I was there
Roger Last, who worked on the surreal comedy that became a global phenomenon
Fifty years on from the first Monty Python’s Flying Circus
The first show was broadcast 50 years ago today
This picture [below] was taken in Jersey, not long after the launch of Python. The team had wanted to film abroad, but we didn’t have the budget; I think the BBC thought Jersey was abroad enough. It was a chilly day, but warm in the sun. I’d been doing something inside, which is why I’m there in the middle wearing a jersey, while Eric [Idle, second left] and Mike [Palin] had taken their shirts off. It looks quite odd. The lady on the left is Lyn Ashley, who was Eric’s wife at the time. The others were all members of the crew.
I wanted to work in arts programmes at the BBC. I’d been doing a long film about George Eliot – pretty serious stuff – and was told I’d have to spend two weeks on this new comedy programme.
At that stage it was called Bun, Whackett, Buzzard, Stubble and Boot. But that turned out to be just a working title. Another idea was 100 Things To
Do With Vaseline. That wouldn’t have got through in 1969. So I did the filming and had such a good time, I asked, ‘Can I stay on?’ I ended up working on it for three years.
Originally assistant floor manager, I was promoted to do lots of things above my pay grade. I found locations and selected the music for the show, apart from for Terry [Gilliam]’s cartoons. The Python team were all so bright and intelligent, they had a lot of ideas and they’d take risks. It was a different age, 1969. Television was very uptight, in fact society was. They were trying to break down so many taboos, which they succeeded in doing in a good-natured, surreal way.
To be with them was really a great treat; they were joking all the time. Mike and Terry [Jones] wrote together, Graham [Chapman] and John [Cleese] wrote together, and Eric would usually write by himself. There would be some rivalry. John would say, ‘Well, this isn’t very good,’ because Terry and Mike had written it – he was joking, I think. But it all went into the pot.
Most of the programme was filmed in Television Centre, but we’d go out when the script demanded. We should have got permission to film in the streets, but what we did at times was so outrageous, we didn’t like to ask. I remember when we filmed the Spanish inquisition sketch at the Old Bailey. The script called for a double-decker bus to arrive, and Mike and Terry – dressed as cardinals – to jump out and run into the building. You can imagine what the response would have been if we’d asked to do that officially. So we hired a bus and got Mike and Terry on board. The camera went down to the Old Bailey. As soon as the bus arrived, we started filming. Mike and Terry jumped out and ran into the Old Bailey, past the attendant, and [the crew] all quickly jumped on the bus and drove away. It was wonderful, anarchic fun.
The Monty Python team in 1969 (from left): Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin
Some of the cast and crew take a break from filming in Jersey, March 1971