In 2012-13 I was in court with the Monty Python group over my share of royalties in 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 that 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 actually 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. 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.
My journals 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 stage of life. I’m sure the Pythons never thought about what I was enduring.
The 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 theatre’s 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 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 ‘little life’ was by working my way through the events from start to finish, while charting my own reactions to them.