Remembering Terry Jones

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I always go back and forth on which Python is my favorite. It changes constantly, but honestly, Terry Jones is usually in the Number One slot, for this simple reason: The historian among the group, he was responsible for so many of Monty Python’s historical sketches and characters.

So, let’s take a little retrospective stroll through some of Jones’ most memorable contributions to historical comedy.

 

Complete and Utter History of Britain (1969)

The Pythons were more or less divided into three distinct writing groups. There was John Cleese and Graham Chapman, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, and then Eric Idle sort of just by himself most of the time, while Terry Gilliam was off doing god-knows-what with pieces of paper and a camera. As such, these groups had pre-existing roots developed from their university years, and honed at the writing tables of earlier shows. One such pre-Python show was Jones and Palin’s Complete and Utter History of Britain,  which was an absurdist attempt to explain the history of the British Isles from Stonehenge to the Second World War.

 

Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-1974)

There are really too many of the historical skits from the show to list, so here are a few of my favorites with a distinctly Jonesian flavor:

“The Oscar Wilde Sketch.” Jones plays Edward, Prince of Wales, who is caught in the middle of a wits-matching contest between Oscar Wilde (Chapman), James Whistler (Cleese), and George Bernard Shaw (Palin) with increasingly absurd and escalating insults.

It’s 1782 and the Montgolfier brothers are about to make serious inroads in air travel … if only they can determine who is the cleaner of the two first.

“Dennis Moore,” riding through the land … With his bag of … things … Said to be the inspiration for Adam Ant’s music video, “Stand and Deliver,” a confused 18th-century highwayman has some issues understanding wealth redistribution.

 

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

Jones plays the “intellectual” knight of the Round Table, Sir Bedevere, whose impressive logic is unmatched when it comes to determining whether or not a woman is a witch.

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)

Set around about 33 A.D., Jones plays the mother of accidental messiah, Brian. He also plays a very irate hermit who has his vow of silence very rudely broken by several dozen screaming religious groupies.

 

Ripping Yarns (1976-1979)

Post-Python, Jones went on to make an appearance in Palin’s TV series, Ripping Yarns. He also co-wrote the series with Palin.

 

Erik the Viking (1989)

Shit gets properly weird in Erik the Viking, which Jones wrote the screenplay for, as well as making a cameo as the terribly nice King Arnulf.

 

Crusades (1995)

Jones went back to his Complete and Utter History of Britain roots, producing the first of several documentaries that blended his unique brand of surreal humor with historical fact. Historical costume features heavily in this docu-series, with Jones occasionally dressing up himself.

Not Terry Jones, but I always thought the way this series blended art historical constructs with costume was really cool. Even if the illuminated manuscript on the left is a full 400 years later than Empress Theodora on the left…

I can’t look at this and not hear the Holy Grail theme music in my head…

 

Medieval Lives (2004)

Another docu-series that followed Crusades, was Medieval Lives. Jones explored the lives of people from all strata of medieval society from the lowest born to the highest and everyone in between.

He makes for a pretty darn good Richard III, don’t you think?

 

Jones was diagnosed in 2015 with frontotemporal dementia which gradually robbed him of the ability to speak and remember lines. By 2016, he was unable to make public appearances and retired from his 50-year career as a writer and actor. He passed away on January 21, 2020, at the age of 77, and the world is a less absurd place for it.

 

What’s your favorite Terry Jones role? Share it in the comments!

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About the author

Sarah Lorraine

Website

Sarah discovered her dual passion for history and costume right around the age of twelve. Dragged kicking and screaming to her first Renaissance Faire at Black Point, she was convinced she was going to hate it, but to her surprise, she fell head over heels in love with the world of reenactment and dress up immediately. Her undergraduate degree is in Clothing & Textile Design, and she has a Master's in Art History and Visual Culture. When she’s not hauling crap to SCA events and ren faires, Sarah enjoys reading true crime books, writing fiction, and sewing historical clothing from the Middle Ages through the 20th-century. One of these days, she might even start updating her old costuming blog again.

25 Responses

  1. Susan Pola Staples

    Gotta be Life of Brian. With the Roman soldier correcting the Roman’s Go Home the rebel wrote on statue and had him correctly write it 1000 times. Simply priceless.

    And the Flying Circus Atila the Hun sketch.

    Reply
    • Sarah Lorraine

      As a kid, Life of Brian was my least favorite of the movies, but as an adult, it is so obviously the better, funnier, more scathing of the three. And just as quotable as Holy Grail…

      “He’s NOT the Messiah! He’s a VERY NAUGHTY BOY.”

      Reply
      • Susan Pola Staples

        And who can forget the ‘Blessed are the meek. Did he say Blessed are the Greeks?

        Reply
      • Trystan L. Bass

        ‘Brian’ is definitely more mature & subtle comedy — I didn’t get it as a kid either. It also works better once you have some religious background to understand the levels of what they’re skewering ;)

        Reply
      • Maryanne (MrsC)

        I was 13 and a very involved in the church and I saw it three days in a row, taking various friends along. It pretty much said everything I’d been thinking for a long time only SO WELL!!!!! Love it, love them all, loved his history programmes, LIVE for the Oscar Wilde sketch. Where would our lives be without him? It’s inconceivable.

        Reply
  2. susan l eiffert

    As usual, many thanks for bringing to my attention movies and series I wasn’t aware of. Absurdists rule!! BTW, he looks a lot like Richard lll in that photo, not ll. I think you meant Dick lll, right?

    Reply
  3. Kathryn MacLennan

    I remember being quite fascinated (and a little disturbed) by the eyes painted on people’s eyelids in Crusades.

    Reply
  4. Alexander Sanderson

    Fantastic post! Huge thanks – Mr Jones will forever by sadly missed. I particularly loved the Oscar Wilde sketch and who can forget him as Brian’s Mum??? “He’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!”… genius! I will now have to dig out Medieval Lives again. Massive thanks again!

    Reply
  5. Barb D

    I have always loved his documentaries. I don’t think I’ve seen the Crusades, I will have to look for it..

    Reply
  6. Lisa

    Terry Jones left an indelible mark on the world. I wasn’t introduced to Monty Python until I was in college. I made sure to rectify that with my own children. Now I need to find those other series.

    Reply
  7. M.E. Lawrence

    My favorite T.J. moment was his stint as an Edwardian gentleman at the seaside who can’t locate a place to change into his bathing costume until he finds himself in a music hall, and there executes a really fine strip-tease routine. (Have been trying to get hold of a YouTube video; so far, no luck.)

    Reply
  8. chamekke

    It’s a three-way split.

    Prince Herbert! “What, the curtains?” That was magnificent.
    I also adored him as Sir Bedevere. Specifically, the way he opened the visor every time he needed to speak, which was often (even though the visor wasn’t remotely an obstacle to speech), and how it squeaked every. Single. Time.
    And not forgetting Ken Ewing and his musical mice! The mouse organ! dies

    Reply
  9. Johanna Nybelius

    One shouldn’t forget Cardinal Biggles, my favorite part of the Spanish Inquisition.

    Reply
  10. Victoria Hannah

    As a tangential note, I remember actually seeing him live at the International Medieval Conference at Kalamazoo around 2008ish. He was doing the Society of the White Hart lecture and his topic was about Richard II and his court rolls. I was there as an observer (not giving talks or anything) and my interest lay in the Renaissance (and of course anything to do with DISTAFF talks) so I typically wouldn’t have been interested in judicial history of the time of Richard II. But since it was him speaking, everyone went, and I found myself so amused and entertained by the topic. It was fascinating letting him make something that would have been so dry and arid so funny. I learned a valuable lesson that day to make all of my lessons (I am a librarian with instructional duties as part of my job) just slightly fun to make it all worth it. Thank you Mr. Jones.

    Reply
  11. Gill

    So wonderful. His book on Chaucer’s Knight really made me think.

    But you forgot to mention him as Cardnal Biggles. Didn’t you expect the Spanish Inquisition?

    Reply
  12. Damnitz

    I loved his documentaries about the Middle Ages, because he could show his personal Passion for the period in such a entertaining way.

    Reply

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