Michael Palin rubbishes claim of '7th Python' Mark Forstater in court battle over royalties to Spamalot musical

From the seventh Python to a missed Nobel prize, Jonathan Brown looks at those who fame forgot

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Chapman, Idle, Gilliam, Jones, Cleese, Palin and … Forstater?

Fans of Monty Python were astonished this week to learn that a seventh figure was claiming credit as a member of the 20th century’s most revered comedy collective. Mark Forstater, producer of the 1975 cult classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail, is suing the five surviving members for a share of the royalties and merchandising from the spectacularly successful musical spin off Spamalot.

Mr Forstater, 69, whose production credits include the 1978 comedy The Odd Job, which starred the late Graham Chapman, brought the legal action for £250,000 after falling on hard financial times, the High Court heard. He claims he is entitled to more money after signing a profit- sharing agreement before The Holy Grail was released. In court, however, Michael Palin, Eric Idle and Terry Jones poured scorn on the notion that there was ever a seventh member of what they described as a jealously guarded creative team.

Palin said: “It might have been what he was seeking but it was never going to be accepted by the Pythons. The idea of a seventh Python, it just doesn’t happen. It’s never been like that.” Mr Forstater wouldn’t be the first to be credited, rightly or wrongly, with influencing others’ endeavours. While some are rewarded for their efforts, others aren’t so lucky.

Lamont Dozier... and the Four Tops

Levi Stubbs and his smooth-crooning Four Tops were one of Motown’s biggest acts in the 1960s. But behind the scenes there was a Fifth, Sixth and even a Seventh Top. Lamont Dozier and the brothers Brian and Eddie Holland crafted some of the vocal group’s finest songs including the classic Reach Out I’ll Be There. But the songwriting trio fell out with Motown’s founder, Berry Gordy, over royalties, working to rule and eventually leaving the label – and the Four Tops – behind them.

Paul McGuinness...and U2

Having signed them up in 1978 over a few pints in a Dublin pub they were too young to drink in, Mr McGuinness insisted that everything U2 earned was split equally between the four band members and himself. But although he was Mr 20 Per Cent for much of their ascent to become the richest band in the world, the fifth share was later – and amicably – renegotiated. McGuinness has since  negotiated a 12-year touring deal with Live Nation and the U2 iPod branding.

Rosalind Franklin... and Watson & Crick

In 1962, Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins were jointly awarded a Nobel Prize for their discovery of the molecular structure of DNA. There was no award for the British scientist Rosalind Franklin – she had died of ovarian cancer four years earlier and the prize cannot be awarded posthumously – but many feel her contribution was swept under the carpet. Franklin was an expert in  X-ray diffraction, and her 1952 image of the B-form of the molecule showed that DNA was made up of the now famous double helix. These photos were shared without her permission. In 1953, the first published study on DNA’s structure appeared in the journal Nature.

Nigel Godrich...and Radiohead

Drafted in as a sound engineer on the recording of Radiohead’s breakthrough album The Bends, Godrich has since gone on to be regarded as the sixth member of the influential band. He took control of the mixing desk to produce the hugely successful OK Computer, released in 1997, which was recorded in a mobile studio next to a power station where cattle were being incinerated at the height of the mad cow disease crisis. He produced all of Radiohead’s subsequent albums from Kid A in 2000 to last year’s The King of Limbs. Godrich has also produced Beck, Travis and Paul McCartney, and recently formed his own band, Ultraista, releasing a well-received album in November.

Tony McCarroll...and Oasis

It is rumoured that tensions between drummer McCarroll and his Oasis bandmates began early in the band’s career. In what fans dub the “£1,000 incident”, Noel Gallagher spent money advanced to the musicians on a new guitar, and refused to buy drum skins despite the fact McCarroll had paid £600 for a new drum kit. He featured on their 1994 debut album, Definitely Maybe, and left the band the following year. In 1999, he sued for £18m – a fifth of the band’s earnings since his departure. He settled out of court for £600,000.