Most things have a natural life.
Then they run out of things to say. They become repetitive. We grow tired of what at first seemed brilliant. Variations on a theme are not endless. What once startled by its originality, now seems stale. We have seen the trick.
There were only 46 Python shows. It remains amazing to me that even after forty years people still watch them. Interviewers always ask me why, as if, because I was a part of it, I must somehow know the reason for its longevity. I have two answers: it is the only show entirely performed by its creators (five writers and an animator), and it occurred right at the beginning of the Digital Era. Only by a fluke was it in color, six months earlier and it would have been in black and white looking as dated as the dodo. Fortunately its electronic digits still make it look vaguely recent. And not from another century. Which of course it is.
I also have a comic answer for US interviewers.
Why was Monty Python so successful in America?
Because it contains the two things Americans love most: tits and violence.
And it is certainly true that the occasional nudity was something that appealed to young boys growing up in the States watching network television. Look at the fuss there was even recently over a brief glimpse of Janet Jackson’s nipple. We like nipples. It’s our first experience of fast food. We British boys had to get our first glimpses of the naked female from National Geographic Magazine. I still expect breasts to be black. And it’s no good blaming men. Without men there simply wouldn’t be women. It is our capacity to shag anything that kept the birth rate high in times of evolutionary stress. It’s not our fault, it’s in our DNA. How else to replace the enormous losses we inflict on ourselves by warfare and repression.
I was in London for five days recently. It’s one of my favorite times of year, just before Christmas, with the streets packed with shoppers and the pubs packed with customers having a little Christmas drink. Carol singers round an enormous tree in Trafalgar Square, “O come let us adore him.” Revelers in Santa Costumes and cold, ah bitter cold.
In the bleak mid winter
Frosty wind made moan
Earth stood hard as iron
Water like a stone
Snow had fallen
Snow on snow
Snow on snow
In the bleak mid winter
Long long long ago.
And of course that is the point of Christmas: it is the mid-point of winter. It is an ancient pre-Christian festival celebrating the solstice. As we sat shivering around our camp fires with our dwindling supplies of food, in frozen post Ice age Europe, singing Always Look On the Bright Side of Life, mercifully the sun started to return. Cheer up, we can break out some more reindeer to eat, put on red clothes and throw another yule log on the fire.
So let’s not pretend that God kept an oil lamp burning for eight days (not much of a trick if you are God) or that a Jewish girl had a virgin birth (now that is a trick) or whatever bollocks we’re supposed to have to believe. Let’s just celebrate ourselves, Peace on Earth and Goodwill to all men, and then back to business as usual.
I still switch on the Service of Nine Carols on Christmas Eve from Kings College Cambridge (thanks to NPR) and I picture the frozen fens, the grass rimed with frost, as the short boys in top hats, their breath streaming in the freezing air, make their way across the fields, over the arched bridge that brings them to the Chapel built by Henry V111th. And I like being able to say Christmas and not the currently politically correct euphemism Holidays, which as every British schoolboy knows, occur three times a year at Christmas, Easter and Summer. I’m still unsure what a Semester is. Can you imagine we called them things like the Michelmas Term? I am still confused by Grades. How old are you again at Second Grade, Fifth Grade? I have no idea. Why is a Commencement at the end of your academic lives?
So I was happy to be back in London when things felt good, in my favorite hotel, walking up St. James’s to my favorite bookstore. I can usually do two or three days of publicity and still remain cheery from the endless Python questions. A writer’s life is lonely, and it’s fine to get out now and again. And it gives the wife a break.
I was on BBC Breakfast TV in a dressing room next to Matthew Bourne who I adore, so I cornered him to tell him how much I love his work, and how much I wish he would bring his brilliance back to LA. His company used to come annually, but now The Ahmanson is shamelessly booked with endless try outs of Broadway musicals. Don’t we deserve better? Without decent theater we wither.
Watching the incredible Mark Rylace in Jezz Butterworth’s incredible play Jerusalem at the Apollo Theatre, not only did I realize what I was missing from The Ahmanson but the hairs on the back of my neck rose, as a feeling stole over me of just what it must have been like in this same city to have watched Burbage perform King Lear for the very first time, and I made the simple and obvious observation that great acting has always been a part of great theatrical writing, that great plays have always gone hand in glove with great performances. So thank you for that Mark Rylance, even though apparently you don’t think Shakespeare wrote it!
The other guest on the Breakfast Show was Roger Moore, and he asked to meet me to tell me how much he loved Spamalot. He had been to see it in New York with Michael Caine and they had laughed themselves silly. And yes it was a silly Broadway musical, but it was supposed to be silly, and it ran for four and a half years and still tours and plays in various parts of the world, and mercifully is still touring the UK, which is why I am here, to help Ambassadors sell tickets. I popped down to the Three Mills rehearsals to hug the cast, many returnees at Brighton today for four weeks of Panto at The Theatre Royal including Marcus Brigstock, Jodi Prenger and Todd Carty and then off they go away on tour. Try and catch them. They will make you very happy. So good luck chaps, and I do hope the new lyric for the new song works out ok.
So let’s make Mark Rylance happy and support Peace Direct at www.peacedirect.org
And thank you and Happy Christmas to you all.