It’s hard to link the Monty Python television shows with the great rock and roll bands of the 60’s and 70’s, but linked, indeed, they are, according to Python member Eric Idle who’s making it bigger than ever (financially) with the smashing success of his Broadway hit musical Spamalot and a comic oratorio based on Life of Brian due out soon.
Idle explains that, years ago, the BBC owed the comedy group $2 million, having erred in the handling of the original masters of the Python projects. “We had a great lawyer named Jim Beech, who managed Queen. He told us to forget the $2 million and ‘just ask for the masters.’ It was a brilliant thing to do, because ever since, we’ve owned our masters, which we distributed around the world. We now own almost everything, including our movies.”
That came about, he adds, “because Holy Grail, which cost $400,000, was made by 20 groups of people who put in $10,000 each to help. Groups like Pink Floyd, Genesis, Led Zeppelin. It was paid for by British rock and roll guys who basically didn’t really want their money back. And they’ve been surprised ever since that they still get checks from Spamalot. The Life of Brian film was paid for entirely by George Harrison, who spent $4 million. He mortgaged his house, because he wanted to see the movie. It’s still the most that anybody has ever paid for a movie ticket,” Idle laughs.
As for the Monty Python masters, he says, “the nice thing about them is they keep ticking over. The residuals. We never made millions of dollars and then could retire, and have a lifestyle that we could afford. It just gave you enough to be able to keep writing what you wanted to do. But owning the masters is really smart, and could only have come from rock and roll people, because they, from early on, understood the importance.”
As for the stage presentation of The Life of Brian, it will debut this year with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Meanwhile, Idle reveals that the Tony- and Grammy-winning Spamalot is also a smash in London, and will be playing at the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, come the end of March.
And Idle still thanks those wonderful legendary British bands who put up the front money.