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Ottawa's Howard Johnson said Monty Python member approached life with enthusiasm

Reflecting on a friendship of more than four decades, author Kim “Howard” Johnson described Monty Python member Terry Jones as not just enthusiastic, but “overenthusiastic.”

“He had a great energy,” said Johnson, an Ottawa native and Sandwich resident, who authored “4.5 books” related to Monty Python.

While folks mourned Terry Jones’ death Tuesday as fans of the British comedy troupe, Johnson recalled a man he worked beside on projects and spent time with behind the scenes.

Jones was a legend, Johnson said.

The comedian wrote and performed for the Monty Python TV series, which aired for five years on the BBC, and films including “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” in 1975 and “Monty Python’s Life of Brian” in 1979. Both films are on the BBC’s list of top 15 comedies of all-time.

Jones was a comic performer, who played many of the Pythons’ female characters. He was also, among many other incarnations, a grinning nude organist, Spanish Inquisitor Cardinal Biggles and the explosively gluttonous restaurant patron Mr. Creosote.

“(Jones) was the first member of Monty Python I ever met and got to really know,” Johnson said. ” … I really got to know him on a day-to-day basis.”

Born in Wales in 1942, Jones attended Oxford University, where he began writing and performing with fellow student Michael Palin.

After leaving university, he wrote for seminal 1960s comedy series. At the end of the decade he and Palin, along with Eric Idle, John Cleese, Graham Chapman and Terry Gilliam, formed “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” The troupe’s irreverent humor — a blend of satire, surrealism and silliness — helped revolutionize British comedy.

After publishing a fanzine on Monty Python, Johnson traveled to London to meet the Python troupe. Jones, at the time, was in Wales spending time with his family, but that didn’t stop him from inviting Johnson to his cabin to spend the night.

“He loved (the fanzine),” Johnson said. “They were getting ready to film ‘Life of Brian’ and he brought me on to be the unit journalist.”

Johnson worked closely with Jones during the making of “The Life of Brian.” On top of his duties as unit journalist, Johnson played as a double, served as the still photographer on Day 1 of filming and “whatever they needed me to do, I did.”

In 1982, Johnson also played a role as a pantomime goose in “Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl.”

Whenever Jones was in Chicago, or Johnson in London, the duo made it a point to go out for beers together. Both Johnson and Jones enjoyed sampling beers.

“Terry was a real renaissance man,” said Johnson, who noted Jones also knew his wines and was a great cook. “He did so many different things. He was a writer, director, he wrote children’s books, he was a historian, teaching (Geoffrey Chaucer), and his comedy credentials go without saying.”

Jones worked in Los Angeles with Johnson on one of his Johnson’s screenplays.

“I wanted to pull my weight,” Johnson said. “It never went anywhere, but it had some really good ideas.”

Johnson organized screenings of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” at theaters, in which Jones would make personal appearances. Johnson remembers hosting the first show at a theater on Broadway and Belmont streets in Chicago with Jones.

He was with Jones for one of his last public appearances at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, showing “Holy Grail.”

In 2016, Jones’s family announced he had been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, which gradually robbed him of the ability to write and speak.

Palin said in 2016 that losing the ability to speak was “the cruelest thing that could befall someone to whom words, ideas, arguments, jokes and stories were once the stuff of life.”

“I knew Terry wasn’t in good shape,” said Johnson, referencing his friend’s dementia. “In late 2016, I spent a week at his house visiting him. I’m glad I did. It gave me a chance to say goodbye to him.”

Johnson said Jones was innovative for his style and his form, which he said helped shape Monty Python works. Jones believed, for example, if the best part of a program was going to be in the middle, then it should start in the middle.

“He was very interested in form, and in stream of consciousness, which was the appeal of ‘Life of Brian,’ ” Johnson said. “If it wasn’t for Jones, ‘Life of Brian’ would be more of a show with lots of sketches.”

Johnson said it was Jones’ style and form that influenced several comedians after him, even if they didn’t realize it was inherited from Monty Python.

Away from the show, Jones was gregarious and outgoing.

“He was the constant host,” Johnson said. “He never let a glass go dry. He would always fill your glass.”

Johnson never missed an opportunity to have a beer with his friend.

“For Terry, it was hard to be bored,” Johnson said. “He was enthusiastic about everything in life.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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