Dreams: New Monty Python autobiography to be published Autumn 2003

Edited by Phil Stubbs

A Dreams interview with the book's editor Bob McCabe...

... and a chance to win a copy of the book.

A new autobiography of the Monty Python comedy team is to be published this Autumn. Writer Bob McCabe has interviewed each of the surviving members of Monty Python - John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin - and edited their answers chronologically to tell the story of how they came to create the work under the "Monty Python" banner.

Graham Chapman, the Python member who died in 1989, is represented through interviews with his partner and family - together with some of his own writings. The book also draws from Michael Palin's diaries, Terry Gilliam's artwork and hundreds of personal photographs. It is to be published on 22 September in 2003 the UK and October 7 in the USA.

Bob McCabe, who is at present following the production of The Brothers Grimm for a forthcoming book project with Terry Gilliam, spoke to Dreams editor Phil Stubbs about the new book:

Bob McCabe

Phil Stubbs: How did the book come about? Whose idea was it?
Bob McCabe: My publisher Trevor Dolby at Orion, had worked on The Beatles Anthology and wanted to do something similar on another group. Having discounted the rock path, he felt that the Pythons were legitimately the only group of people to have had a similar social impact. So over a slightly drunken lunch with Terry Gilliam, in which we were plied with margaritas and copies of The Beatles book, he floated the idea. I instantly chimed in with the phrase "Sounds like you need a good editor" and by the end of the afternoon, Gilliam had agreed to it in principle if I would take on the job. It then took another six months before we could get Gilliam, Jones and Palin round a table for lunch where we managed to convince them that their careers were worthy of so prestigious a treatment.

How difficult was it to get all of the Pythons to co-operate?
Logistically it was very difficult - hence the fact it's taken the best part of three years. Once we had the London contingent on board, we had to approach John and Eric. This was harder as given their locations, you couldn't just take them out for lunch and charm them. So we contacted them through the Python office and waited and waited. At one point John had said yes then changed his mind but was persuaded back again. There was a feeling initially of "Well if he's gonna do it, I guess I should as well…" which we mercilessly took full advantage of. Having worked with Gilliam before on a couple of projects, I can only presume he could recommend me if any of the others had any doubts... Or put another way - I know full well they checked me out.

What is in the new book?
Basically, this is the Pythons' story told in much more depth than they've ever had the opportunity to do so before. Rather than arrange a collection of sound bites, this hopefully reads like a real in-depth conversation; it is more serious that other books out there on them, more revealing, and above all I think more honest. Here we have a group of friends who have got to the point in their lives where they've accepted the fact they're never going to work together again, so now they want to talk. They can put in all in perspective. Plus there's 1,000 photos we stole from them!

To what extent does it trace the projects that the Pythons have worked on individually?
Hardly at all. The idea of the book was to write the autobiography of Monty Python - as an entity, not as a disparate group of individuals. We follow their work as a team, not as a collection of solo artists. There are a number of books out there already that do that very well.

What new stuff is there on Terry Gilliam and his work?
Gilliam talks about the process of his animations more than ever before, from how he worked physically whilst in Python to his role "round the table" at script meetings, often acting as the arbitrator between the others. While the others jostled for position politically within the group, Gilliam just laughed at what he thought was funny. Plus, he says something rude about John Cleese and blonde American women which we almost cut out.

What has been most fascinating for you in putting the book together?
The most fascinating thing for me has been the level of honesty that they all approach this relatively short section of their lives with. There's a big difference between someone saying something when they're laughing and seeing it in cold print without the accompanying laughter. It may seem harsher, more aggressive. As an editor you have to be aware of that difference. But my criteria here became "Is it something they'd say to each other face?" and invariably I decided it was. There have been a couple of things I've been really pleased with in the Pythons' response to this book. Firstly, all of them have learned something from it - invariably they all say 'I never knew that' when they read someone else's quotes. Secondly, Palin described it as really telling a story- which was important to me - and "it's like the conversation we never had but should have." Finally, Michael also said that one of the things he was most pleased with is that Graham really had a voice in the book. It couldn't be any other way.

What else are you currently working on?

I'm currently going backwards and forwards to Prague, covering Gilliam's new movie The Brothers Grimm for a proposed book project. Somewhere along the line I'm also supposed to write Graham Chapman's Authorised Biography - the Pythons seem to be taking over my life. In addition to that I had my first screenplay shot this summer - The Virgin Club - a German production shot in Spain, and it looks like my second goes before the lens this November. It's set in South Kensington and is going to be shot in South Africa - go figure!

Which is your favourite Python sketch and Python movie?
Sketches too many to mention but if I were to crystallise when I thought Python was at its peak, when each individual brought all they had to the table and really worked as a team - that great 'us against them' attitude that is such a staple of rock and roll - that it would have to Life of Brian.

Win a copy of "The Pythons Autobiography of The Pythons"

Dreams has a copy of the book to give away to a reader who can answer the following question...

What is the occupation of the character that Terry Gilliam plays in his short film The Crimson Permanent Assurance that accompanies Monty Python's Meaning of Life?

Email your entries to phil@smart.co.uk by 15 November 2003. A winner will be selected randomly from the correct answers. Remember to include the email address where you can be contacted in November should you have won.  The decision of the Dreams editor will be final.  Correspondence will not necessarily be entered into.  No cash alternative. No purchase necessary.  Your statutory rights are not affected.

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