Here’s a new music video from the Pythons to accompany their new track - “The Silly Walks Song” - that’s been written for, and will be featured in, the upcoming “Monty Python Live (mostly)” O2 shows this July. Visit www.montypythonlive.com for tickets.
From Radio Times, 10 - 16th May 1975
Eric Idle’s new comedy series (on Monday BBC2) is proudly called Rutland Weekend Television. Naturally, it comes out in midweek. Rutland - our tiniest county - quietly died after the boundary re-shuffles in 1974. ‘Word’s got about in what used to be Rutland,’ says producer Ian Keill, ‘about this TV channel they never had, and there have been letters in the local press. They probably think it’s another nail in their coffin.’
From Pres B, the diminutive studio that gave you Late Night Line-Up, Film Night and Up Sunday, comes a show to tower over them all. Rutland Weekend Television is its name and in the hands of its writer and leading performer Eric Idle its ambitions will be as big as, well, Rutland itself. Irma Kurtz reports on a meeting with Eric; and cartoonist Bill Tidy gives his impressions of the little TV station’s output.
The tiniest show on TV
Rutland Weekend Television
Monday BBC2 Colour
‘“Quipped Eric Idle”,’ quipped Eric Idle. ‘And that’s why I don’t often give quipping interviews.’
To be interviewed, according to Eric Idle, is to be misunderstood, and like all the good laughmakers Eric Idle does not easily allow himself to be misunderstood. To be misunderstood is to be open to attack.
'A comedian must never be vulnerable,' he said from above a struggling beard (soon to be shaved off) and from under the rebellious hair that is the despair of the BBC's energetic make-up department, who dash around cramming him into the wigs he uses for all his impersonations. 'The great comedians are always apparently invulnerable on stage although off stage they were not such supermen.'
During the days of Monty Python, when Eric was only several bright feet of a brilliant centipede, it was easy for him to melt into a crowd but from this week he is about to stand tall with new friends and a new comedy series called Rutland Weekend Television. Technically, it is a Presentation show and not Light Entertainment: ‘It was made on a shoestring budget,’ said Eric, ‘and someone else was wearing the shoe.’
'Pres B,' the diminutive studio where Rutland Weekend Television was made, is the BBC's smallest studio in Television Centre. 'The studio is the same size as the weather forecast studio,' Eric said, blinking his blue, blue eyes against the cigarettes he smokes and is always encouraging other people to give up, 'and nearly as good.'
Pres B may be small but its television history is large: the crowded space has been home to Line-Up, The Book Programme, Film Night, The End Of The Pier Show and Up Sunday. One presenter can sit easily in a small studio like Pres B and the atmosphere is cosy; but when several active youngsters like Eric and his mob want to use the same space for a comic showdown, the restricted space becomes problematical. For example, sets had rarely been used before in Pres B and getting them up there was a bit like swinging a cat in a coal cellar - except the cat loved it.
"We had to bring the sets up four floors for each scene, then take them down again. While the next set was coming up, we’d change our make-up. Every minute mattered. It’s not always funny to be funny from ten in the morning until ten at night.
'As for ad-libbing, what ad-libbing? You don't ad-lib when you're working with three cameras and anyway the material goes out months after you've made it.'
Eric, whose book Hello Sailor was published in March, is at least half a writer and like most writers at least half a loner; he is a loner however who works well with good mates. Although Rutland Weekend Television (whether the title was originally his idea or John Cleese’s he isn’t honestly sure) was worked out at his isolated home in France which he shares with his wife Lyn and his young son Cary, he is not stingy about his debt to colleagues.
'Neil Innes is superb. I must be his biggest fan. Henry Woolf played Toulouse-Lautrec in the West End. He's the best small philosopher in London at the moment. And David Battley - what can I say? Straight, pale, dead-pan brilliant. Our cameraman, Peter Bartlett, filmed the Queen but says I'm easier to work with.'
Now 32, Eric drifted apologetically into the Cambridge Footlights Revue, then slid on to ITV’s At Last the 1948 Show where he befriended Marty Feldman; Eric then played a major role in Do Not Adjust Your Set, involved himself innocently in Twice A Fortnight, bumped into David Frost and careered into Monty Python’s Flying Circus with all the books, films and foreign tours that involved.
In the meantime, he scribbled at scripts and books between dawn and midday, avoided biting his nails and only started smoking cigarettes reluctantly, late in life. Although he can be silly when he wants to be, his surname is the only thing about him that doesn’t make sense.
'And that's a quip,' quipped Eric.
'I don't believe in giving the public exactly what they want,' explains Neil Innes, whose bizarre blend of music and humour first flowered in the artistic hothouse of the now defunct Bonzo Dog Band during the late 60s. Having worked with Eric Idle on Do Not Adjust Your Set and the Monty Python LPs and stage shows, Innes now finds himself responsible for Rutland Weekend's music.
'On these shows I parody things that people take seriously,' he says. 'I suppose I'm doing what Hoffnung did for the classics, for music in general. Of course, as it's TV it would be daft to just sit and strum a guitar - so I like to add an unexpected, surreal visual aspect to jolly things along.'
Personal experience has left Innes with a poor opinion of stardom: ‘It’s bad for one’s mental health, getting no peace, being chivvied around and having to keep up a facade.’ So he finds plenty of targets to poke fun at in the world of pop. ‘I don’t like showbiz - what it does, or how it’s presented - but I do like people; the trouble is that our society can’t be much good if they need such cheap dreams to be thrown at them.’
But when it comes to dissecting the dreams so glamorously portrayed on TV, Innes avoids vicious satire. ‘I concentrate on the human aspect, like would-be pop idol Stoop Solo, the ballad singer with the conceited delivery and a “gorilla chest”’ - the ultimate in virile body wigs. ‘He’s the epitome of the guys who go in for TV talent shows.
'Then there's the archetypal Top of the Pops film sequence of someone who has nothing to do with the record wandering around in a wood, or somewhere equally idyllic. Well, we've got this very arty sequence of someone stumping up and down in a laundromat - it's what people really do, you see.
'Obviously visual tricks work better in a big studio,' adds Innes, 'but as RWT is supposed to be a duff local station it was all to the good. Mind you, the logistics of working in a place that size got quite complex - after all, you can't really get on with your protest singer sequence with half Nelson's flagship in there. It was quite batty.'
Batty or not, Innes finds that his florid imagination has begun to take on a life of its own. For instance, ‘Big Boots,’ his stilt-legged, ten-foot high, rock guitarist hero who is resurrected on RWT, ‘for old time’s sake’ - is not dissimilar to the Pinball Wizard outfit that Elton John wears in the Ken Russell film Tommy.
'Some people get like the Northern comics, back-stabbing over pinched material, but it doesn't matter to me - it just makes me think of something else and go on my surreal way. After all, no one has had the courage to copy me - wearing a duck on their head.'
No, all I’ve got is screencaps. :( And I wouldn’t even know where to look for the originals.
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