|A SHORT HISTORY OF THE RUTLAND ISLES PROJECT – BY ERIC IDLE
At some point in the early 1980’s I got the idea of doing a documentary about a group of islands that don’t exist. What a terrific idea, I thought, a story of a place. Not just the story of a few people, but whole peoples, different cultures, different ways of life. They would be called The Rutland Isles and they would be a parody of a travel documentary with weird animals. We would visit strange places and use real documentary footage. I wrote quite a lot of material and then did outlines of a visit to six of these different islands – Poluçion, Paranoia, Amnesia, Contracepçion, Revoluçion, and Liberaçion. Nobody was interested. Not agents, not friends, not people in the media, not even relatives. Not even my dog. It was weird. The reaction was nada. Zero. Zip.
Fairly early on my main character became clear to me. I always heard his voice as that gentle insistent civilized informative voice of David Attenborough whose immensely popular and entertaining series on Life on Earth and its various inhabitants were just beginning on BBC TV.
I had just finished writing and directing The Frog Prince for cable and I would often sit around and play guitar with Ricky Fataar and Van Dyke Parks and Charlie Dore. I began writing songs for The Rutland Isles. I find this a great way forward in any project. About 1983 we went into a studio in Santa Monica and made some very nice tracks with this bunch of friends. I had spent a lot of time on the Caribbean islands of Barbados and Trinidad and the music we made then was heavily influenced by those great times. It still remains joyful and relaxed and this recorded music has always kept my love of these Rutland islands going. Imaginary music from imaginary places.
One day I was sitting around in the South of France when my phone rang. It was Hollywood calling. Don Simpson, a famous movie producer, and partner of Jerry Bruckheimer, had somehow got wind of my script, read it and loved it. He went on and on about it. He talked about Jonathan Swift how it was the greatest piece of satire etc etc – on and on for an hour. Non stop. How could I be anything but bowled over? At last, everything I had always wanted to hear about my project. I got off the phone totally blown away.
So, of course, this being Hollywood calling I had to fly immediately to New York to meet this man. Next thing I am in a smart hotel on Fifth Avenue ringing on the Suite door. A thin anxious looking man answers. This is Jerry. He looks kind of worried “Don’s not up yet” he explains and we have some coffee and bullshit until, from the wreckage of a nearby bedroom, Don finally emerges in a bath towel with wet hair looking kinda the worse for wear. But soon it’s all business as Don gets down to notes. He loves it, but of course things are going to have to be changed. To start with this is now a movie so we are going to need some characters. And a plot. I remembered an opening I wrote for The Meaning of Life, a long piece of prose about a plane crash in the open sea, where the hero ends up on the First Class Life raft. So that’s gonna be the movie. It’s now about a small group of people, a rock star, a TV journalist, a Bishop, a bimbo, and an angry politician, who arrive on the beach of a strange island.
A few years and several drafts later we are getting nowhere. It’s becoming clear to me that trying to shovel plot into what was essentially a documentary just isn’t flying. It’s now called And Now This. In the intervening drafts it has been called Hot Property as well as The Rutland Isles. It’s now about a guy who joins a US TV station and whose TV van washes ashore after a violent storm sinks their ferry, with an obnoxious TV presenter called Maisy whom he hates. They begin to broadcast from these islands which no one can seem to find or identify. Something very weird is happening and at the end, after having been kidnapped, they escape by boat just in time as – get this – the islands take off. That’s an image I always loved, a whole island group lifting off and sailing away into space. Water dripping off as they lift away. They were aliens you see….
But that’s the problem. The Rutland Isles to me are real islands, inhabited by real people. They are a parody of the real world, a way of laughing at the ways we look at ourselves and our cultures. It doesn’t work to have plot and character shoveled in. Don moved on to his own private tragedy and I picked up a new producer and good friend in David Giler who took the project to several studios while we played that form of touch football known as development. Various studios seemed interested but no one committed, and it eventually sank back into that sand bank that is the graveyard of good ideas….
OK. Flash forward. It’s 2002. I have just finished making my second mocumentary on the Rutles called Can’t Buy Me Lunch. I have had a very good time on it, playing the narrator, twenty five years older and still spouting on about the damn Rutles. This time he looks back at their influence on contemporaries such as Tom Hanks, James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, David Bowie, Salman Rushdie, Mike Nichols, Robin Williams, Steve Martin and Gary Shandling. I have found the original out-takes in a warehouse in New Jersey and we have cleverly sunk up some of Neil Innes’ new old Rutle tracks. We have even sold it to Warner Brothers. So, what am I going to do next?
I like working for myself. I am the most agreeable of employers. Although an exacting boss I seldom disagree with myself and am very generous about time off to be with my family. So I get out the old Rutland Isles project. I play the music. Perfect. I still like it. And now cable is bristling with documentaries narrated by British men in shorts. You can hardly turn on TV without some Brit yapping away from an exotic location you have never heard of about some creature you didn’t know existed. Australians are torturing alligators and the language all over the screen. Nature is now big show business. Travel has its own channel. At last, I think, now everyone will get it. Right? Wrong. Still no one is interested.
But I don’t give up. Why don’t I just make this as an audio project? I can afford to fund that. My friend and partner John Du Prez comes out to California to work with me on a Broadway musical and once again falls in love with the California winter. He decides to stay. Great. So we set to work in Larry Mah’s tiny garage studio in Sylmar. There is barely room for John and his keyboards and computers let alone room for me to plug in a guitar. I have to stand in a closet to do the voices. But it’s fun. And it is executive free. And nobody says no.
I have written a bunch of new stuff and pulled out my favorite bits from a big box filled with old scripts and John and I write a whole raft of new silly songs and we set to in a big binge of recording in our tiny Valley garage studio. My main narrator is now Nigel Spasm, an irritating award-seeking journalist. After months of editing and re-recording and re-editing (shape is everything) the CD becomes two episodes from his award-seeking series. (There are over 498, 000 of these Rutland Isles: enough to keep Nigel on television for the next 25,000 years. ) The rest of the year is taken up with editing and mixing and finally we even make a 28 page calendar of pictures and postcards from the Rutland Isles, a full color spoof that you shouldn’t miss as it’s great value and only available on line.
So there it is finally: the CD mocumentary of Nigel Spasm’s visit to The Rutland Isles. Out on March 4th on BMG. I do hope you’ll enjoy it. It has been a labor of love and something I always knew I would make one day. I hope you’ll enjoy the CD, the web site, the Calendar and who knows perhaps one day the TV show…..
PYTHONLINE’S DAILY LLAMA
I Wanna Hold Your Handel.
Life has a very simple plot
First you’re here
And then you’re not.
I was working on a lyric when the mail thing dinged and distracted me. Fortunately the Person from Porlock now has his own website, and can interrupt almost anyone anywhere in the world who is writing. Oh sure my poem is not exactly Khubla Khan but it’s a start. And by the way, for those of you following the obscure Coleridge references, don’t you think that the Person from Porlock must have been his Dealer? Why else would he stop and answer the door?
“Oh hello Mr. C. I got some really nice opium this week…Some reds, and a hemp enema…”
“Thank God you came man, I was waffling on about caverns measureless to man, desperate for something…”
Anyway, my interrupter was a P.R. Person from Porlock. Well Porlock Place, just by the BBC. I promised what? I’d write a piece for The Telegraph. By when? Shit. On what? A History of the Pythons from my personal view? Oh God, no. Say it ain’t so. Can’t I write about Coleridge? What can I say about Python that hasn’t been said, read or written about ad infinitum? Sure we weren’t as funny as Coleridge but we didn’t have half the laudanum he took….
Writing about Python is self serving and vain, I said, and there are bad things about it as well; but these PR people are agents of the devil and she would not be shaken off. I have to cough up some tendentious memories of the Old Cleese Snake Gang or they won’t print what we really want, which is to seduce you into coming to see Not The Messiah, (He’s a Very Naughty Boy) at the Royal Albert Hall on October 23rd where I am appearing with my Spamalot co-creator John Du Prez, who will be conducting 260 musicians: The BBC Symphony Orchestra, The BBC Chorus, and Pipers from the Royal Scots Guards, as well as Michael Palin in full drag, Terry Jones as a Welsh Miner, Terry Gilliam as a Mexican and Carol Cleveland and Neil Innes, in a full Choral re-telling of The Life of Brian in Oratorio form: a kind of cross between The Nine Carol Service, The Messiah and The Last Night of The Proms. And yes there are sheep, and candles and angels and snow and even Bob Dylan and what? I really have to say something about Monty Python now.
Alright. Let me say simply that if you are going to roll around in pig shit in drag on top of the Yorkshire moors, or gallop around Scotland on imaginary horses in soggy woolen armour, or intend to be crucified for three days in Tunisia, then these are the finest bunch of chaps you could ever wish to roll, ride or be crucified with. The irrepressible Palin, the ebullient Jones, the mercurial Gilliam, the aloof Cleese, the implacable Doctor Chapman puffing placidly on his pipe: this was a gang to be in all right. And it was a gang, not just a Gang Show, and in angry mood storming around the Television Centre looking for a confrontation with Management, fully grown BBC executives would hide.
There were only supposed to be thirteen shows. The group fell together almost accidentally in early 1969 when the Children’s show Do Not Adjust Your Set rammed into the remnants of a Marty Feldman-free At Last It’s The 1948 Show, scooping up the pieces into a bizarre and unlikely team, which found it could communicate easily and criticize freely, and largely without rancour, and while we had no idea what we wanted to do with this new show the BBC had so casually granted us, we did know what we didn’t want: a typical Light Entertainment Show, with singers and punch lines and an ebullient host greeting us with the words “And Now For Something Completely Different.” So yes, we did want to shock, to challenge, to epater les bourgeois, to make the viewer sit up and wonder if this was even the right channel. No producers, no voice of reason suggesting something might be tasteless. Tasteless was the point. Indeed one of Python’s greatest strengths over the years has been to provoke revealing outbursts from sacred cowboys. (The Bishop of Southwalk, Malcolm Muggeridge, Mary Whitehouse, wives of US Senators…) It’s hard to remember there was a time when we were almost universally hated by large sections of society. Now that we are the cuddly old farts of comedy I rather miss this hatred.
Laughter is what I remember most. I don’t think I ever laughed so much in my life. It was a writers commune. For the first and last time in Showbiz history the Writers were in charge. All material had to be auditioned out loud. If we didn’t laugh we sold it to other comedians. The Pythons wrote in pairs and Cleese would always read out Chapman/Cleese sketches and Palin would always read out Jones/Palin material. I was on my own. But it left me free to edit and assess. I have always thought of myself as the Python wicket keeper. I could tell when the ball was turning and when we could get a quick leg-side stumping and when to change the bowler. It was portmanteaux comedy – a trunk full of different styles of comedy material glued together by Gilliam, whose cut-out art provided a reassuringly cheap-looking kind of spurious continuity, forming a Victorian Theater frame of images around these disparate sketches giving the illusion of some kind of theme which we would then pretentiously overstate: “Man’s Inhumanity to Man in the Twentieth Century” or “Whither Canada?”
Cleese, who always gave the impression of being somehow above the proceedings, would unleash devastating readings of his sketches destroying us, killing us, and occasionally we too would make him laugh, and his huge frame would lie full length on the floor roaring out loud and rolling around in merriment. The Doctor would chuckle. Gilliam would greet new material with a broad grin, Jonesy could go off into unexpected hysterics and Michael laughed freely and sometimes uncontrollably: once when Cleese nailed him with the Cheese Shop we thought some kind of medical intervention might be needed, and indeed a fresh bottle of Sancerre, prescribed by our own doctor, had to be applied before he calmed down. Graham of course, from St. Bart’s hospital, was studying to be a fully qualified alcoholic. Typically, none of us noticed.
It is an odd thing to do comedy and we were an odd bunch. And it was not undergraduate humour, we are all graduates thank you very much. Perhaps our best achievement was managing to stay together long enough to segue from TV comedy into movies. All in all we managed fourteen years and that while we turned from young men into husbands and fathers. And do we still get on? Yes. We do. So there. Of course we bicker and bitch and gossip and moan about each other, but you just try attacking one of the others and see what you get.
People ask what it was like, but so absurd and improbable is the story of Python’s success and so implausible its ability to survive and spread round the world, that it is beyond the reach of any metaphor. Perhaps only Coleridge could have found the right words to explain the unlikely survival of this most unlikely show. And then he’d probably say something Shlegel had said anyway.
California September 2009
I just recently found this.
There are still a few seats left for Not The Messiah, at Carnegie Hall, New York on the 15th and 16th December
The Tudors had such a bad attitude,
They exude turpitude and ingratitude
They were proud they were loud, they were vain they were mean
One hysterical pregnancy, one virgin queen.
No one in history behaved quite like that,
They’d chop off your head at the drop of a hat
Their quarrels were frequent
Their morals were low
But of course no one decent would dare tell them so..
No one dared boo the Tudors
Or dared sue the Tudors
Or, except in the bedroom when bare, screw the Tudors.
No one lewd as the Tudors
Could feud as the Tudors
Or lacked quite so much gratitude as the Tudors.
No one chewed, as the Tudors,
So much food as the Tudors
Or brewed so much beer and then spewed as the Tudors
No one wooed like the Tudors
Or screwed like the Tudors
Or rudely chase girls in the nude like the Tudors
The Borgia’s were gorgeous but not on a par
They made killer cocktails which went far too far
And some of their daughters slept with Papa
But compared to the Tudors who do they think they are?
No one rude as the Tudors
Or as crude as the Tudors
No one came quite so quickly unglued as the Tudors.
Heads were hewed by the Tudors
Thumbs were screwed by the Tudors
Who was ever in such a bad mood as the Tudors?
The Caesars were geezers
Who killed just for fun
The Romans read omens
And killed by the ton
But compared to the Tudors
They were just having fun.
Folks were used by the Tudors
Then refused by the Tudors
Then totally and utterly confused by the Tudors
First amused by the Tudors
Then abused by the Tudors
Their intimate body parts bruised by the Tudors
To conclude with the Tudors
Not one dude since the Tudors
Has ever produced such a brood as the Tudors
Wives accrued by the Tudors
Lives rued by the Tudors
No one so psychologically screwed as the Tudors!
From the non-existent musical Rack of Ages by Irving Boleyn.
- c) Eric Idle
Monday, October 20, 2014
NSA Transcript MOST Secret 54/6AT/900042/367bb 10/17/ 13
10.42 a.m. CET
VOICE: It’s Steffen.
SUBJECT: Steffen I’m busy.
VOICE: Angela, this is urgent.
SUBJECT: Surely it can wait till the Security Review this afternoon?
VOICE: I’m afraid not.
SUBJECT: But I’m on a call to Hollande. He’s such a schmuck. He thinks if you can’t cook
it or schtup it you should cut it. That’s his economic policy. He’s such a dork…
VOICE: Madame Chancellor I have to warn you….
SUBJECT: He’s so dumb he couldn’t find his ass in the dark on his own. Luckily he’s French
so he doesn’t have to. (Laughs loudly.)
VOICE: Madame Chancellor….
SUBJECT: I’d give him a dildo for his birthday but he’s already married to one…(laughs.)
VOICE: Stop talking!
VOICE: Shut up already. I’m very sorry Madame Chancellor, but this is not a secure line.
VOICE: This is my cell phone Steffen. You gave it to me. You’re telling me it’s not secure?
VOICE: That is what I’m saying. You are being tapped.
SUBJECT: By whom?
VOICE: The Americans.
SUBJECT: Scheissdumbfer (incomprehensible.)You’re telling me nice Obama is tapping my cell phone?
SUBJECT: Americanskimittelschmerzscheiss…. (incomprehensible obscure German slang,
involving dogs, pork and a football team.)
VOICE: Be careful what you say Angela. Look what they did to Strauss-Kahn.
VOICE: I’m bringing you a new phone. Destroy that one.
NSA Transcript MOST Secret 54/6AT/900042/367bb 10/17/ 13 10.51a.m. CET
VOICE: Gentlemen Anonymous.
SUBJECT: Can I speak to Jean-Marc?
VOICE: Who is this?
SUBJECT: This is….uh..Fifi.
VOICE: Fifi baby! What’s up? I’ll get the KY.
VOICE: You sound tense.
SUBJECT: Tense? I’m furious.
VOICE: Jean-Marc knows how to relax you liebchen..
SUBJECT: Not now.
VOICE: Surely Fi-fi has time for a quickie?
SUBJECT: Nein. This has to stop. It never happened.
VOICE: But what about last week when I was the Butler and you were taking a bath
and I brought in a new loofah and you asked me to scrub….
SUBJECT: Halt! Stop! That never took place.
VOICE: But you said it was the most relaxing phone sex you’d ever…
SUBJECT: Nein. That was not me. Someone stole my phone.
VOICE: You still owe me 2,000 Euros…
SUBJECT: Goodbye Jean-Marc.
NSA Transcript MOST Secret 54/6AT/900042/367bb 10/17/ 13 10.55 a.m. CET
SUBJECT: Mr. Cameron?
VOICE: Madame Chancellor. Have you heard the latest one about the Republicans?
Apparently Jesus visited their caucus and they asked him to stop being
so negative about the rich, and not to bang on about the sick and the poor.
SUBJECT: Stop. I have to warn you..
VOICE: Then they asked him to turn the water into Tea!
SUBJECT: Listen. David. This is a heads up. The Americans are tapping my phone.
VOICE: You’re kidding.
SUBJECT: Perhaps they’re tapping yours.
VOICE: Whatever for?
SUBJECT: Trust me. You may only be British Prime Minister but even you are of interest to the NSA.
VOICE: Wow. This is just like the Murdoch days.
NSA Transcript MOST Secret 54/6AT/900042/367bb 10/17/ 13 10.58a.m. CET
VOICE: This is the White House.
SUBJECT: This is the Head of the German Democratic Republic….
VOICE: The Government is currently shut down. All calls are being diverted.
Please leave a message.
SUBJECT: This is Angela Merkel and you had better bring a ton of Obamacare pronto
because this lady is going to make the Iron Lady look like the tooth fairy.
Thatcher could be a bitch but you have no idea what I can do you
verfuchtenscheisse… (incomprehensible German slang.) This is what I think of you.