered to be the Nice Python, Jones, dressed in black with a watch hanging from his belt, could certainly give him a run for his money in the amiability stakes. As well as plying me with coffee, the interview has barely started when he offers me some of his home made lamb and potato pie. There is something innately hospitable about Jones. His voice has a sing-song timbre to it. 


He is clearly looking forward to the group getting back together again. Though they have regularly been in touch over the years, both socially and professionally. Terry Gilliam lives nearby and Michael Palin is not far away in Gospel Oak. Jones and Palin – Mike, as he calls him – regularly meet in a pub in Highgate Village.


There have not been full dress rehearsals yet  – which in Jones' case will literally be dress rehearsals as he often played a woman in their sketches – but there have been plenty of meetings. Eric Idle is directing and has written the script, dusting off some old classics and giving them an modern twist.


"Eric has already met with the choreographer Arlene Phillips. All the girls are wearing Agent Provocateur underwear. There will be 20 dancers, I don't know what they are going to do though. Eric has also picked some sketches that we've never done onstage before, like the Spanish Inquisition."


Jones tries to resist giving too much away, but he does hint that the night may well end with a big singalong of Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life. which in some ways sums up his philosophy. The Colwyn Bay-born veteran has a distinctly cheery, youthful outlook. This may be partly down to his newish family. As well as two adult children from his first marriage, he now has a four-year-old daughter, with his second wife, Anna.


If there is one aspect that does concern Jones about the comeback it is the risk of injury: "The only problem is the slapstick lecture that closes Act 1. It might look a bit odd with a lot of grey-haired people getting bashed up." He is the main target of the knockabout scene. "I have to fall over a lot and get hit on the head with planks and things like that. I'm not sure how this is going to happen, we are going to have to work out some padding. Eric says we should all get fit but I walk the dog for an hour on Hampstead Heath every day and I'm hoping that's enough."


After over three decades away has he missed it? "Being hit on the head? No!" After a fruity chuckle he explains that he has had plenty to occupy his time in the intervening years. "I had my academic side, writing about 14th Century history." He points to some serious-looking heavyweight books. He is currently in the middle of directing his first film in 16 years, entitled Absolutely Anything, which he has written with Gavin Scott.

Interview continues here.


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