I just heard the incredibly sad news that Terry Jones has died. Jones, who was one of the founders of Monty Python and a respected medieval scholar, was 77 years old. It was announced three years ago that Jones was suffering from a rare form of dementia so his death was not unexpected but it still hurts.
When I was a kid and I was watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus for the first time, I initially did not fully appreciated Terry Jones. I liked him because I liked every member of Monty Python and every British comedy fan grows up wishing that they could have been a member of the group. (My favorite was Eric Idle.) But it was sometimes easy to overlook Terry Jones’s performance on the show because his characters were rarely as flamboyant as some of the other ones. He was never as grumpy as John Cleese nor was he as sarcastic as Eric Idle. Michael Palin (who was Jones’s writing partner long before the two of them become members of Monty Python) cornered the market on both unctuous hosts and passive aggressive countermen. Meanwhile, Graham Chapman played most of the upright authority figures and Terry Gilliam provided animation. Terry Jones, meanwhile, often played screeching women and bobbies who said, “What’s all this then?”
It was only as I got older and I came to better appreciate the hard work that goes into being funny that I came to appreciate Terry Jones and his ability to always nail the perfect reaction to whatever lunacy was occurring around him. It was also as I got older that I started to learn about the origins of Monty Python and what went on behind the scenes. I learned that Terry Jones was a key player. Along with writing some of Monty Python‘s most memorable material, he also directed or co-directed their films. On the sets of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian, and The Meaning of Life, Jones provided the structure that kept those films from just devolving into a collection of skits.
Unlike the other members of Monty Python, Terry Jones never really went out of his way to establish an acting career outside of the group. Instead, he wrote screenplays and serious books on both medieval history and Geoffrey Chaucer. Appropriately, for a member of the troupe that changed the face of comedy, Jones often challenged the conventional views of history. Terry Jones was the only man in Britain brave enough to defend the Barbarians.
On the last day of the ninth grade, my English teacher, Mr. Davis, rewarded us for our hard work by showing us what he said was the funniest scene in film history. The scene that he showed us came from the Terry Jones-directed Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life and it featured Jones giving a literally explosive performance as Mr. Creosote.
With thanks to both Mr. Davis and Terry Jones:
Terry Jones, Rest in Peace.