Entertainment & Arts

Monty Python lose Spamalot court battle

Spamlot cast perform at the Royal Variety Show
Image caption Spamalot premiered on Broadway in 2005, winning three Tony Awards

A film producer has won a High Court case against the surviving members of Monty Python over royalty rights to the hit stage show, Spamalot.

Mark Forstater, who produced the 1975 film Monty Python And The Holy Grail, claimed he was underpaid royalties since the musical's launch in 2005.

He estimated he was entitled to more than £200,000.

Three stars of the cult Python film - Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones - gave evidence at the trial.

Written by Eric Idle, hit musical Spamalot was described on posters as being "lovingly ripped off" from the 1975 film Holy Grail.

'Seventh Python'

It premiered on Broadway in 2005, taking $1m in its opening week and went on to win three Tony Awards.

Mr Forstater, had argued that for "financial purposes" he should be treated as "the seventh Python".

Under the terms of a 1974 agreement with Python (Monty) Pictures (PMP), investors in the film, such as Mr Forstater, were entitled to a share in 50% of all merchandise revenues and spin-off income.

With regard to Spamalot, Mr Forstater claimed he was entitled to one-seventh of this figure, the same share enjoyed by each of the other Pythons - but was told he was only entitled to one-fourteenth, and has been paid accordingly since 2005.

Palin, Jones and Idle, who formed the comedy outfit with John Cleese, Terry Gilliam and Graham Chapman more than 40 years ago, disagreed.

Idle said the suggestion that Mr Forstater was a "seventh Python" was laughable.

Palin said Mr Forstater was "not part of our team", while Jones said Mr Forstater had "done jolly well" out of his involvement with Monty Python.

Image caption Mr Forstater said he had been "proved right" after the judge's ruling

Following Judge Mr Justice Norris's ruling on Friday, Mr Forstater said: "I have always been adamant I was correct. I have been proved right - justice has prevailed.

"There is a sadness, though, about having to face people who were my friends in court," he said.

"We have been friends for a long time. Monty Python are an institution. I like the fact that they have apparently joked about the litigation.

"I still think they are very funny."

Cheese straws

During his judgement, Mr Justice Norris said Mr Forstater had given evidence in "a measured way", while Palin and Jones had been "trustworthy" witnesses.

He added: "Eric Idle was frank enough to acknowledge that he now disliked Mr Forstater, but he expressed the hope that, in his evidence, he was being honest and that his dislike did not affect his honesty.

"I think he largely achieved that aim so far as conscious effort could take him. He undoubtedly regarded Mr Forstater as ungrateful."

During evidence, a diary entry from Palin from 1975 relating to the situation recalled "....as we are a soft lot and not at all businesslike, I think it would be in the finest traditions of Python irrationality if we gave Mark an extra £1,000 and a silver tray with some cut-glass sherry glasses and told him to stop writing to us for more money. Beyond that even I am not prepared to go. Oh, all right, some cheese straws to go with the sherry glasses."

Mr Forstater estimated he was entitled to more than £200,000 but said the final figures would be worked out at later hearings.

Like the film upon which it is based, the stage comedy is about a group of medieval knights searching for the mythical Holy Grail but the plot broadens out to spoof Broadway, and various musicals, including those of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

It is currently showing at London's Playhouse Theatre.

Mr Forstater was made bankrupt in June 2012, but the bankruptcy was annulled in October last year and he entered an independent voluntary arrangement (IVA) to deal with his debts.

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