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Terry Jones, Monty Python founder and Life of Brian director, dies aged 77

The Guardian logo The Guardian 22/01/2020 Andrew Pulver

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Watch: Monty Python star Terry Jones dies aged 77 (PA)

Terry Jones, founder member of Monty Python and director of three of Python’s celebrated feature films, has died aged 77, his family have announced. In a statement they said: “Terry passed away on the evening of 21 January 2020 at the age of 77 with his wife Anna Soderstrom by his side after a long, extremely brave but always good humoured battle with a rare form of dementia, FTD.”

“Over the past few days his wife, children, extended family and many close friends have been constantly with Terry as he gently slipped away at his home in North London. We have all lost a kind, funny, warm, creative and truly loving man whose uncompromising individuality, relentless intellect and extraordinary humour has given pleasure to countless millions across six decades.”

© PA

In 2016, Jones and his family revealed he had been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia a year earlier, and he became a public face of the illness – appearing at a Bafta Cymru awards ceremony to highlight its effects and being interviewed in conjunction with longtime friend and collaborator Michael Palin in 2017.

In Pictures: Remembering Terry Jones' work on 'Monty Python's Flying Circus' [StarsInsider]

After Python, Jones worked on a huge variety of projects. With Palin, he created the successful TV series Ripping Yarns and forged a post-Python directorial career with Personal Services, Erik the Viking and The Wind in the Willows. He made a series of TV documentaries (specialising in medieval history), wrote nearly 20 children’s books, and contributed a string of comment pieces for the Guardian and Observer denouncing the “war on terror”.

Michael Palin and Terry Jones © Getty Michael Palin and Terry Jones

Palin said: “He was far more than one of the funniest writer-performers of his generation, he was the complete Renaissance comedian – writer, director, presenter, historian, brilliant children’s author, and the warmest, most wonderful company you could wish to have.”

Born in Colwyn Bay, Wales, in 1942, Jones moved to England as a child, growing up in Surrey. While at Oxford studying English literature, he met fellow student Palin while performing in the Oxford Revue. After university, along with Palin, Jones wrote and performed in a string of TV shows alongside other future stars of British comedy – including Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie, Eric Idle, John Cleese, Peter Cook and David Jason – on The Frost Report, Do Not Adjust Your Set and The Complete and Utter History of Britain.

Related: Terry Jones: Monty Python film director and a very naughty boy [The Guardian]

In 1969, Palin and Jones joined Cambridge graduates Cleese and Graham Chapman – along with Idle and animator Terry Gilliam – on a BBC comedy sketch show. Eventually broadcast under the title Monty Python’s Flying Circus, it ran until 1974, with Jones largely writing with Palin (complementing Cleese’s partnership with Chapman). Seemingly chaotic, frequently surreal and formally daring, Monty Python’s Flying Circus would became one of the most influential shows in BBC history, revolutionising comedy formats, spawning scores of catchphrases, and inspiring an entire generation of comedians. Jones’s fondness for female impersonation was a key feature of the show, as was his erudite writing.

Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and John Cleese at the opening night of 'Spamalot' held at the Shubert Theatre, New York City © Getty Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam and John Cleese at the opening night of 'Spamalot' held at the Shubert Theatre, New York City

However, Jones was becoming more interested in directing. He later told the Guardian: “You not only act in the things – you’ve got to actually start directing the things as well. When we were doing Python the TV show, I was a real pain in the neck.” After the sketch-compilation feature And Now for Something Completely Different (released in 1971 with the ultimate intention of breaking the show in the US), the troupe embarked on an original film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and Jones got his chance to direct, in conjunction with Gilliam. He was very much signed up to Python’s democratic instinct: “If all six of us laughed at something, then we all felt, ‘That’s OK, we can go ahead with that.’ And, for me, it was just a question of getting that on the screen, getting that moment of us sitting around the read-through, that moment where we all laughed.”

1979:  Members of the British comedy team, Monty Python, during the filming of their controversial film 'The Life of Brian' © Getty 1979: Members of the British comedy team, Monty Python, during the filming of their controversial film 'The Life of Brian'

Jones took over the Pythons’ next film, The Life of Brian, as a solo director, with Gilliam opting to concentrate on the film’s design. Backed by George Harrison’s HandMade films and released in 1979, the religious satire proved a major commercial hit as well as sparking global controversy. Jones made a memorable screen contribution as Brian’s mother, squawking the assembled worshippers: “He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!”

Related: Terry Jones death: John Cleese and Michael Palin lead tributes to Monty Python co-star [The Independent]

Jones then directed the Python’s 1983 release, The Meaning of Life, on an even more elaborate scale, stitching together sketches, musical numbers and complex effects scenes. The film also contains arguably Jones’s most famous on-screen character: the giant Mr Creosote, who explodes after a final “wafer-thin mint”.

Actors John Cleese and Terry Jones in the 'Mr. Creosote' sketch, from the film 'Monty Python's The Meaning of Life', 1983. © Getty Actors John Cleese and Terry Jones in the 'Mr. Creosote' sketch, from the film 'Monty Python's The Meaning of Life', 1983.

With the Python team agreeing to make no more feature films, Jones was free to branch out. Personal Services, a comedy based on the real-life story of suburban brothel-keeper Cynthia Payne released in 1987. He followed this up in 1989 with Erik the Viking, which starred Tim Robbins as a reluctant pillager, and was based on his own children’s book published in 1983.

As well as Erik the Viking, Jones was able to indulge his own fervent interest in ancient and medieval history in TV series, including Crusades (1995), Medieval Lives (2004) and Barbarians (2006), which he presented with infectious enthusiasm. He also published two books on Chaucer and created the kids’ TV cartoon Blazing Dragons, which ran for two seasons from 1996-98 and told the history of chivalry from the dragons’ point of view. Jones was also a prolific writer of children’s books, including self-originated fairytales such as Nicobobinus.

From left, Terry Jones, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and Eddie Izzard dressed as Gumbies in 1999. © PA From left, Terry Jones, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam and Eddie Izzard dressed as Gumbies in 1999.

Jones became a vociferous opponent of the Iraq war, and published a collection of his newspaper columns and other writings in the 2004 book Terry Jones’s War on the War on Terror.

His final directorial credit was the 2015 comedy Absolutely Anything, in which all four surviving Python members participated, but it received an unenthusiastic reception.

Jones was married twice: between 1970 and 2012 to biochemist Alison Telfer, with whom he had two children, and in 2012 to Anna Söderström, with whom he had one child.

Gallery: People we lost in 2020 (Photos)

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