Eric Idle on Spamalot & his friendship with Beatles star George Harrison
Jul 23 2010
by Catherine Jones, Liverpool Echo
http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/liverpoo ... -26913145/
Ex-Python Eric Idle tells Catherine Jones about his hit show Spamalot and friendship with the Fabs’ quiet one
"THE Liverpool Empire! I know it well,” exclaims Eric Idle from his place, recumbent on a sofa opposite me. Really? I exclaim. “Err, not that well,” he concedes with a smile. “I have played there, the Pythons played there in about ‘74.”
1974. Just about the time Eric, one of the youngest members of the Monty Python team, was knocking around with close friend George Harrison, who was himself a huge Python fan.
There was only a month in age between the pair, but the 67-year-old satirist says there was more to it than that.
“We were also close in our groups. I was sort of the odd one out in our group too; there were two blocks (of writers) and then me,” he explains, referring to George’s lone songwriting role alongside the partnership of Lennon and McCartney.
“We definitely gelled, and he was fabulous.”
The former Beatle appeared in an episode of Eric’s Rutland Weekend Television TV show, sending himself up by insisting on singing a song about wanting to be a pirate.
Later he took a mock news reporter’s role in the Fab Four-inspired Rutles’ film, All You Need is Cash.
“And he paid for the Life of Brian, the whole shebang,” adds Eric, who stayed with Harrison’s widow Olivia on this latest visit to the UK from his home in LA.
“He was a great man, well loved. We miss him.”
George Harrison would no doubt have loved Spamalot, the all-singing, all-dancing homage to Monty Python’s Holy Grail which arrives at the Empire next month.
“I watched it in Manchester and it was fabulous,” says the former Python, who was born in South Shields but whose early childhood was spent in Wallasey where he went to St George’s school. “I haven’t seen it in English for a year. I saw it last in Madrid.
“This is a whole new production so it was really exciting – the costumes and sets, nothing was familiar. But it’s a really good company.
“They go off like a rocket and they’re very funny, and cute, and there’s only a few of them so they do the whole show – it’s a bit like a Python show, they’re running around changing.
“It’s much more in the spirit of Python than a huge West End musical where you have 12 singers and dancers. I was really impressed.”
Eric, who has lived in the United States since the 1990s, plays God in a part which is pre-recorded. And although he says he admires actors, he maintains he has no desire to act himself any more.
“I don’t like acting,” he reveals. “I never really liked it. Films are awful and boring, but I’ve always liked making things up and creating and so now I just work on what I want to do.
“At school (the Royal School in Wolverhampton where he was sent as a boarder after Wallasey) we had a puppet theatre which we used to write for, and puppetry means funny voices.
“Then Cambridge University was cabaret, doing funny things and skits and comedy, and then Python was an extension of that.
“And Python was an extraordinarily good acting school. You’d go out filming and you’d play six or seven people a day, and masking yourself and becoming somebody different is actually rather a fun thing to do.
“I liked doing that and I think we all got quite good at acting by the end of it. And then it was hard to act without really weird characters.”
Writing, he says, is what he really likes, and despite penning Spamalot with musical collaborator John de Prez, he prefers to work alone.
“Who wants to talk in the mornings? It’s awful!” he exclaims.
“What, wait until John Cleese has made 17 cups of coffee, read the Daily Telegraph twice, made a few phone calls, put his feet up then say now what shall we write? I’m home by then, I’m gone.
“I’m an early bird and I very much believe in the subconscious and what comes first, and I think you have a golden moment.
“I have about half-an-hour, 40 minutes, where everything is very clear and obvious and after then it all goes a bit muddy.
“So I like that early time; that and putting things away for about four months and then coming back is one of the best things you can do in writing, because it’s so clear, you go “duh!”, you know.”
Spamalot was a number of years in gestation, with Eric first getting the idea to adapt the supremely silly Arthurian-style quest – featuring the never-say-die Black Knight, hilariously abusive Frenchmen and a killer rabbit – after getting involved in a Holy Grail DVD game.
The remaining Pythons gave the project the thumbs up, but it took a year to sort out the legal details. The show finally opened in late 2004 in Chicago before moving to Broadway.
And the rest is history – albeit Python-skewed.
Eric recalls: “I knew it was funny from opening night. From its preview night even. I mean, they were in hysterics from the off. And that’s when I thought, ‘oh we did a good job of adapting this’.
“The thing is, it isn’t just for fans. What always pleases me is seeing the people who don’t like Python or have never seen Python or who don’t care about Python.
“It’s a jolly good show to go and see, it’s fun and you don’t have to know anything or bring anything in to explain it.”