Remembering Terry Jones

Terry Jones in "Life of Brian" (Photo: Orion Pictures/Warner Brothers)
Terry Jones in "Life of Brian" (Photo: Orion Pictures/Warner Brothers)

Renowned comedy sketch writer and performer Terry Jones passed away last week in his home in London. A member of the legendary Monty Python’s Flying Circus comedy troupe,  Jones had suffered for the past few years from primary progressive aphasia, a form of frontotemporal dementia that impairs the ability to speak and communicate. He was 77 years old.

Born in born in Colwyn Bay, North Wales on February 1, 1942, Terry was first introduced to absurd comedy as a child through the iconic 1950’s radio program, The Goon Show. But it wasn’t until he reached Oxford University that he thought of being a comic performer. He joined the university’s Experimental Theater Club, known as E.T.C., where also met his most enduring collaborator and life-long friend Michael Palin.

The two wrote and performed in revues at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and got jobs out of college writing for shows such as the satirical The Frost Report. Here they crossed paths with Cambridge alums Eric Idle, Graham Chapman and John Cleese and eventually with the addition of American Terry Gilliam formed Monty Python’s Flying Circus in 1969.

During the Pythons’ years on television, Mr. Jones appeared in many memorable sketches as a cheeky (pardon the pun) nude organist, the Spanish Inquisitor Cardinal Biggles, the Spam waitress and composer Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson.

 

Once the sextet ventured into the world of films, Terry took on additional role, that of director. He co-directed Monty Python and the Holy Grail with Gilliam. For Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life, Jones was the sole Python behind the camera.

As for the characters he played in these films, the following are probably the best remembered. (Perhaps not the Prince Herbert one in which he's almost unrecognizable, but it’s one of my favorite Python scenes of all time so I put it in.)

Prince HerbertMonty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

 

Brian’s Mum,  Mandy Cohen – Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)

 

Mr. Creosote Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983)

 

After the Flying Circus went their separate ways in the 1980s, Jones got to work on some more academic interests. He authored books on medieval and ancient history and was considered an authority on Chaucer. He also developed and hosted documentaries and wrote poetry.

Terry kept his hand in the world of filmmaking over the years as well. He penned the screenplay for the 1986 Jim Henson fantasy movie Labyrinth and directed films such Private Services (1987) starring Julie Walters, and the 1996 adaptation of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (a.k.The Wind in the Willows in the U.K.), which he also wrote and starred in.

 

In 2016 The British Academy of Film and Television Arts in Wales, BAFTA Cymru, honored Jones with a Special Award for Outstanding Contribution to Film and Television. His son Bill helped him accept the award, which was presented by Palin, his friend of almost sixty years.

Sir Michael made the following statement after the news of Jones’s death:

“Terry was one of my closest, most valued friends. He was kind, generous, supportive and passionate about living life to the full. 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.”

Jones is survived by his wife, Anna Soderstrom, his ex-wife, Alison Telfer, and three children.

The beginnings of my British comedy obsession began as a teenager in the late 70's watching Monty Python's Flying Circus on PBS. Losing a member of this beloved group makes me mourn not only the man, but my youth as well. Please share your memories of the accomplished and hilarious Terry Jones in the comments here, be it his work with the Pythons or any other aspects of his impressive career.