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.
From the heart.
Recovery going well. All good inside my chest. The hard thing now is trying to stick with the surgeon’s advice to take three months off, whilst fighting an unexpected and irresistible urge to get back to work. I limbered up with a breakfast with Zoe Ball, Mel C and the amazing Jack Savoretti band, followed by a quiet rest on Mr. Norton’s sofa with The Rock and Dr Who and Kevin Hart and Harry Styles. And now I see that BBC One has scheduled Worzel Gummidge, in which I play the Green Man, just after Christmas.
So, amazingly, I’m suddenly quite busy. Just don’t tell my surgeon. Happy Christmas y’all!
This 2014 snap of dialogue recording for Terry Jones’ movie Absolutely Everything, offers a rare sighting of one of the most important members of the Monty Python team, our sound genius Andre Jacquemin (arranging the mikes) I first worked with Andre on commercials back in the late 1960’s. I’m still working with him today – recording commentary for the Clangers. He’s been the man behind the desk for so long, and produced such fantastic work, that it’s time for Andre to be unmasked!
Approaching the fourth week since my surgery. Terrific team at Bart’s Hospital opened me up, had a look around, found a second valve that needed attention, and now instead of feeling like an old Ford Anglia I’m well on my way to feeling like a one previous owner Golf GTI.
The operation took over four hours but I felt very little pain afterwards. Main problem now is trying hard not to do too much. My chest won’t really be ready for any gold medallions for at least six weeks, and I’m told the ticker, which enlarges to deal with the extra work-load from dysfunctional valves, may take a year to return to normal size. The upside is I have to take three months off work – doctor’s orders. Longest period without major work since I started in the biz in 1965. A chance to look around and see what others are doing. Which at the moment seems largely shouting at each other.
Thanks so much to all those who sent cards and left e-mail messages of encouragement. I’m sure you speeded up the recovery. Now, excuse me while I get back to doing nothing.
As you can see, I’m still very well, although my foot’s a bit swollen. It’s an odd feeling to be facing the most invasive operation of my life when the sun’s out and I’m looking forward to a glass of chilled white, but that’s the way it is at the moment. Having said that, I’m reminded that I’ve been for my last run for a while and climbing Everest is probably not a good idea until after they’ve done a puncture repair job on my mitral valve.
The North Korea Journal, my daily record of last year’s extraordinary trip to North Korea is being printed as I write and is set for publication on September 19th. That’s only a couple of weeks after I’ve been under the knife, which is why I had, very reluctantly, to cancel the North Korea Journal book tour in October. Many apologies to all who’d booked tickets. You’ll just have to go and see Mick Jagger instead.
1969 was quite a year. Not only did man walk on the Moon for the first time, but both the Clangers and Monty Python were born within a month of each other. And both are still employing me. I record the next batch of Clanger narrations later in the autumn, and, in the meantime, I’ve helped assemble some weird, wacky archive material for Python’s 50th birthday on Radio Four. Python as you’ve never heard it before.
I must obey doctor’s orders and give my repaired heart a month or two’s rest from work, but it won’t be easy for someone who gets twitchy taking a week off ! Watch out for Around The Sitting Room in Eighty Days or Boiled Eggs, an Illustrated History.
Enjoy what’s left of the summer once BA and Ryanair have been at it.