Eric Idle OnlineMy Life

A Reader’s Diary

By , August 29, 2012 11:54 pm

“Eric is in the country finishing a novel.

 He’s not a writer, he’s just a very slow reader.”          

                                                                        Ancient Barry Cryer joke.


Why do I keep my Reader’s Diary so assiduously when I eschew all other tasks?

Good question.   But who’s asking?    I am.  Aha!   Who are you?  I am me.

Who are we talking to when we talk to ourselves?

I think all writers talk to themselves.  That is why they write.  That is why I write anyway: to find out what I think.  To discover that hidden voice inside yourself is the great joy of writing.  Oh look what I think!  Writing is a search for the undiscovered self.  But writers also write because they read.  Would it be possible to find a writer who did not?  Someone who hadn’t come to writing first through the joy of reading?  I doubt it.  They wouldn’t be much of a writer. Reading opens up the realm of the mind, reading connects you intimately with the voices of hundreds of great thinkers, and reading keeps you honest.

I love books and I love reading and a long time ago on my first computer I began to list the books in my London library for a game we were working on.  So I have an incomplete list of books from before 1992,  and then from 1993 I listed books as I read them.  Even in those days I was getting to the age when I would be half way through an Elmore Leonard and have a sudden feeling that I knew what was about to happen.  Keeping a list was a simple and efficient aide memoir, made possible by the computer age.  I began to add brief comments for myself, so I could recall what I thought about a particular book and often I included notes on where I was when I was reading something.  (Hence this summer’s sub heading:  Reading Jane Austen in Venice.)   Occasionally I would rant at some poor author, or the title would be followed by a cryptic “Chucked it!”  I am an intolerant reader, forgiving in public but ruthless in the study.

Barchester Towers.                               Anthony Trollope                                           March 1993

So memorable I have forgotten the title. (Irony marks needed)  Something to do with becoming Dean of somewhere.  I find him effete and I’m afraid dull.   John Major’s favourite.   Figures.   I left the book in Mustique….

May Week Was In June.                       Clive James                                                           April 1993

Clive and I!   The ego has landed.   More tales of the man who took Cambridge by storm.    It was love at first sight.   Clive James fell in love with himself at first sight.  Curiously touching, funny and pretentious at the same time.  Just like Clive.

Discreet references to friends would creep in.   Mike Nichols invariably introduced me to some new writer I would enjoy, and since the list was only for myself there was no reason not to mention this.   So, bit by bit, it became a kind of intellectual journal, a map of where my mind had been and what it had been thinking while reading.

Why did I begin to share my reading list online?

That is harder to explain.   Did I want to say “Look at clever me, look at all these books I’ve read?”   Partly I suppose.  Ego is extremely hard to deny.

I first published my reading list after I moved to California in the Nineties, when I was still running PythOnline, a quotidian task which eventually became promethean.  My ambition had been to create an amusing web site to which the Pythons could contribute and where I could vent my occasional spleen and unfold my propensity for satire.  But as the Python contributions soon dried up and I was left to deal with it solo,  the task became increasingly frustrating.   Each day there would be an ever growing mountain of Python questions to answer, and when I did attempt to answer them:

“You’re not Eric Idle” they would say.

“Yes I am” I would reply.

“No you’re not” they would insist.

“Then fuck off” I would add.

“Oh.  You are him.”

So I shared my reading list initially out of desperation to keep it real, and to provide fresh material, for soon I found I had a highly unpaid job, a monster that daily demanded new food.

There were a couple of unexpected bonuses from publishing.  First there was a small but grateful feedback from lonely readers round the world who were happy I had shared with them.  This was an encouraging step forward from fielding endless Python questions, (“Which one were you?”) and secondly, the splendid Dave Eggers, whom I had got to know when he wrote a very amusing profile for The New Yorker about the chair I wrote Spamalot on (which, yes, I have carefully preserved in plastic wrap for The Rainy Day Sale) emailed me to ask if Michael Chabon could be in touch.   What a lovely gift that was.  And yes Dave, I will always do your Reading Benefits despite being rather tired of performing.   We must encourage reading.   It is the great escape for the young.  It opens doors into the mind of ourselves and others.  It permits the solitary to communicate, even when they feel most isolated.  What possible use is it?   Every single possible use.   It defines us.  It creates us.  It involves us.

So I have been assiduously keeping my summer reading list,  it’s been a good one with new books by Martin Amis, William Boyd, Jake Arnott, and (my tip for The Booker) John Banville.

I’ll publish it shortly.   Meanwhile if you check out Reading  you’ll see where I got to so far this year before I set off on my travels…




By , August 14, 2012 6:56 am

Sunday night in the Olympic stadium was one of those extraordinary experiences, a unique moment in my life, and one that I shall never forget.

If ageing is finding newer and better ways to scare the shit out of yourself, then this was perfect:  live in front of millions of people in a highly technical show with even the Dress Rehearsal cancelled and only everything to go wrong, I had occasion to question my sanity in agreeing to doing something quite so silly quite so publicly.

About a year ago the rather brilliant director Kim Gavin and The Head of Pretty Much Everything Else took me out to lunch and asked me to do Always Look On The Bright Side of Life at the Closing Ceremony.  They took me round the completed stadium and the work site that would so brilliantly come together as a pleasure zone and asked me to keep quiet about it, as they wanted it to be a surprise.  I was happy to agree but now I can say I was very proud to have been selected for the British Show Biz Team at The Olympic Games, I am a Comedy Olympian and I was also hoping to win a Brass Medal.

Waiting to go on was surreal, I was following The Spice Girls, and with the sound track in my ears and having to sing live and people also yelling in my ear I could only go forward and hope.   I could hear nothing else.   Not the crowd, not anyone, so when immediately I finished someone asked me “Are you happy?”  I could only say “I’m happy it’s over.” But with hundreds of emails from all round the world I now know it worked and the reviews were magnificent and it was all worth it, and yes reading the comments of my friends made me very happy indeed.

The magnificent Timothy Spall confessed that with seconds to go, crouched in a chair at the top of Big Ben with a homburg hat ready to be Churchill he was absolutely terrified.  Posh said she was scared stiff, they hadn’t performed in a while, but the Spice Ladies all looked exquisite and I got hugs from almost all of them.  I got to watch David Beckham playing with his kid, very sweet, I got to hang with my new pal Russell Brand (who stars in Dick), I got nice hugs from Pete Townsend and Roger Daltry, to whom I said “Now we know who we are:  we are the sort of people who will turn out for nothing!”  I had a nice hello from Ray Davies in a golf cart, a big squeeze from the adorable Annie Lennox, bristling with bonhomie and normality, greetings from Brian May and the Queen boys, and Nick Mason whom I have known since 1979, who said he was moved by the whole thing (me too) and a lovely hug from the adorable and extremely beautiful Naomi Campbell.  We did a crap movie together in the nineties and I found her delightful, then and now.

So though we did not get the dress rehearsal we had been promised – it was amazing they erected the stage in time anyway – by show time there was only one thing to do, fingers crossed and go for it.  After all it’s not every day you get to follow The Spice Girls.   Hiding under the stage awaiting my cue with eight of the most exquisite scantily dressed models, all wearing angel wings, I asked a stage hand who was staring at them open mouthed, “Is this Heaven?”

“Oh yes” he said.

“Funny they don’t look like virgins to me”  I said.

Odd how a gag can calm you down before you face the storm and suddenly I could hear my pal Jeff singing Mr. Blue Sky, which was my cue to crouch down in the hole waiting to emerge.

And in a blur it was over.

In fact the only downer of the whole experience was the usual attempt by The Daily Mail to create a war between us Pythons, and in particular between me and John Cleese.  One thing you can say about The Daily Mail is they never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.  This morning I was amazed to read the hoary old lie about Pythons at war with each other trotted out yet again, with a series of old “quotes” this time “written” (perhaps “made up” is a better word) by a an old ex-girlfriend of Terry Gilliam’s called Glenys Roberts, a woman who might easily have been made up by Private Eye.  They tried this on last December announcing a war between myself and John Cleese and I wrote at once to John, assuring him I love him, and have always been grateful for the many laughs he has given me throughout my life.  He replied warmly and we have been on very good terms ever since.   Now on the occasion of his marriage they try again.   So I have written to him again, congratulating him on his marriage and wishing him great happiness.  Lest there be any mistake.  I like John Cleese.  He is very, very funny.   He has been working incredibly hard over the last few years, and I wish him well for the rest of his life.   I like the rest of the Pythons.   We get on very well.  I do not like The Daily Mail.   I can only urge you to laugh at them.   Best yet, ignore them.   And of course “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life.”