Holy Flying Circus: Making a drama of Monty Python


Tagged with:

Hello. My name's Rufus Jones. I play Terry Jones in BBC Four's Holy Flying Circus.

I also play Terry Jones playing Michael Palin's wife, because it's that kind of show, and I'm that kind of guy.

My first memory of Monty Python? I think I was eight years old, my Dad had bought our first VHS player and he had decided to commemorate this with a night of Python.

Unfortunately, he rented The Meaning of Life.

I think he was expecting the silly whimsy of the Fish Slapping Dance - instead he sat there with a panicked grin while his eight-year-old son watched Graham Chapman being chased off a cliff by topless female rollerskaters in G strings.

I spent my early years thinking Monty Python was basically porn. Parrots, Piranha Brothers and Prophets came later.

The cast, left to right: Terry Gilliam (Phil Nichol), Graham Chapman (Tom Fisher), Michael Palin (Charles Edwards), John Cleese (Darren Boyd), Terry Jones (Rufus Jones), Eric Idle (Steve Punt)

Holy Flying Circus is hard to describe.

I think the phrase we've gone for is 'a re-imagining', which only really sounds right if you say it in a Californian accent.

The problem with most re-imaginings is that they frequently end up as de-imaginings, disappointing dilutions of the source material.

But I think Holy Flying Circus avoids this, and most of that is down to writer Tony Roche.

The script was really why we all signed up to do it. It had to be good.

If it wasn't, being asked to play some of the greatest comedians in history wouldn't be so much of a holy grail as a poisoned chalice.

But Tony had written something that was so funny you'd find yourself standing up and applauding as you read it alone in your bedroom.

As an actor, one constantly runs the risk of sounding like an enormous tool when saying things like that, but it really was completely exceptional.

Tony wasn't competing with Python or trying to ape their style - the laughs are more contemporary than Pythonesque.

There are some homages to famous Python sketches, but they're brief.

The script also tackles censorship and blasphemy with an intelligence that was quite thrilling to be a part of.

Steve Punt as Eric Idle is perfect casting in so many ways, not least because Brian was Monty Python's very own Mary Whitehouse Experience.

Basically, Holy Flying Circus is as slavishly faithful to the Python story as Life Of Brian was to 1st Century Galilee.

In other words, it's a mixture of outrageous liberties and surprising truths.

The cast don wigs and moustaches and get into character for Holy Flying Circus

The way TV works means that the first time the six of us were all together in wigs, costumes and in character, it was the first day of filming.

You hit the ground running, and as a result the first couple of days' shooting hummed with a certain low-level terror.

There'd be a lot of staring into space, trying to focus, with the occasional supportive comment like:

- Nice moustache.

- Cheers. (Pause.) Good grip on the pipe. Very, you know, 'Graham'.

- Thanks.

Mistakes would occur. I'd try and summon up Terry's voice and something unpardonably Pakistani would come out.

But then you relax, the impressions begin to run themselves and you concentrate on the script.

I don't often corpse, but there were occasions.

Jason Thorpe - who plays BBC exec Alan Dick and Tourette sufferer Desmond Lovely - is a mesmerically gormless young man.

And there was a take where Darren Boyd (John Cleese) unleashed without warning a fierce burst of Gumby that just floored the room.

All the Pythons in Holy Flying Circus are somewhat heightened.

In 1979, they'd just returned from the US when the Brian controversy began, so we gave Terry a look that was part Saturday Night Fever, part Welsh scrum half Gareth Edwards.

Michael Palin talks to Jones The Wife about his concerns about the release of Life Of Brian.

But half my time in Holy Flying Circus is spent playing Michael Palin's wife.

Looking over old Python, Terry had a lot of wonderful women in his back pocket, so to speak.

There were the Pepperpots and of course Brian's mum. But he also had a softer version - there's a Finishing Sentences sketch from Flying Circus series four that I took my cue from.

I suppose the challenge with Jones The Wife was to try and create something sweet, something truthful, then stick some fake boobs on it and see if the audience still bought it.

It's a bit of a high wire act.

Acting for days on end in women's clothing is strange - you forget you're wearing it and wonder why passers-by are pointing at you.

Only once did it become difficult: The day I had to wear high heels, and spent hours stumbling around like a transvestite baby giraffe.

Holy Flying Circus was a unique experience.

There was the job of not only playing legendary comedians, but the thrill of performing with a cast full of modern comic heroes - Stephen Fry, Mark Heap, Simon Greenall.

You'd look down the shooting schedule sometimes and it would read like a family tree of British comedy.

We all had a great time making it and hope you like it.

To be honest, I haven't even seen it yet. It may be balls.

In which case - and I think I've made this perfectly clear - the script was rubbish to begin with.

Rufus Jones plays Terry Jones in Holy Flying Circus.

Holy Flying Circus is on BBC Four and BBC HD on Wednesday, 19 October at 9pm.

Rufus will be voicing Nelson for the second series of Mongrels in November.

Find out more about the animation used in Holy Flying Circus on the BBC Comedy Blog.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

Tagged with:


More Posts