Always Look on the Bright Side of Life
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography.
By Eric Idle
“I have met many people in my life and, sadly, many of them were not famous.” For only Eric Idle could such a predicament be a problem. The solution to this situation would be for most of his acquaintances to have been famous or, more importantly, memorable or significant. This solution, and much more delight, is found in his new autobiography Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography. Idle, as with the rest of his Monty Python mates, is highly articulate and charming. His story follows the common story of a British child whose father did not make it home from WWII. Unfortunately for Idle, his Royal Air Force father actually did make it home. Upon his return from his time as a rear gunner/wireless operator over Europe he was hitchhiking home as the British trains were full. “My dad got a lift in the back of a lorry load of steel.” writes Idle. “[On the way] a car swerved to avoid oncoming traffic, the truck veered off the road, the load of steel shifted and crushed him. He died in hospital on Christmas Eve.”
His education led him to Cambridge University where he met Graham Chapman and John Cleese. After much comedy writing and performing activity he coalesced around those with whom he would change the landscape of comedy. “By September 1964 all the Future Pythons (save for the wild-card American animator) had met and admired each other,” he shares. His life is rich with success and the trappings of success. It is often claimed that The Beatles’ essence/life force transferred to Python, who’s October 1969 Flying Circus debut closely coincided with The Beatles’ break up. Idle was the most “rock ‘n’ roll” of the Pythons. Being an accomplished guitarist and songwriter contributed to his ability to talk shop and help promote the musical side of Python. His contributions to Monty Python LPs is immeasurable. For this journalist Idle’s most significant accomplishment was his utilization of two concentric grooves to create the word’s first three-sided LP. “The Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief, where we ingeniously cut double grooves on Side Two, to create two shorter, parallel sides,” he reveals. “Which track played depended on where the needle dropped. There was no announcement or warning. To further puzzle listeners, we started both of these mini sides with the same bad gag – ‘And now a message from the Swedish Prime Minister’ – so they couldn’t even try to find the side they wanted. Confusion was good.” Another Python reveal is the inclusion of Carol Cleveland as the 7th Python. As much/often as the Pythons liked to dress up as women, they found that on occasion they needed an actual woman…with sex appeal. “Carol Cleveland was brought into our show when we needed a real woman to play the sex scene in my ‘Marriage Guidance Counselor’ sketch,” writes Idle.
His close friendship with George Harrison allowed Idle to view what was then known as The Long and Winding Road, the self-produced Beatles documentary that eventually became The Beatles Anthology. This narrative became the basis for The Rutles, Idle’s dead-on mock-rockumentary of The Beatles, his most lasting non-Python accomplishment. His stories include interactions with many including Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger, the Star Wars cast, The Saturday Night Live cast, Billy Idol and others. His performance in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London is very revealing and funny. His friendship with Harrison led to Idle producing some Harrison videos and appearing on a Harrison LP and Harrison appearing on an episode of “Rutland Weekend Television,” Idle’s non-Python television show.
Harrison’s financial backing of Monty Python’s Life of Brian is a well-known story; he even appears in the film. “George visited us on the set in Tunisia and when we asked me how it was going,” writes Idle. “I grumpily muttered something about how between John and Michael it was difficult getting onscreen. He said, ‘Imagine what it was like with Lennon and McCartney trying to get studio time.’ So no more!”
His various comical recollections include Python’s first Canadian tour dubbed “Monty Python’s First Farewell Tour of Canada.” His favorite line of his mother’s was, “I don’t want to come and stay if it’s not convenient.” Once when giving a presentation he opened his remarks with, “I’m missing my wife so much here in Las Vegas that last night I paid for a woman to come up to my room and ignore me.” One of the original premises for Monty Python’s Life of Brian involved a closer relationship between Brian and Jesus, a relationship that was eventually scrapped for the final picture. “Brian was given the job of trying to book a table for the Last Supper,” reveals Idle. “[With the maître d′ asking] ‘Why don’t you want to use both sides of the table?’”
Always Look on the Bright Side of Life is a stimulating read, and Idle’s take is revealing, honest…and very funny. Misbehavior led to the end of his first marriage. He shares, “I did learn that infidelity is not a good basis for a marriage. Best to disappoint one woman at a time.”