A bright light will have gone out in many lives with the news of the death of Nancy Jones on the 20th December.
Nancy, born in Detroit and working for Buddha records in New York when I first met her, was one of the great stalwarts of Monty Python. Frustrated by American television’s lack of interest in Python she concentrated on making sure our albums found their way to America, whilst seizing every opportunity to introduce the shows themselves to the American public.
I first encountered her devotion to Python’s work in June 1972 when Terry Jones and myself met up with her on our arrival in San Francisco at the end of our first-ever visit to the States. In 1973 Nancy persuaded most of us to come to California after our not entirely successful Canadian stage tour. She virtually put her job on the line by managing to book us on top shows like Johnny Carson and The Midnight Special, and far from discouraging her, the fact that these appearances were met with complete incomprehension only caused Nancy to re-double her efforts to introduce Python to her homeland.
Her patience was rewarded the next year, when, almost too ecstatic to speak, she called me to say that PBS had taken the shows for America. What followed in the next few weeks was a growing number of similar calls from Nancy as Python swept the college circuit right across the States, becoming a massive cult hit.
Nancy was by now Monty Python’s US Manager. Her music connections and her mixture of charm and dogged persistence was perfect for our predominantly young audience.
When, in 1976, the BBC made a sale of some of the Python shows to ABC television, without our agreement, Nancy it was who encouraged us to follow Terry Jones’s suggestion and mount a legal challenge. She organised lawyers and testified, along with myself and Terry Gilliam, in the Federal Courthouse in New York. We lost the battle, but won the war. On appeal the BBC were found to have acted unlawfully. The US judges ruled that the copyright lay with Python and none of our work could be sold without our permission.
Nancy went on to help the films Holy Grail and Life Of Brian become big successes in much of America.
She was in charge of publicity on Monty Python’s last film, The Meaning Of Life, where she met actor Simon Jones and much to everyone’s surprise and delight they married and a few years later had a son, Tim.
The transatlantic marriage ensured that Nancy visited London regularly, and though Python group work was declining, Nancy was always there, ready to offer her expertise to help and advise both the group and individuals with their projects.
Nancy never lost her ability to mix business with pleasure. She was a party giver and partygoer and the most wonderful friend and companion, funny and sympathetic and outstandingly loyal.
She brightened up, but never dominated a room. She had the gift of listening and caring about people. Python benefitted so much from her quiet, persistent enthusiasm and all those lucky enough to know Nancy benefitted from her warmth, her sense of fun and her wonderfully positive approach to life.
Yes, the light she brought to so many lives will be irreplaceable, but the memories of Nancy will be joyful and unforgettable.