We need a word to encapsulate this sense of deep sadness at losing someone so wonderful, while being simultaneously grateful that they have finally been freed from such suffering. For the loquacious and passionate Terry Jones to be closed in on himself with dementia was a particularly cruel fate, and so there’s a feeling of triumph on his behalf, that he’s free to join Graham in the non-existent celestial Python enclosure.
Having interviewed him at home for my Blackadder book – a show he had never knowingly watched – and then spent most of the evening at his local sampling the latest real ales, I was also touched by Terry’s quickness to agree to help launch The Frood at the Cheltenham Literary Festival in 2014 – his speech about how he missed Douglas brought tears to many eyes, including his own. I think I have a recording of this event somewhere, which I may share here when time allows.
It’s now about five years since Terry phoned me to suggest that he was not confident about our planned on-stage interview for The Bath Comedy Festival – we were confused, but keen for him to be 100% happy with proceedings, as the festival’s greatest patron. As tickets had been sold and punters were looking forward to it, he bravely agreed to put his best foot forward and share what memories he could, and though it was one of the toughest 80 minutes on stage I think either of us have experienced, people were just so happy to be the presence of a genuine genius, not just somebody who had definitely changed our culture for the better, but an absolutely wonderful, life-affirming presence in general. Someone who had brought so much laughter, broken so many rules and been so very very naughty – here with us in Bath. I wrote a little about the show here. And then, of course, he got me absolutely arseholed on Malbec until I could only crawl home. It was an experience I will always be grateful to remember.
And then, of course, he became the chief patron and dedicatee of my book TALES OF BRITAIN, taking me to dinner with his wife and little girl and passionately agreeing with the need for a fresh anthology of folktales from our island – and offering to write a foreword. In the light of subsequent news, I never asked for the foreword, but dedicated the whole book to the master storyteller, as I outlined here for Folklore Thursday. This is a particularly painful read given Neil Innes’ part in the story. What a terrible month.
That blog wasn’t entirely true, I come to realise – my first contact with Terry, having seen him performing with Palin at the Peter Cook Posthumorous show back at the start of the century (and we won’t count going to the O2 for Python Live as a close encounter), was a Waterstones event here in Bath for the launch of his Barbarians book, where I had the gall to hand him a CD of sketches recorded by me and my then comedy partner. Thank god that subject never came up as I chuntered on throughout our long and comradely drunken evening five years ago. I have a very clear memory, after a couple of hours and at least a couple of bottles of wine, of being opposite him at our dinner table, practically on my knees, slurring apologies that his sad lack of words meant that I had gone on about British folktales with barely a break for so long – his face hit that familiar elongated mask of pained innocence, and he replied with an apparent total sincerity, “But I like hearing you talk!”
So, a great liar too.
I presume I must have been the last person ever to publicly interview the great man, and I remain so grateful for the time I did spend with Terry – as with Neil, his natural kindness and friendliness made one reticent to in any way seem to exploit their nature, but equally when the hand of friendship is extended, it could be hurtful to be stand-off-ish, and I did get the genuine feeling that Terry and I shared some key passions, and could have had many wonderful pints of real ale together, and told many tales together, had things worked out differently. Terry and Neil made a blob like me feel that I could have a go at writing books, celebrating great comedy, and offered their time and insight without any uppity agents or awkward PAs getting in the way, they were just happy to help. There are so few like them left, I should be glad I wrote the books I did, while they were around to help.
There goes another one
There one goes again
There goes another one
When will it ever end?
Oh, and if you’re truly masochistic: I paid a wee tribute HERE: I’m So Worried.