Still making audiences laugh after 40 years.jpg

Still making audiences laugh after 40 years

DOWN-TO-EARTH, modest, unassuming and a little sheepish are not adjectives you would expect to describe one of the United Kingdom’s greatest national comedy institutions, but that is exactly how Monty Python’s Terry Jones comes across.

It was with feelings of some trepidation and awe that I ascended the lift to his rented apartment in Lisbon’s Baixa Chiado to be met at the door by a casually dressed, slightly scruffy man who immediately offered a glass of wine.

Terry Jones is in Lisbon at the invitation of the São Luiz Theatre to produce an infant operetta entitled Evil Machines for which he wrote the libretto.

Portuguese cast

No stranger to fantasy or

“I’m not recognised so much in the street, like John Cleese or Michael Palin, and sometimes I get confused with Eric Idle,” says Terry Jones.
“I’m not recognised so much in the street, like John Cleese or Michael Palin, and sometimes I get confused with Eric Idle,” says Terry Jones.

children’s stories, the writer, popular historian, director, producer and comedian explained how a simple, momentary idea got transformed into a two-part song and dance opera centred round household appliances, planes and cars.

“I was driving through London at the umpteenth red traffic light and the words Evil Machines came across my mind, and I thought that’s a good title, I’d better write something for that,” he said.

Terry Jones had already written a book of short stories, including one about a car that goes around kidnapping people and another about a telephone that says what you mean rather than what you say.

“The Portuguese composer Luís Tinoco had set some of my children’s stories to music two years ago and since I really liked his music and the São Luiz theatre had suggested the collaboration, I knocked off a libretto in a couple of weeks,” he explained.

Although Terry Jones had never done any theatre direction before, let alone opera, when he was asked to direct Evil Machines, he felt he couldn’t say no.

“My involvement became bigger than I had originally anticipated, but, like in films such as Life of Brian, you have to get people in the right place at the right time, so it wasn’t too difficult,” he says.

Using an all Portuguese cast, however, did present some problems with the characterisation since the alarm clock personality had originally been an Essex-sounding kind of lad and the aeroplane had a clipped, Hooray Henry, jolly hockey sticks kind of ‘received pronunciation’, which had to be taken out.

Although liking to move on to new things, Terry Jones wouldn’t mind seeing the opera have a life elsewhere after the show closes, perhaps expanded into film script for a children’s film.

“This was a one off really, I kind of slipped into it, and given my lack of theatre directing experience, if someone had asked me to come to Portugal and direct an opera from the onset I probably would have said no,” he reflects.

Although he has presented several successful TV series on historical themes such as The Crusades, Barbarians and Medieval Lives, Terry Jones admits he is not really a historian or a documentary person. “I enjoy finding out about things and I think people are fascinated about history and the past,” he adds.

Team work

The fantasy element to his work comes naturally, which is why he says Monty Python were the most successful years of his career. “We’re still all in touch and with all the DVD releases it hasn’t stopped, although I’m much more interested in what I’m doing now.

“There were six of us (Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin) and we were sometimes pulling in different directions which could be cumbersome. When it worked it was great; like with Life of Brian where we all had this sensation that we were really doing something great, it was really on the boil,” he muses.

“But since it was a synthesis of what the six of us wanted, inevitably there were personal compromises which could be frustrating,” he adds.

Terry Jones says that he doesn’t feel much of a celebrity. “I’m not recognised so much in the street like John Cleese or Michael Palin are, and sometimes I get confused with Eric Idle,” he laughs.

He likes drinking and eating, and finds Portuguese food comforting and wholesome. “The meat here on sale in the little butchers is fantastic and chicken tastes like I remember it as a kid,” he says. “I think the one thing I’ll take back to the UK with me is the sight of crowds standing in the narrow Bairro Alto streets singing at one o’clock in the morning.”

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