Sir Michael Palin’s words about the dearly departed Terry Jones are the simplest and most beautiful tribute to true friendship.
How endlessly sustaining and enriching is true friendship. A simple, mutual joy in one another’s company. True friendship can feel eternal, as though you and your friend have always known one another. As though they will always be there for you, and you for them. Then mortality intervenes. How irreplaceable is true friendship when it is lost.
I shall miss our pints
The most beautiful thing I have seen this year is Michael Palin’s short tribute on the BBC news to his Monty Python colleague and friend for more than half a century Terry Jones*, who died this week. Quite the loveliest words about a friend – and about the beauty of friendship – imaginable. And also quite the saddest.
Palin’s on-screen persona has always been charming, confident and capable. But also controlled, measured. Keeping things moving along with a jolly but relentless forward motion cloaked in gentle words and gestures. I always got the sense that there was more going on there than this persona allowed to be shown.
I don’t know if I have ever seen Michael Palin let his true emotions out as much as when he speaks of what he will miss most about Jones. The constant twinkle in Palin’s eye is replaced with the heart-rending gleam of tears. Watching this display of naked emotion, I too was immediately in tears.** Palin says:
“I shall miss the sociable Terry. I just miss putting my arm around him and having a drink. He was just a wonderful companion. A terrific companion. So, yes, I shall miss our trips to the bar. I shall miss our pints. And I shall miss our sessions of setting the world to rights. He was the most wonderful friend and just a terrific person to be with. And I won’t be the only person who says this. He had an enormous number of friends who loved him dearly.”
What better tribute to Terry Jones could one hope to hear? What better tribute to friendship?
A strange stifling surge of sadness.
Palin has always cherished his friendship with Jones. A little over 50 years ago, in his diary entry for Sunday 3 August 1969 (as presented in his excellent book The Python Years: Diaries 1969-1979), Palin wrote:
“Terry and I know each other’s ways of working so well now – exactly what each one does best, what each one thinks, what makes each of us laugh – that when I sat down to write with John [Cleese] there was a moment’s awkwardness, slight embarrassment…”
A few years later, on Monday 2 October 1972, great compassion shows through in Palin’s description of how he reacted to the news that Terry Jones’ mother had passed away:
“A note from Al was stuck in my door. ‘Terry’s mother died at 9.20. He has gone to sleep with the aid of a sleeping pill.’ For a moment I felt a strange stifling surge of sadness. My eyes welled with tears and for a few moments the news hit me really hard.”
The Pythons will rally round
On the day of Jones’ passing, the WordPress app informed me of a small flurry of activity around a 2016 blog post that I had no recollection of writing, entitled Creativity: Play it naked? Reading it back, it turned out that the post included words about Terry Jones at what must have been his final public appearance. I was delighted to read that Michael Palin’s love for Jones had shone through then, too, in his words of support at a very difficult time for Jones:
The most beautiful thing I have seen this week was Michael Palin presenting Jones with a Bafta Cymru award for his outstanding contribution to film and TV. Jones was there to accept it, despite his terrible suffering from “Primary Progressive Aphasia, a variant of Frontotemporal Dementia”. The most beautiful words I’ve read this week were Palin’s assurance that “the Pythons will rally round” Jones in his time of need. Jones’ illness is an impossibly cruel fate for a gent of such wit, creativity and imagination. I was struck by the serendipity of reading James Rhodes’ exhortation to “play it naked” just as such sad news was breaking about mayhap the world’s foremost naked piano player.***
True friendship is one of the greatest gifts we get to experience in this life. If you get the chance today, please put your arm around your closest friend or friends, have a drink with them, tell them what they mean to you. Above, enjoy one another’s company.
May today be nothing but kind to you and yours, my friend.
* Terry Jones starred in the first Monty Python sketch that I became obsessed with. My introduction to Monty Python’s Flying Circus came when the BBC reran all the episodes in the late 1980s (Taylor Parkes wrote a great piece on Python for The Quietus a few years back, in which he mentions getting to see the Flying Circus via exactly these same reruns). I recorded a number of them on VHS, and I recall endlessly rewinding and rewatching Terry Jones in his starring role as The Bishop. Flashbak.com tweeted a wonderful little video clip from this sketch:
** It seems that many other people were as moved as I was. I chanced upon a Twitter conversation between my Twitter friends Mary Jane Furniss and Richard Moorhead, about their own reactions to Palin’s BBC interview.
*** Should you require proof that Terry Jones was the world’s foremost naked piano player, here you go…