Spamalot trial: This Python show is seriously short on laughs

Idle, Jones and Palin vent their fury at ‘Holy Grail’ director’s claim for higher musical's royalties

Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin were at London’s High Court today but, beyond the courtroom being plunged accidentally into darkness for a few moments, there was little comedy about the proceedings.

The three Pythons took to the witness box to hit back at Mark Forstater, the producer of the comedy group’s 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who claims he is owed higher royalties from its musical spin-off, Spamalot.

The six hours of cross-examination left Idle looking half asleep, while Jones struggled to suppress yawns as Palin took the brunt of the questioning. After he had finished, he left the courtroom early.

Each used the opportunity to rebut the suggestion made by Forstater’s lawyer, that the producer was an unofficial “seventh Python”.

Idle “found it laughable”, Palin said there was “never any suggestion” that he was part of the group and Jones said: “I just don’t like the term.”

Idle was the last of the Monty Python members in the witness box, and went on the attack from the start, calling the producer “ungrateful”, saying he had already earned £250,000 in royalties from Spamalot.

Mr Forstater, who has been hit by financial issues, believes he is owed twice the royalites he has received since the show opened on Broadway in 2005, under an agreement made in 1974. It has since played on the West End stage and toured the world.

Mr Idle could barely contain his anger, and when asked if he felt animosity towards Forstater, he replied: “Only recently. It’s ingratitude.”

He then scoffed at the suggestion the producer may have offered creative input in spin-off merchandise such as the comedy book that followed: “He has no comedy in him,” he said. “I find it absurd.”

Tom Weisselberg, appearing for Forstater, told the court that he could be accepted as the seventh Python in financial terms, as he agreed the same fee structure and royalty payments as the comedians.

“The idea of a ‘seventh Python’ just doesn’t happen. It was never going to be accepted,” Palin said. Palin’s answers were terse, and most of the time he said he could not remember the details of meetings and documents from almost 40 years ago. 

He was clear that Forstater did not have “input” into writing Monty Python and the Holy Grail, adding he was not part of the team. “I find it really bizarre that Mark should think he would have been there writing the film with us. It just wouldn’t happen.

“Mark came on board. He became the producer. But I don’t think he was entitled to anything beyond that.”

Jones said: “The six of us were very jealous of anyone entering into our creative world.” He added that he and Terry Gilliam had fallen out with Forstater after the film.

Jones made it clear he had little knowledge and even less interest in the financial backdrop and agreements in the build-up to making the Holy Grail. One of the few laughs, beyond the momentary loss of light, came as Jones was asked if he remembered a particular incident when he argued with John Cleese. “No,” he replied. “I only once threw a chair at Mr Cleese.”