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Jones, Terry (1942-)

Actor, Director, Writer, Presenter

Main image of Jones, Terry (1942-)

Terrence Jones was born in Colwyn Bay, North Wales, on 1 February 1942. In 1961 he enrolled at St Edmund's Hall, Oxford, to read history; he soon became involved in the university theatre scene, performing at the Edinburgh Festival and in London.

While at Oxford he met Michael Palin, who after graduating joined him in working for the BBC Light Entertainment Script Department. The pair wrote sketches for various comedy shows, combining forces with Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam in 1967 to create to create a popular children's programme, Do Not Adjust Your Set (ITV, 1968-69), which acquired a cult following among adults.

In 1969 the group, now including John Cleese and Graham Chapman, launched Monty Python's Flying Circus (BBC, 1969-74), a television series whose fame was to become legendary, amply consolidated by three feature films. While following in a British comic tradition of nonsense, word-play, and cross-dressing, Python broke established comedy rules, eliminating punchlines and narrative causality, relying instead on subversion and surrealism; its sheer originality led to the inclusion of the adjective 'Pythonesque' in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974), co-directed by Jones and Gilliam, was an absurdist revision of Arthurian legend: shot on a small budget, it combined surrealism with a painstaking recreation of medieval squalor. Jones's obsessive perfectionism clashed with Gilliam's own strong views on direction, and Jones directed the next two Python films alone.

Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979) charted the misadventures of the hapless protagonist, born at the same time as Jesus Christ and mistaken for the Messiah; the film was ferociously attacked as blasphemous by the Church, although controversy merely enhanced its popularity. Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983) was a series of loosely linked sketches, a hint of the impending dissolution of the Python group; however, it contained some of their finest material, including the quintessentially Pythonesque musical-style sequence "Every Sperm Is Sacred" and Jones's own portrayal of the exploding eater, Mr Creosote.

Jones's directing career has been overshadowed by Python's collective formula, yet he was largely responsible for the stylistic presentation of the group's work. After Python split up, he won critical praise for his next directing effort, Personal Services (1987), a fictional biopic inspired by real-life English madam Cynthia Payne. Erik The Viking (UK/Sweden, 1989) was a return to a more personal project, as Jones based the script on his own children's book The Saga of Erik the Viking; the film was negatively received by critics and audiences, who expected a Pythonesque farce rather than a fairy-tale aimed at young spectators.

Undeterred, Jones scripted and directed The Wind in the Willows (1996): a fast-moving, adventurous version of the classic children's story, with fine performances from former Pythons Idle, Palin, and Cleese, as well as from Steve Coogan and Stephen Fry. Jones himself excelled in role of Toad and the film was released to general acclaim.

Johnson, Kim 'Howard', The First 280 Years of Monty Python (New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 1999)
Morgan, David, Monty Python Speaks! (London: Fourth Estate, 1999)

Elisabetta Girelli, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)

Controversial but hilarious comedy about a reluctant messiah

Thumbnail image of Complete and Utter History of Britain, The (1969)Complete and Utter History of Britain, The (1969)

Eccentric history from a (just) pre-Python Jones and Palin

Thumbnail image of Do Not Adjust Your Set (1967-69)Do Not Adjust Your Set (1967-69)

Madcap children's sketch show starring several future Pythons

Thumbnail image of It's Marty (1968-69)It's Marty (1968-69)

Marty Feldman's unjustly forgotten pre-Python sketch series

Thumbnail image of Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-74)Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-74)

Legendary sketch show that revolutionised TV comedy

Thumbnail image of Ripping Yarns (1976-79)Ripping Yarns (1976-79)

Blissfully funny parodies of Boy's Own adventure stories

Thumbnail image of Wind in the Willows, The (1984-88)Wind in the Willows, The (1984-88)

Definitive animated version of the Kenneth Grahame children's classic

Related collections

Thumbnail image of The Roots of Monty PythonThe Roots of Monty Python

Before the Circus flew: the hidden origins of the Python wit

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Thumbnail image of Chapman, Graham (1941-1989)Chapman, Graham (1941-1989)

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Thumbnail image of Cleese, John (1939-)Cleese, John (1939-)

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Thumbnail image of Gilliam, Terry (1940-)Gilliam, Terry (1940-)

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Thumbnail image of Idle, Eric (1943-)Idle, Eric (1943-)

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Thumbnail image of Palin, Michael (1943-)Palin, Michael (1943-)

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