Sir Michael Palin and John Cleese have been remembering their “warm” and “remarkable” Monty Python co-star Terry Jones, who has died at the age of 77.
“Terry was first of all an enormous enthusiast,” Sir Michael told the BBC.
“He threw himself into things with such passion and such energy, and he really refused to take on things which didn’t excite him and which didn’t feel different from what else was around.
“Part of his warmth was his love of all sorts of things and comedies – he knew an awful lot about the silent film comedians. There were so many aspects to Terry, but I would say enthusiasm and passion were the two main words that described him best.
“We had some very strange and silly moments together over the years. He was a very keen cook and I remember one time he was shucking oysters at his home. He loved entertaining people, he was the most marvellous entertainer, but unfortunately he nearly cut his finger off. Blood was spurting out of his finger and we were sent down to the nearest hospital.
“Terry had to keep his finger above his head so we entered the hospital, myself and Terry, with his hand up in the air like he was permanently asking for permission to do something. As we walked through casualty everybody laughed, it was wonderful. They couldn’t believe the Pythons had visited them in this miserable place.
“I loved writing with Terry because he was very creative. He had some wonderful ideas for characters, he was very funny, he was very good at plot. That was something I was less good at, and when we did the Ripping Yarns, Terry was the one who was very keen to give each story a meaning and a significance.
“He felt everything he did was somehow important and had to be thought about. That was our creative working relationship, and also we both enjoyed a pint – that was very nice and we had lovely times together.
“Another bizarre thing we did [came] when I was first writing with Terry. He lived down in Waterloo and they opened a new men’s toilets on Lambeth Walk. Being a local celebrity, Terry was asked to be the first person to use them!
“So Terry and I went down to the new toilets on Lambeth Walk with the band playing behind us. The only other person with us was the Mayor of Lambeth.
“So we enjoyed life together. He was a terrific person to enjoy things with. He really did increase the value of almost everything you did.
“It was an awful form of dementia for someone who loved debating and cajoling and arguing and playing different characters, to be reduced to being able to say very few words, as he was over the last two or three years.
“I lived fairly nearby and I used to go see him quite a lot, and though his dementia was shutting him down there were little moments you absolutely treasured – maybe just a glance or a touch on the hand or something like that.
“Quite recently I went round with a book we’d written together, Dr Fegg’s Encyclopaedia of All World Knowledge. I started reading a few little bits out of it and for the first time for a long time I heard real laughter, that little wispy laughter of Terry’s.
“I thought that was a marvellously encouraging thing to happen, but what was best of all was that Terry was only laughing at the bits he’d written. I thought, that’s defying dementia for you.”
Sir Michael Palin was speaking on BBC Radio Four’s The World at One.
Cleese described Jones as “a man of so many talents”.
“He was a remarkable fellow because he had endless energy and enthusiasm. We used to laugh at him sometimes. I remember he got up one day when we were shooting on the south coast and he got excited about how green the grass was.
“So there was this hugely lively energy to him that was incredibly attractive.
“He also had a confidence that I rather envied. He’d take things on without any worry he might not do them terribly well. I’d always hold back, but I don’t think Terry was ever assailed by those kind of doubts. He was a remarkable chap and had an enormous number of different talents – he was the most multi-talented [member] of the Pythons.
“He wrote a kind of sketch that was unlike what the rest of us wrote – for example, that wonderful sketch about the German joke that killed anyone who heard it. That was not something the rest of us could do.
“He used to [write] Icelandic sagas starting with some man heavily armoured in the tundra, or a long sketch about the Spanish smuggling pornography into Elizabethan England – much more visual, much longer sketches that were quite unlike what for example [Graham] Chapman and I were writing.
“He was also a very good director. How he shot Life of Brian really was masterful. If I had to give a class in how to shoot comedy, I would show that.
“I would say, ‘Just look at how he uses the camera and how economic he is’. Sometimes he would leave the camera there and let the actors be funny, which is the kind of direction you never see now. I think Life of Brian was his masterpiece.
“We had many good times together – we used to go out for dinners and have a little too much wine. He loved reds and we both thought good food was more important than anything else.
“There was also a good atmosphere [though] much of the arguing would go on late into the evening. He didn’t back off his arguments easily, but it was all part of this terrific energy and confidence.
“The last time I saw him was at the funeral of [former Play School presenter] Beryl Vosburgh [in 2016]. He sort of recognised me but there wasn’t any kind of ordinary communication between us.
“I shall remember him as Mr Creosote. He is so funny in it and it’s one of the funniest things we did. So I shall think of him exploding.”
John Cleese was speaking to BBC entertainment correspondent Colin Paterson.