Terry Jones: Still silly after all these years

While the reformed Pythons are preparing to revisit old material, he continues to add to his prodigious and varied body of work. But is it true the reunion is because he needs to pay off the mortgage? James Hanning meets Terry Jones

So it's about the money, is it? The Monty Python team, all abundantly equipped with evasive middle-class charm, have pretty much ducked the admission that their reunion next summer at the O2 arena is driven by lucre. Many reasons have been cited, generally in a larky spirit that avoids anything too nakedly mercantile, although John Cleese last weekend, again ostensibly light-heartedly, said that they needed to help pay off Terry Jones's mortgage.

So when, sitting in his agreeable study in one of north London's leafier environs, I get the opportunity to check with the man who played Mr Creosote and Brian's mother whether Cleese was joking, the answer comes as a surprise. "The thing is," Jones explains, "I have an interest-only mortgage and I have to pay £700,000 in 2015, so it's true, yes."

Jones is famously nice (like his friend and long-term writing partner Michael Palin), and nice people make notoriously disappointing interviewees. So this degree of candour, moments into our conversation, is encouraging. But surely Jones has been around the media block too many times to throw out too many hostages. I press on, suggesting that the keenness of individual Pythons to regroup might be in direct proportion to the size of their bank overdrafts. "I don't think any of us have got overdrafts apart from paying off the mortgage," he says. He declares himself "blown away" by the tickets for the reunion selling out in 43.5 seconds.

The Pythons seems to agree that the most dispiriting words in the English language are "here are a couple of numbers from the new album". The show will consist of tried and tested Python fare, with what Jones calls "some leavening of up-to-dateness" – but precious little, I gather. And to a suggestion that they might do some off-the-cuff stuff, he says with some certainty: "We don't ad lib."

Jones seems to relish the challenge of doing 10 live shows with his Python confrères, and, at 71, his CV still requires frequent updating. The day we met last week, he had had lunch with Elva Corrie, the co-producer, with lyricist Jim Steinman, of Nutcracked, a new musical version of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. ("We're angling it for Broadway," he says confidently.)

He is also preparing for the filming in the spring of Absolutely Anything, which has been 20 years in preparation and is about a teacher at a sink school who has unsuspected magical powers.

And, later this month, the National Theatre of Wales is putting on an adaptation of his Fairy Tales, which include "The Beast with a Thousand Teeth", "The Glass Cupboard", and "The Butterfly Who Sang", and were written more than 30 years ago for the children from his first marriage. The stories are of a piece with the pretext for this interview, which is the paperback publication of Evil Machines, a collection of short stories about devices which behave unpredictably. They include "The Truthful Phone", "The Nice Bomb" (which offers to make a cup of tea) and "The Lift that Took People to Places They Didn't Want to Go".

Much of Python's popularity in the early 1970s was down to the novelty of its absurd, convention-breaking humour. And the stories, published by a crowd-funding outfit called Unbound, are a reminder of Jones's undimmed faith in the power of silliness. He purrs contentedly at his chapter titles, and agrees they belong in the literary tradition of nonsense, as practised by Edward Lear.

In fact, Jones has criticised much of Lear's type of nonsense for not having much of a point to it. But isn't that the point of nonsense – that it has no point, I suggest. He agrees, and also agrees that there isn't really much point to Evil Machines, other than to entertain. He admits, though, that he does get very cross with his scanner.

He also has a record of getting angry, politically at least. "I can't bear politicians," he says. "I don't think democracy works, really. Politicians have to do what people will vote for, and that's not always the best thing to do. I do vote for the Green Party, but I'm considering not voting."

I say that he sounds more despairing than cross. "Yes," he chuckles genially, "… not bothering to be cross. Basically, I agree with Russell Brand about voting." What prescriptions does Jones have? "I think we should run politics on the jury system, with 12 good men and true chosen at random from the population. If you trust a jury to incarcerate people, why shouldn't you trust them with the government?" He agrees that it's hardly likely to happen.

For someone whose personality and work involve so much fun and affability, Jones is not big on obvious optimism. Another project on which he is working is a film about the financial crash of 2008, with animations and puppets, showing how our species fails to learn from its mistakes. Does he have a progressive's belief in humans making things better? No. As a student of Chaucer and much else from the Middle Ages, Jones is well placed to know. "I don't think we've changed. We're just the same as we were then, and BC, and the Romans. I don't think human nature changes. I don't think there's any chance of us getting better."

The optimism in his life seems to come from his second wife, Anna Söderström, 30, from Sweden, and their four-year-old daughter. He affects not to be conscious of their age differences, perhaps wishing to flaunt his indifference to the adverse press coverage that surrounded the end of his first marriage. ("I didn't read it.") "She's more intelligent than I am. She's very level … She can turn her hand to anything." He goes into dreamy raptures about her brilliance as a linguist, co-writer, editor and now businesswoman. She is setting up a pop-up shop in fashionable Shoreditch selling Swedish scarves and hats, based on designs from Gotland, where Jones's mother-in-law has a holiday home.

He is loving being a parent again, and has enough energy to do his share of child-minding and dog-walking. But he admits to a frustration: "I'm not writing anything at the moment, that's the problem. That's my primary purpose in life." For one so prolific, it surely won't be long.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

    The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
    Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

    Stolen youth

    Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
    Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

    Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

    He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Hollywood heavyweights produce world's most expensive corporate video - for Macau casino

    Scorsese in the director's chair with De Niro, DiCaprio and Pitt to star
    Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

    Made by Versace, designed by her children

    Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
    Anyone for pulled chicken?

    Pulling chicks

    Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
    9 best steam generator irons

    9 best steam generator irons

    To get through your ironing as swiftly as possible, invest in one of these efficient gadgets
    England v Norway: Wayne Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

    Rooney admits England must ‘put on a show’ to regain faith

    New captain vows side will deliver for small Wembley crowd
    ‘We knew he was something special:’ Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing

    ‘We knew he was something special’

    Radamel Falcao's journey from teenage debutant to Manchester United's star signing
    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York