Eric Idle

Eric Idle

Infobox actor
name = Eric Idle

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birthdate = birth date and age|1943|3|29|df=y
birthplace = South Shields, County Durham, England
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occupation = Actor, writer, comedian, musician
yearsactive =
spouse = Tania Kosevich
domesticpartner =
website =
academyawards =
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Eric Idle (born 29 March, 1943) is an English comedian, actor, author, singer and composer of comedic songs. He wrote and performed as a member of the internationally renowned British comedy group Monty Python.

Early life

Idle was born in South Shields, County Durham (now Tyne and Wear) in Harton Village, the son of Nora Barron (Sanderson) and Ernest Idle. [ [ Family detective - Telegraph ] ] His father had served in the Royal Air Force and survived World War II, only to be killed in a hitch-hiking accident on Christmas Eve 1945. [ [ CWGC :: Casualty Details ] ] His mother had difficulty coping with a full-time job and raising a child, so when he was seven, she enrolled him into the Royal Wolverhampton School as a boarder.

The school had begun life as a Victorian orphanage, and during Idle's time was a charitable foundation dedicated to the welfare of children who had lost one or both parents. Its pupils, who were mainly the children of dead English soldiers, still referred to it as the [ 'Ophney'] .

Idle is quoted as saying: "It was a physically abusive, bullying, harsh environment for a kid to grow up in. I got used to dealing with groups of boys and getting on with life in unpleasant circumstances and being smart and funny and subversive at the expense of authority. Perfect training for Python." ["The Pythons' Autobiography By The Pythons", Bob McCabe (et al), Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press, 2003.]

Idle stated that the two things that made his life bearable were listening to Radio Luxembourg under the bedclothes and watching the local football team, Wolverhampton Wanderers. Despite this, he disliked other sports and would sneak out of school every Thursday afternoon to the local cinema. He was eventually caught watching the X-rated film "Butterfield 8" and stripped of his prefecture, even though by that time he was head boy. Idle had already refused to be senior boy in the school cadet force, as he supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and had participated in the yearly Aldermaston March.

Idle maintains that there was little to do at the school and boredom drove him to study hard. He consequently won a place at Cambridge.

Comedy career

University life and comedy

Idle attended Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge, where he studied English. At Pembroke, he was invited to join the prestigious Cambridge University Footlights Club by the President of the Footlights Club, Tim Brooke-Taylor, and Footlights Club member Bill Oddie.

:I'd never heard of the Footlights when I got there, but we had a tradition of college smoking-concerts, and I sent in some sketches parodying a play that had just been done. Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie auditioned me for the Footlights smoker, and that led to me discovering about and getting into the Footlights, which was great. ["The Life Of Python", George Perry, Pavilion Books Ltd, 1994.]

When Idle joined the Footlights Club, the other members included Graham Chapman and John Cleese, who were also attending the University of Cambridge.

He became Footlights President in 1965 and was the first to allow women to join the club.

Before "Python"

He starred in the children's television comedy series "Do Not Adjust Your Set" opposite his future "Python" fellows Terry Jones and Michael Palin (who were both former University of Oxford students). Terry Gilliam provided animations for the show. Other members of the cast were comedic actors David Jason and Denise Coffey.

"Monty Python"

Idle wrote for "Monty Python" mostly by himself, at his own pace, although he sometimes found it difficult in having to present material to the others and make it seem funny without the back-up support of a partner. Cleese admitted that this was slightly unfair – when the team voted on which sketches should appear in a show, “he only got one vote” - but says that Idle was an independent person and worked best on his own. Idle himself admitted this was sometimes difficult: “You had to convince five others. And they were not the most un-egotistical of writers, either."

Idle's work in Python is often characterised by an obsession with language and communication: many of his characters have verbal peculiarities, such as the man who speaks in anagrams, the man who says words in the wrong order, and the butcher who alternates between rude and polite every time he speaks. A number of his sketches involve extended monologues (for example the man who won't stop talking about his unpleasant experiences with holidays), and he would frequently spoof the unnatural language and speech patterns of television presenters. Additionally, like Palin, Idle is said to be the master of insincere characters, from the David Frost-esque Timmy Williams, to small-time crook Stig O'Tracy, who tries to justify the fact that organized crime master Dinsdale Piranha had nailed his head to the floor.

One of the younger members of the team - a year behind Cleese and Chapman at Cambridge - Idle was closest in spirit to the students and teenagers who made up much of Python's fanbase. Python sketches dealing most with contemporary obsessions like pop music, sexual permissiveness and recreational drugs are Idle's work, often characterized by double entendre, sexual references, and other "naughty" subject matter - most famously demonstrated in "Nudge Nudge." Eric Idle originally wrote "Nudge, Nudge" for Ronnie Barker, but it was rejected because there was 'no joke in the words'. [Comment made by Eric Idle during an interview shown on the ABC-TV program "7.30 Report" on Wednesday, 28 November, 2007]

A competent guitarist, Idle composed the group's most famous musical numbers, most notably "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life", the closing number of "Life of Brian", which has grown to become a Python signature tune. He was responsible for the "Galaxy Song" from "The Meaning of Life" and (with Cleese) "Eric the Half-a-Bee", a whimsical tune that first appeared on the "Monty Python's Previous Record" album.

Post-"Python" career

After "Python" ceased to be a regularly active ensemble in the mid-1970s, all six members pursued solo projects. Idle's first solo work was his own BBC Radio One show, "Radio Five" (pre-dating the real Radio Five station by 18 years). This ran for two seasons from 1973 to 1974 and involved Idle performing sketches and links to records, with himself playing nearly all the multi-tracked parts.

On television, Idle created "Rutland Weekend Television" (RWT), a sketch show on BBC2, written by himself, with music by Neil Innes. RWT was 'Britain's smallest television network'. The name was a parody of London Weekend Television, the independent television franchise that provided Londoners with their ITV services at weekends; Rutland had been England's smallest county, but had recently been 'abolished' in an administrative shake-up. To make the joke complete, the programme went out on a weekday. Other regular performers were David Battley, Henry Woolf, Gwen Taylor and Terence Bayler, and George Harrison made a guest appearance on one episode. A legacy of RWT was the creation, with Innes, of The Rutles, an affectionate parody of The Beatles. The band became a popular phenomenon, especially in the U.S. where Idle was appearing on "Saturday Night Live" - fans would send in Beatles LPs with their sleeves altered to show the Rutles. In 1978 the Rutles' mockumentary film "All You Need Is Cash", a collaboration between Python members and "Saturday Night Live", was aired on NBC television, as written by Idle, with music by Innes. Idle appeared in the film as "Dirk McQuickly" (the Paul McCartney-styled character of the group), as well as the main commentator. Actors appearing in the film included "Saturday Night Live"'s John Belushi, Bill Murray, and Gilda Radner, as well as George Harrison and Mick Jagger.

In 1986 he provided the voice of Wreck-Gar, the leader of the Junkions (a race of robots built out of junk that can only speak in movie catch-phrases and advertising slogans) in "". In 1987 he took part in the English National Opera production of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera "The Mikado", in which he appeared in the role of the Lord High Executioner. In 1989 he appeared in the US comedy television series "Nearly Departed" about a ghost who haunts the family inhabiting his former home. The series lasted for six episodes as a summer replacement series.

He received good critical notices appearing in projects written and directed by others - such as Terry Gilliam's "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" (1989), alongside Robbie Coltrane in "Nuns on the Run" (1990) and in "Casper" (1995). He also played Ratty in Terry Jones' version of the "The Wind in the Willows" (1996). However, his own creative projects - such as the movie "Splitting Heirs" (1993), a comedy he wrote, starred in and executive-produced - were mostly unsuccessful with critics and audiences.

In 1994, he appeared as Dr. Nigel Channing, chairman of the Imagination Institute and host of an 'Inventor of the Year' awards show in the three-dimensional film "Honey, I Shrunk the Audience", which has been an attraction at Walt Disney World's Epcot since 1995 and at Disneyland since 1998. The film also stars Rick Moranis and other members of the cast of the 1989 feature film "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids". In 1999, he reprised the role in the second (and controversial) version of the Journey Into Imagination ride at Epcot, replacing Figment and Dreamfinder as the host. Due to an outcry from Disney fans, Figment was reinstated into the ride. Idle is also writer and star of the three-dimensional film "Pirates - 4D" for Busch Entertainment Corporation.

In 1995, he voiced Rincewind the "Wizzard" in a computer adventure game based on Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" novels. In 1996, he reprised his role as Rincewind for the game's sequel, and composed and sang its theme song, "That's Death". In 1998, Idle appeared in the lead role in the poorly received film "Burn Hollywood Burn" (see "Criticism"). That same year, he also provided the voice of Devon, a dragon, in Warner Bros. Animated film "Quest for Camelot".

In recent years, Idle has worked with people who regard him as a huge inspiration, such as Trey Parker and Matt Stone in "", in which he voiced Dr. Vosknocker. He has also made three appearances on "The Simpsons" as famous documentarian Declan Desmond, so far the only appearance on the show by a Python. From 1999 to 2000, he played Ian Maxtone-Graham on the NBC sitcom "Suddenly Susan". He has also acted as Narrator to the AudioNovel version of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" by Roald Dahl.

He has more recently provided the voice of Merlin the magician in the DreamWorks animated film "Shrek the Third" (2007) with his former "Python" fellow John Cleese, who voiced King Harold. He reportedly stormed out of its premiere and said he may sue the producers of the film after seeing them directly copy a gag from his earlier film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail". The gag in question is banging coconuts together to imitate hoofbeats - a running gag throughout the film. [cite web|url=|title=Eric Idle considers suing Shrek makers over gag|accessdate=2007-05-21|date=2007-05-21] [cite web|url=,,2-2007230289,00.html|title=You are taking the Pyth|accessdate=2007-05-21|author=Toni Bonnici|date=2007-05-21|publisher=The Sun UK.]

His play, "What About Dick?", was given a staged reading at two public performances in Hollywood on November 10 and 11, 2007. The cast included Idle, Billy Connolly, Tim Curry, Eddie Izzard, Jane Leeves, Emily Mortimer, Jim Piddock, and Tracey Ullman. [cite web|url=|title=Eric Idle asks 'What About Dick?'|publisher="Variety"]

Other credits


Idle has written several books, both fiction and non-fiction. His novels are "Hello Sailor" and "The Road to Mars". In 1976, he produced a spin-off book to "Rutland Weekend Television", entitled "The Rutland Dirty Weekend Book". In 1982, he wrote a west end farce "Pass The Butler", starring Willie Rushton. During his Greedy Bastard Tour of 2003, he wrote the diaries that would be made into "The Greedy Bastard Diary: A Comic Tour of America", published in February 2005.

He also wrote the book and co-wrote the music and lyrics for the musical, "Monty Python's Spamalot", (based on the film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"). It premiered on January 9, 2005 in Chicago, before moving to Broadway, where it received the Tony Award for Best Musical of the 2004-05 season.

In a 2005 poll to find "The Comedian's Comedian" (UK), he was voted 21 in the top 50 greatest comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders.

An example of Idle's idiosyncratic writing is "Ants In Their Pants" - a poem about the sex life of ants. It starts as follows:

:'Where does an ant get its rocks off?:How does the ant get it on?:Do ants have it away, say three times a day,:Is it once a week sex, or p'raps none?'


Eric Idle married Lyn Ashley, an Australian, in 1969. They divorced in 1975. They have one son, Carey, born in 1973.

Idle married his current wife, Tania Kosevich, an American, in 1981. They have one daughter, Lily, born in 1990.


*"Hello Sailor", novel, 1975 ISBN 0-297-76929-4
*"The Rutland Dirty Weekend Book", 1976 ISBN 0-413-36570-0
*"Pass the Butler", play script, 1982 ISBN 0-413-49990-1
*"The Quite Remarkable Adventures of the Owl and the Pussycat", children's book, 1996 ISBN 0-7871-1042-6
*"The Road to Mars", novel, 1998 ISBN 0-7522-2414-X (hardcover), ISBN 0-375-70312-8 (paperback)
*"Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python Souvenir Program", Green street Press (U.S.), 2000
*"The Greedy Bastard Tour Souvenir Program", Green street Press (U.S.), 2003
*"The Greedy Bastard Diary: A Comic Tour of America", journal, 2005 ISBN 0-06-075864-3
*"Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy)", co-written, play/musical parody of Monty Python's Life of Brian


Idle is an accomplished songwriter, having composed and performed many of the Pythons' most famous comic pieces, including "Eric The Half-A-Bee", "The Philosophers' Song", "Galaxy Song", "Penis song" and, probably his most recognised hit, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life", which was written for the closing scene of the Monty Python film "Life of Brian", and sung from the crosses during the mass crucifixion. The song has since been covered by Bruce Cockburn, Art Garfunkel and Green Day. Idle, his fellow Pythons, and assorted family and friends performed the song at Graham Chapman's funeral.

In 1990, Idle sang and co-wrote the theme tune to the popular British sitcom "One Foot In The Grave". The song was later released, but did poorly in the charts. However, when "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life" was adopted as a football chant in the late 1980s, Idle's then neighbour Gary Lineker suggested Idle re-record and release the popular track. This led to a surprise hit, some 12 years after the song's original appearance in "Life Of Brian", reaching number 3 in the UK charts and landing Idle a set on "Top of the Pops" in October 1991.

In 2004, Idle recorded a protest song of sorts, the "FCC Song", in which he lambasts the US Federal Communications Commission for fining him $5,000 for saying the word "fuck" on national radio. Fittingly, the short song contains 14 uses of the said expletive. A video accompanying the song, created by Mountain Top CCT, can be viewed at YouTube [ [ YouTube - "The FCC Song" Music Video-Song by Eric Idle-UNCENSORED ] ] . In 2005, he received multiple Tony award nominations for his songwriting work on the Broadway musical "Spamalot".

He wrote, produced and performed the song "Really Nice Day" for the movie The Wild.( [ imdb] )

In June 2007, "Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy)", premiered at the inaugural Luminato arts festival in Toronto. Idle himself performed during this 50-minute oratorio, along with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and members of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. The composer, John Du Prez, was also present. Shannon Mercer, Jean Stilwell, Christopher Sieber, and Theodore Baerg sang the principal parts. The American premiere was at Caramoor (Westchester County, New York) on July 1, 2007. Soloists were the same as in the Toronto performance, but the accompanying chorus was made up of members of New York City's Collegiate Chorale.


An asteroid, 9620 Ericidle, is named in his honour. [cite web|url=|title=(9620) Ericidle = 1993 FU13|date=2007-06-17] Also the Integrated development environment for the Python programming language is called IDLE [cite web|url=|title=ViewPoint:Python + UML =|date=2007-06-29]


Idle in recent years has been criticised for commercializing the legacy of Monty Python. In "Slate", Sam Anderson wrote in the article "And Now For Something Completely Deficient" that though Idle "has earned a spot in Comedy Heaven for his Python days...his jokey "exposure" of his own exploitation (he has called tours "Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python" and "The Greedy Bastard Tour") is more irritating than funny." Of "Spamalot", Anderson opined that "Python was formed in reaction to exactly the kind of lazy comedy represented by "Spamalot" — what Michael Palin once described as the 'easy, catch-phrase reaction' the members had all been forced to pander in their previous writing jobs.". [cite web|url=|title=And Now For Something Completely Deficient|date=2007-06-17]

"Spamalot" has had mixed reactions from the other Python members. Terry Jones described it as “utterly pointless and full of air”. [cite web|url=,,11069-1606933,00.html|title=Spamalot’s Tony success is in the can - The Times|date=2005-05-11] [cite web|url=|title= The insider's guide to Monty Python|date=2006-10-17] Cleese lent his support by voicing God in a recorded performance that was integrated into the musical. Palin observed: "It's a great show. It’s not ‘Python’ as we would have written it. But then, none of us would get together and write a ‘Python’ stage show." [cite web|url=|title=Michael Palin interview - Time Out|date=2007-06-17] Terry Gilliam displayed a very mixed comment about the show by calling it "Python-like". [ [ Terry Gilliam Quick Stop Entertainment Interview] ]

In 1998, Idle appeared in the lead role in the film "Burn Hollywood Burn". The film was nominated as 'Worst Picture of the Decade' in the Golden Raspberry Awards (known as the Razzies) - and was awarded five Razzies including 'Worst Picture of the Year'.

In 2000 "The Onion" gave the album "Eric Idle Sings Monty Python: Live In Concert" the title of 'Least Essential Solo Album' of the year. It said "the year's true nadir came from an unexpected source, beloved Monty Pythoner Eric Idle, who preceded his depressingly low-rent, if honestly dubbed "Eric Idle Exploits Monty Python" tour with the equally unimpressive, if no less accurately titled "Eric Idle Sings Monty Python: Live In Concert"." [cite web|url=|title=Least Essential Albums of 2000|date=2007-06-17]

There has also been criticism of Idle from the other Rutles, who reunited for the "Archaeology" album in the mid-1990s without him. On the Channel 4 programme "What The Pythons Did Next", Rutles drummer John Halsey (aka Barry Wom), said that he had to switch off Idle's "" after 10 minutes. Innes was more diplomatic on the same show, saying "we used to think he had delusions of grandeur, now we know it's only grandeur". [cite web|url=|title=IMDB on What The Pythons Did Next|date=2007-06-17]

Idle describes himself as "the sixth nicest Python". [cite web|url=|title=Pythonline>Plugs>Idlewild|date=2007-06-29]


External links

* [ PythOnline]
* [ Eric Idle singing his "FCC Song" in MP3 format from]
* [ Eric Idle] - BBC Guide to Comedy
* [ Eric Idle] - Comedy Zone
*imdb name|id=0001385|name=Eric Idle
* [ "My Girl Herbert"] - the 1965 Cambridge Footlights Club revue during the time when Eric Idle was President of the Footlights, as well as being a member of the revue cast)

NAME=Idle, Eric
SHORT DESCRIPTION=British comedian
DATE OF BIRTH=29 March 1943
PLACE OF BIRTH=South Shields, Tyne & Wear, England

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