In 1978, the Monty Python team were in Tunisia to film their masterpiece, Life of Brian, but at the last minute a studio executive read the script – and, appalled, pulled the funding. George Harrison, a fan of the Pythons, stumped up the cash – the equivalent of $40m today – to see the film made.
The beneficent Beatle later described his contribution as “the most expensive cinema ticket ever issued”. Yet Life of Brian was, of course, a huge hit, and it encouraged Harrison to continue in the movie business. His company HandMade went on to produce some of the most fondly-remembered British films of the 1980s, including Time Bandits, The Long Good Friday and Withnail and I.
Eventually HandMade over-reached itself with such big-budget star-vehicles as the execrable Shanghai Surprise. But, as Robert Sellers argues, today’s British film industry could do worse than to recover the ethos of HandMade in its early days, when the work was done by “artists, individuals; not corporations, or committees”.