Posts tagged ‘Monty Python’

Spot the Producer

Tonight- Thursday March 10 – at 7.45 pm Sky Arts is broadcasting Part 4 of Monty Python: Almost The Truth- The Lawyer’s Cut.  This series of 6 programmes was a history of the Python group made by the Pythons.  The Lawyer’s Cut is well named because this episode  deals largely with the making of Monty Python and The Holy Grail and the ‘cut’ that the lawyers made was to excise any mention of the Producer’s name. I am said Producer and all that remains of me is a photo of my young self which is not credited. In other words my image appears in the programme but not my name; I am like a ghost wandering through the show. See if you can spot my photo. I am to the Pythons as Trotsky was to Stalin. Like Stalin, the Pythons decided to re-write their history so as not to give me any credit for what I did for them. This came about because at the time this show was made we were in a dispute over Spamalot royalties. Their lawyers must have advised them not to give any publicity to my side of the story- hence I was airbrushed out of their history. I eventually won the case and the Pythons organised the O2 shows in 2014 to make enough money to cover their £ 1.3m legal costs. It is all documented in my new book The 7th Python: A Twat’s Tale.

This is what Terry Jones said of the series, “This is the documentary I always hoped that would be made — something so complete and so faithful to the truth that I don’t need to watch it.”

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March 10, 2016 at 9:00 am Leave a comment

A Poem for the Monty Python Group

On July 5 2013, the NY Times wrote an article about my trial with the Pythons. This anonymous poem was added as a comment to the online article. I quite like it:

With a little grudge, with a little grudge
Open your purse ‘cause you’ve been defeated
With a little nudge from the trial judge
You’re worth’s slightly worse but not depleted

Sorry if it’s dumb to say
You’ve done all right in your lives
Really, is the sum you’ll pay
Worth such a fight in your lives

And though you feel rotten that he has won
Still I say don’t appeal, say that the deal is done
Is it just a grudge, just a little grudge
Hope the little nudge from the judge
Helps erase the grudge

March 8, 2016 at 3:00 pm Leave a comment

Press Release for The 7th Python – Part 1

Here is our first Press Release for The 7th Python:

BOOK LAUNCH

THE EPIC STORY OF A FILM PRODUCER, BRITAIN’S BEST-LOVED COMEDY TROUPE, A CLASSIC COMEDY, AND HOW 40 YEARS ON THEY CLASHED IN A TRAGI-COMEDY OF BONE-BREAKING GREED, AND HEART-BREAKING DESPAIR.

STARRING MR JUSTICE NORRIS, THE LORD OF INJUSTICE, MONTY PYTHON AND MARK FORSTATER, FALSELY YCLEPT A TWAT.

LITERARY EDITORS SHOULD KNOW YCLEPT IS OLD ENGLISH FOR ‘CALLED’. SEE THE PRODUCER’S TALE DIRECTED BY GEOFFREY CHAUCER.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a comedy classic. Consistently voted in the top ten of all comedy films, it is the most profitable independent film ever made in the UK and has achieved worldwide box office success. Forty years on it is still screened.

The young man who produced the film was Mark Forstater, an American from Philadelphia who shared an apartment in New York with Terry Gilliam, before coming to England in the mid-Sixties to study at film school. Forstater liked the country so much he decided to stay and has been living and working here ever since.

The 7th Python (A Twat’s Tale) tells the story of the ups and downs in the making of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It lifts the visor off the sometimes brilliantly creative, sometimes fractious relationships between the Pythons. They were comedy icons but they were also, cue cliché, human with all too human frailties, which Forstater describes sans cliché.

Everything was fine, rosy and profitable until Eric Idle came up with the idea for Spamalot, a stage musical based on the film. Spamalot became a smash hit. As producer of the original film, Forstater was entitled to a percentage of the profits from the film and its spin-offs. But then his share of the royalties was arbitrarily slashed. Did anyone consult the ‘twat’? No, though for 30 years and more Forstater had received his agreed share.

Forstater tried to talk to the Pythons; he wrote to them; he tried to negotiate. But the mighty Python was stubborn as a goat. (Note to editors: mixed metaphors intentional.) So Forstater had to go to law which led to Eric Idle dubbing him a ‘twat’.

Forstater tells of his trials and tribulations before, during and after the trial. For seven long years, he tried to get the Pythons and their management to see reason, and for seven long years, he failed.

The final section of the book offers a lesson for those thinking of going to law. After endless writs, witness statements, witless statements, etc., the Pythons appear in court. The judge says the original agreement could have been drafted better. It ends moderately happily for Forstater – he wins – and very happily for the lawyers in that they all get their fees.

Forstater was sustained in this ordeal by his belief in the Tao. He is the author of The Spiritual Teachings of Yoga (with Jo Manuel), The Spiritual Teachings of the Tao, The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius, The Spiritual Teachings of Seneca (with Victoria Radin), The Living Wisdom Of Socrates and with Rudolf Reder I Survived a Secret Nazi Extermination Camp (Psychology News).

A must-read for Python fans and anyone interested in comedy – and human frailty.

Press Inquiries to Nigel Passingham – mob.: 07795024272, email: nigelpas@live.com

February 8, 2016 at 3:00 pm Leave a comment

Michael Palin and the Pythons Defer to Their Lawyers

In my post on Why I Wrote The 7th Python (Part 2) I commented: “But I could also see a disturbing pattern in the behaviour of the Pythons during this 7 year struggle. During this entire period, not one Python rang or emailed me wanting to discuss the problem. I was forced to deal only with their lawyers and managers. And when I did reach out to Michael Palin and Terry Jones by letter, it didn’t make any difference.” A friend of mine said that she was surprised that I expected to hear from them. She thought I was being naive and said that I should have realised that once there was a dispute and lawyers got involved, their advice to the Pythons would be – ‘Don’t communicate with him, leave it to us.’ This is probably the case, since this relieved the Pythons of any need for dealing with me or the dispute. This removed their responsibility to do anything about the problem – after all, they could just leave it to their lawyers.

Of course I wasn’t happy with this situation, since I had no way of knowing what their manager and lawyer were saying to them. Were they being informed about the case? So I decided to write to Michael Palin to make certain that he at least understood my position. I had hoped that he would be an honest broker and try to see why I was so certain that my position was correct (as it had been for 30 years). But Michael only passed my letter to their manager or merely asked him what was happening, only to be told that their lawyer was looking into the claim. Eventually Michael wrote to me that their lawyer had decided that my claim was not valid. I was disturbed by this. How could their lawyer make a unilateral decision like this, after I had been collecting these royalties since 1976. I felt let down, but decided that I had to continue to assert my rights.

I wrote again to Michael asking him to consult Anne Henshaw who had been their manager when I did my deal on Monty Python and the Holy Grail in 1974. I specifically said that she knew what the original deal had been, and I requested that he ask her frankly to confirm the true situation. I didn’t hear back from him but assumed that he at least would make the effort to ask her. I knew that she was still involved with Michael on his broadcasting ventures and she had been his manager for a number of years after she ceased being the Pythons’ manager. I was very surprised to discover (at the trial) that he never bothered to ask her. This was his testimony in court:

Tom Weisselberg (my barrister): Did you discuss your evidence with Mrs. Henshaw?
Palin: No.
Weisselberg: You have never discussed the issues relating to this case with Mrs. Henshaw?
Palin: No.
Weisselberg: Why not, Mr. Palin?
Palin: There was no reason to.
Weisselberg: So even though Mr. Forstater says that there was an agreement between you and other of the Pythons in relation to his share of the top half, that Anne Henshaw was at a meeting with you, you have never discussed his claim with Mrs. Henshaw at all?
Palin: I cannot remember that meeting, if that meeting ever took place, whether we discussed it.
Weisselberg: My question was you have never discussed it with Mrs. Henshaw at all?
Palin: Not to my recollection.

Later Weisselberg returned to Anne Henshaw’s role:

Weisselberg: You are still a director of two companies with Mrs. Henshaw. When did you last see her?
Palin: I should think probably a year ago.
Weisselberg: You said that you have not talked about Mr. Forstater’s claim to her at all. Is that right?
Palin: I have avoided talking to her about it because I felt it was a Python matter and not something I personally wanted to get into.
Weisselberg: So you did not ask her to give evidence in these proceedings?
Palin: I might have asked her if she had any views on what was going on. That was all. That may have been a long time ago, but I always insisted that if she had anything she wanted to say she should go through the normal process and talk to our solicitor. I recollect that only came up once.

In the end, Anne Henshaw (now Anne James) did not appear as a witness for the Pythons. This is what Justice Norris had to say about it:

“I turn to consider what (if anything) should be made of the absence of Anne Henshaw at the trial of the action. She herself fell out with the Pythons as a group in an acrimonious split in 1997. But she remained a friend of Michael Palin and of Terry Jones, and a Director of two of Mr Palin’s companies. No real account was given as to why PMP did not call her to give evidence, given her continued friendship with Michael Palin and Terry Jones.

That she may have relevant evidence to give was apparent from the original pleaded case, but a challenge to call her had been squarely put in correspondence by Mr Forstater himself, and I must examine the consequences of PMP choosing to duck that challenge.”

One point that he then made was that “The failure to call her also means that there is no evidence-based challenge to Mr Forstater’s assertion that he was told by Anne Henshaw that his request for a one seventh share of the Top Half had been approved by the Pythons; and that also strengthens his case.”

Read all about it at http://www.the7thpython.com
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November 25, 2015 at 8:21 am Leave a comment

(Eric) Idle Musings

Eric Idle hates me. The reason is not difficult to find. I sued him and the other Pythons for trying to reduce my royalties from Spamalot and the Judge decided in my favour. After the trial he called me a loser, an idiot and a twat. This is very odd, since I should really hate him for having forced me to spend over 7 years pursuing this stupid case, which caused me many serious problems- poor health, financial woes, great stress. Yet he hates me. Here is what he said during his cross-examination:

Tom Weisselberg (my barrister): Do you think that your position in these proceedings –
Eric Idle: Yes.

Weisselberg: — is being inspired by, I will put it bluntly, a dislike of Mr. Forstater?
Idle: I am hopeful that I am trying to be as honest as far as I possibly can be and that my dislike, as you put it, of Mr. Forstater does not influence my honesty in reporting to you the answers to your questions.

Weisselberg: Do you have a particular animus against Mr. Forstater, Mr. Idle?
Idle: Only recently.

Weisselberg; Is that because of the fact of these proceedings?
Eric Idle: It’s ingratitude.

Idle seems to have ingratitude always on his mind.

But he didn’t just call me ungrateful, he also said of his fellow Pythons, “I’m making them money, and the ungrateful bastards never thank me. Who gave them a million dollars each for ‘Spamalot’?” So ingratitude must mean, for Eric, that people who have helped him become a multi-millionaire have failed in their duty to constantly thank him for allowing them to do so.

Idle says I am ungrateful because I did so well out of Producing Monty Python and the Holy Grail, so I shouldn’t complain if the Pythons decide to try chisel me out of Spamalot royalties. My taking them to court was a form of ingratitude. Funny, I thought I was just standing up for myself.

Weisselberg: Mr. Idle, it is right, is it not, that since Spamalot has made so much money there has been a fair amount of publicity as to which Python thinks that they have had the better of the financial deal?
Idle: We have squabbled since we first met. We are brothers, we are children, and we are comedians. But we love each other and we get on very well. The press does like to exaggerate these things and I have emails from John Cleese only yesterday.

Weisselberg: You have complained that some of the other Pythons have been ungrateful as to the amount of money that you have managed to generate for them.
Idle: I may at some times and — I have been promoting this thing since 2004, so I have answered a tremendous amount of questions and there is a selection of responses that have been selected.

Weisselberg If you look at Bundle D3, p.1047 one sees in the paragraph on the subject of money: “He is candidly regretful about his decision to hire a lawyer to represent the Pythons’ interest in Spamalot. Over a recent lunch with Observer writer Simon Garfield, he pointed out” – that is you – “that with a third share the others are being paid over the odds without doing very much”. Is that something that you said to the Observer writer, Mr. Idle?

Idle: It reflects possibly a bitterness I was feeling at the time. Insofar as I gave them Marcia Brooks, my lawyer, because I was concerned about conflict of interest, and she negotiated against me the highest percentage that has ever been received in Broadway history. Normally they would have been entitled to X% and John du Prez and I had to settle that they would take Y%.

Weisselberg: I think the terms of the deal are confidential. Certainly I have understood that they are.
Idle: Then forgive me, I just breached confidentiality inadvertently.

No matter how wealthy he becomes, it never seems to give Idle any contentment. He once called one of his tours The Greedy Bastard Tour and one wonders in this instance where is the border between comedy and truth?

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November 18, 2015 at 10:54 am Leave a comment

Why I Wrote the 7th Python – Part 2

Reading my journals from 2005-2013 also reminded me of the impact that these 7 years had on my health, my finances, and on my relationships. Going to court is never a cheap option, and the fact that I had to pursue this claim for so long meant that my finances not only were stretched, but finally gave out. These financial worries in turn affected my health, and I had some stress related symptoms that were difficult to control. My stomach kind of rebelled, and my blood pressure and cholesterol levels both increased. I really didn’t need this kind of change in my health at this late stage of life. I’m sure the Pythons never thought about what I had to endure. I am a follower of the Tao, and I have been meditating for about 20 years, so when this struggle was at its worst, I had some tools of self-cultivation to use in order to stay sane and balanced under duress. The journals capture these times.

The legal battle was a bit lop-sided. After all, there were 5 of them (plus Graham’s estate) against me, and their money, fame and influence far outweighed my limited resources. I was suing them for £ 300,000, which is a significant amount of money, but given there were six of them this worked out to only £ 50k each. Given that the money I was owed was revenue from Spamalot, it was not even coming out of their pockets, but was derived from the box office. In this sense, the amount of money (for them) was insignificant. Why did they persist in pursuing it? I still don’t know.

But I knew that I had to pursue this case, partly for financial reasons, and partly for personal ones. I believe in standing up for myself, and not letting others cheat me. This was a wrong done to me, and I just couldn’t let it go. This attitude was instilled into me by my mother. For this reason I have dedicated the book to her for the lessons she taught me.

I thought my saga could be of interest to other people so I decided to write it up. Interestingly, I found that all of the puzzling unanswered questions that had disturbed me at the beginning of the dispute remained to the end. I wanted to share these questions with other people, since I think they offer revealing insights into contemporary celebrity. But I could also see a disturbing pattern in the behaviour of the Pythons during this 7 year struggle. During this entire period, not one Python rang or emailed me wanting to discuss the problem. I was forced to deal only with their lawyers and managers. And when I did reach out to Michael Palin and Terry Jones by letter, it didn’t make any difference.

The only way I could manage to get this kind of overview of the 7 year long ‘little life’ was by working my way through the legal events from start to finish, while charting my own reactions to them. This is what the book does. Along the way it reveals a lot about the Law, about celebrity culture, about Taoism, and about my character and that of the Pythons. As I thought about this legal/personal story, I realised that I would need to fill in quite a few areas that form the context of my time with the Pythons. One was the making of the film in 1973-5 and another was how I got to be the producer of the film. Lastly I realised that some people who bought the book might not know about the Pythons’ history, so I had to tell their own stories as well as the state of British comedy on film and TV in the early 70s. So the book is a mixture of many elements, which I think hold together and illuminate a specific area of contemporary culture.

Visit http://www.the7thPython.com for more information and to purchase the book
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November 16, 2015 at 10:48 am Leave a comment

Why I Wrote the 7th Python – Part 1

In 2012-13 I was in court with the Monty Python group over my share of royalties from Spamalot and other spin-off income from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I had this share of royalties because I Produced the film. After the trial ended I felt unable to write about the 7 frustrating years of this legal battle. But after about a year, my friend David Cohen suggested I should try to recount it. By this time I felt sufficiently distanced from the events to take that look back.

7 years is a very long time, and it represents what is termed a ‘little life’. For example the Chinese believe in 7 year cycles of life. so that the ages 7,14, 21, 28, 35, 42, 49, 56, 63, 70, 77, and so on represent important stages in life, in which significant physical and emotional changes take place. So I wondered what these 7 years had done to me. I wanted to review how I dealt with this emotional rollercoaster.

Luckily, since 2001 I have been keeping a journal, and I had reflected during 2005-2013 about the stressful situation I found myself in. I was curious to read through those journals to see what I had been thinking, and to examine how I coped with that stress. I have quoted extensively from my journals in the book.

I also had the lawyers’ correspondence and the transcripts of the trial, so I could review the whole transit of the case from beginning to end. I could trace it from the first email to the final Judgement, and everything in between. I wonder how many real lawsuits (as against fictional ones) have had this kind of scrutiny. It was a bit like performing an autopsy, a forensic examination of all the elements that went into the case: the dispute with the Pythons’ managers, the lawyers brought in to argue it, my appeals for help to Michael Palin, a failed mediation, my unexpected meeting with Palin in a Soho street, the Pythons’ witness statements and their appearance in court (something which I never believed would happen), the witnesses, the barristers, the Judge and then the press. The transcripts are particularly revealing. 

When I read through the journals, I realised that the 7 years had at least done me one good thing. I could see that in preparing for the case I had to review in detail the events surrounding the 1974 production of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I split from the Pythons in 1975, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say they split with me. This split was not on the surface acrimonious, and in fact the split was not communicated to me officially for a couple of years. I had to work it out for myself. But the fact that I was no longer involved with them left me feeling betrayed, since the film was a huge success and went on to become the most successful independently produced film ever made in the UK. It has made around £ 30m in profit and the Pythons have each received about £ 2m from the film. It was my work which helped to create this wealth, and this feeling of betrayal stayed with me for many years, gradually losing its power. I was forced to look again at this break-up, and I could see, from a new perspective, how the events actually played out. This allowed me to re-evaluate what I thought was a failing on my part, but which I could now see was really a mutual kind of naiveté. I was pleased that I now understood what had really happened and could stop blaming myself.

This freeing myself of blame, of thinking that the break-up was my fault, is very liberating, since I was dogged with that feeling (albeit much diminished over time) for all these years. I now feel a kind of re-birth, that these events have freed me from some kind of barrier or obstacle in myself, and I now have the opportunity to continue to create books or films with a new energy and a new creative freedom. This book is therefore the first flourishing of this new freedom. Having discovered what had actually happened, I felt the need to communicate these ideas, and to use the book as a recognition of the catharsis that I had achieved.

Visit http://www.the7thPython.com for more information and to purchase the book
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November 13, 2015 at 10:21 am Leave a comment

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