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:
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)
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.
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.
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!