Obituary: Terry Jones, comedian, writer and Python

Terry Jones has died aged 77. Credit: William Conran/PA Wire
Terry Jones has died aged 77. Credit: William Conran/PA Wire
Have your say

Terry Jones, who has died at 77, was a key member of the Monty Python comedy troupe, who not only performed in but also directed some of their most significant works.

Among these was Life Of Brian, a film which sparked outrage upon its 1979 release but is now an undisputed comedy classic.

Jones also helped forge the surreal style of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a TV landmark when it premiered 50 years ago.

Born in Colwyn Bay, North Wales, in 1942, Terence Graham Parry Jones moved with his parents – a bank clerk and a housewife – to Claygate, Surrey, at age five. He attended the Royal Grammar at Guildford, before going up to St Edmund Hall, Oxford. There he became involved in the theatre scene and met his fellow Python-to-be, Michael Palin, performing and writing revues for the university’s theatre club.

It was David Frost who helped build the foundations of their post-Oxford careers, hiring them as writers – along with all the other British future Pythons – on his sketch show, The Frost Report. John Cleese was also a performer on the show.

At the same time, Jones had secured a job as a script editor at the BBC, where he and Palin became joke writers on Late Night Line Up and then for Ken Dodd and the Billy Cotton Band Show, amongst others.

But it was an ITV show that was to be their big break. The producer Humphrey Barclay had been poached from the BBC radio series, I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again (with Cleese and the future members of The Goodies) to make a Rediffusion children’s show called Do Not Adjust Your Set. Two more future Pythons, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam were also on board, as was a young David Jason.

The series was a hit, and Cleese later recalled thinking it to be “the funniest thing on TV”.

Palin and Jones went on to make The Complete And Utter History of Britain for the new London Weekend franchise, but a call from Cleese suggesting that “our lot and your lot do something together” pointed them in another direction.

Thus, all six Pythons sat down at a tandoori restaurant in north London in 1969, to discuss working on a new BBC comedy born of their desire to move away from the punchlines and structure of traditional sketch comedy. Some 45 episodes aired between then and 1974.

Jones often appeared in drag, sometimes as a housewife, while his other characters included Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson, Cardinal Biggles of the Spanish Inquisition and later on film, Mr Creosote, the monstrously obese restaurant diner.

He made his directorial debut, alongside Gilliam, with Monty Python And The Holy Grail in 1975, and later directed Life Of Brian and its 1983 follow-up, The Meaning Of Life, the Pythons’ last film together.

After the group went their separate ways, Jones made Personal Services (1987), a fictional biopic starring Julie Walters and inspired by the real-life “madam”, Cynthia Payne.

He also directed Erik The Viking (1989), based on his own children’s book.

His other credits include The Wind In The Willows (1996), with performances from Idle, Palin, and Cleese, and the 2015 comedy Absolutely Anything, as well as a string of documentaries which he wrote and presented.

He is survived by his second wife, Anna Söderström, whom he married in 2012, and their daughter, Siri, and by two children from his first marriage, to Alison Telfer.