Name: Eric Idle
Eric Idle was born in South Shields, County Durham on 29th March 1943. When he was two years old, tragedy struck when his father, a serving member of the Royal Air Force, was killed in a car crash on Christmas Eve whilst returning home to his
Until he was seven years old, Idle’s childhood was spent in Oldham and Wallasey. At seven, he was sent to the Royal School, Wolverhampton as a boarder. He would spend the next 12 years there (Idle would later describe it as “a Midlands semi-orphanage”). Eric proved an intelligent pupil, with a natural flair for English, although he got in his fair share of schoolboy trouble (he was stripped of his prefecture after being caught watching the X-rated film BUtterfield 8).
In 1962, Idle won a place at Pembroke College, Cambridge to read English. He soon decided to join the Cambridge Footlights (he was auditioned by future Goodies stars Bill Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor), and was admitted in March 1963. Idle quickly rose in the Footlight ranks, working with David Gooderson, Richard Eyre and Humphrey Barclay, who would later help in the formation of the Python team. Despite having the difficult task of following Chapman and Cleese’s phenomenally successful revue show A Clump of Plinths – later changed to Cambridge Circus (which had played the West End and had gone on tour in New Zealand), Idle lead a triumphant production at the 1964 Edinburgh Festival (where he first met Palin and Jones), and the next year was elected president of the Footlights. In this role, Idle made many changes about the way the Footlights operated, including admitting women for the first time (including celebrated feminist author Germaine Greer).
|Idle and the cast of "Do Not Adjust Your Set"|
After graduating, Idle took to the stage. He toured with the 1965 revue
My Girl Herbert before starting cabaret at the Blue Angel in London. From there he moved on to the stage show
Oh What a Lovely War!, joining a pretty much all ex-Cambridge cast assembled by Footlights contemporary Richard Eyre. He then went on to do a Christmas season with the farce
One for the Pot – an experience he didn’t enjoy. At the same time Idle was writing for the radio show
I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again, before being co-opted on to the writing team of
The Frost Report to write “spontaneous and funny ad-libs for David Frost".
The classic Python sketch "Nudge
nudge" was written during this time for Ronnie Barker (it was rejected
because there was "no joke in the words"). Idle also wrote for the sitcom
No That’s Me Over There – a vehicle for Ronnie Corbett. Idle then moved on to writing and performing in
Do Not Adjust Your Set, alongside Michael Palin and Terry Jones. It was whilst working on this that Idle met Terry Gilliam and introduced him to Humphrey Barclay (but if you want the rest of that story, it’s in Gilliam’s biography – go on, take a look). Then Idle was hooked up with 5 other rather odd people to make a television series…
Idle as The Rutles's
Even during the time Idle was working on Monty Python he was still finding time to write for other shows, including his own show
Radio Five on Radio One. This continued post-Python, with Idle penning a series of spoof local-television shows entitled
Rutland Weekend Television (with music contributed by Neil Innes, the unofficial “seventh Python”). Another contributor of the show was
Idle's friend, ex-Beatle George Harrison, (rather handy really as Harrison, through his company Handmade Films, would later fund many Python and Python-related projects). A sketch on
Rutland Weekend Television provided inspiration for one of Idle’s
inspired projects, The Rutles. A spoof documentary modelled on the real-life career of The Beatles, the full-length
T.V. film tracked the careers of the “Pre-Fab Four” (it also contained Innes-penned music that closely parodied Beatles tracks); it also managed to pull in a wide range of stars, from Dan
Ackroyd, Bill Murray and Michael Palin, to Mick Jagger and George Harrison himself (who played an interviewer interviewing the band who are near-perfect carbon copies of the Beatles).
During the 1970s, Idle’s career in the U.S. took off and soon he became a regular host of
Saturday Night Live (along with Michael Palin), as well as earning a guest spot in the film
National Lampoon’s European Vacation. In 1981, Idle wrote and produced his own play, entitled
Pass the Butler. Although gloriously surreal, and covering a diverse range of subjects from police corruption to transvestites, it was never very well received in the West End (although it remains popular in Scandinavia to this very day). Idle’s next step on to the boards came in
1987, when he played
Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner in the English National Opera's production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. Directed by Jonathan Miller, the action was shifted from Japan to 1920’s Europe. Idle
would re-write "The Little List Song" to include topical references (including some about the then US President Ronald Reagan).
Eric Idle as Ko-Ko in "The Mikado"
After an appearance in Terry Gilliam’s ill-fated film
The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Idle teamed up with Robbie Coltrane for the acclaimed film
Nuns on the Run, about two crooks who try to hide from the law (and some other, less savoury characters) in a convent. His next film,
Splitting Heirs (also starring Rick Morranis) did not do so well, although his next project –
Leon the Pig Farmer (which Idle produced) seems to have been more successful. Since then Idle has been seen in many cameos in both England and the US, and has also starred in a short
4-D pirate film with Leslie Neilson (showed at Busch Gardens and Seaworld in the US, and in Thorpe Park, England). In England he can also be heard singing the (self-penned) theme tune to the hit BBC sitcom
One Foot in the Grave. More recently, he has toured the US with two highly sucessful one-man shows:
Eric Idle exploits Monty Python (the soundtrack can be bought under the title "Eric Idle Sings Monty Python"), and the follow-up
Greedy Bastard Tour. As well as lending his voice to a parrot in 102 Dalmatians,
Idle reunited with fellow Python John Cleese to voice a character in Shrek 3
(playing the wizard Merlin).
Idle's most successful project to date is the musical Spamalot, a musical based on an obscure little movie called Monty Python and The Holy Grail. It is packing houses on Broadway and at the Palace Theatre in London, and will no doubt continue to do so when it opens in Australia later this year.
Idle has also written a comic oratorio
based on the Python's hit movie Monty Python's The Life Of Brian called Not
The Messiah (He's A Very Naughty Boy) which spoofs Handel's famous oratorio Messiah. Although this has a more limited
release at a select few classical festivals around the world (and a very well
"British Premiere" at the Royal Albert Hall to celebrate Monty
Python's ruby jubilee), it has been widely acclaimed, and
rumours of a full scale Life of Brian musical persist.
Eric Idle is the only Python to have had a song in the charts – “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, a song which has permeated into every layer of society, from the football terraces, to the Royal Navy (there is a famous instance of a Royal Navy band playing it whilst their ship was sinking after being hit by a missile during the Falklands War), as well as being referenced by punk band Green Day in their album "Bullet In A Bible".