Terry Jones

For other uses, see: Terry Jones (disambiguation).

Terence Graham Parry Jones (born 1 February 1942) is a Welsh comedian, screenwriter and actor, film director, children's author, popular historian, political commentator and TV documentary host. He is best known as a member of the Monty Python comedy team.

Early life

Jones was born in Colwyn Bay, Wales. He was educated at the Royal Grammar School in Guildford, where he was head boy; he graduated in English at St Edmund Hall, Oxford. While there he performed comedy with Michael Palin, among others, in The Oxford Revue.

Career History

Before Python

Jones appeared in Twice a Fortnight with Palin, Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie and Jonathan Lynn, as well as in The Complete and Utter History of Britain. He also appeared in Do Not Adjust Your Set with Palin, Eric Idle and David Jason (Jones speaks about this series during an interview which appears on both the DVDs for Do Not Adjust Your Set and the At Last the 1948 Show). He wrote for The Frost Report and several other of David Frost's programmes on British television.

Monty Python

As a member of the Monty Python troupe, Jones is remembered for his roles as middle-aged women and the bowler-hatted "man in the street". He typically wrote sketches in partnership with Palin.

One of Jones's early concerns was devising a fresh format for the Python TV shows, and it was largely Jones who developed the stream-of-consciousness style which abandoned punchlines and instead encouraged the fluid movement of one sketch to another - allowing the team's conceptual humour the space to “breathe”. Jones also objected to TV directors’ use of sped-up film, over-emphatic music, and static camera style, and took a keen interest in the direction of the shows. He later committed himself to directing the Python films Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Life of Brian, and Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, and as director, finally gained fuller control of the projects, devising a visual style that allowed the performers 'space'; for instance, in the use of wide shots for long exchanges of dialogue, and more economical use of music. As demonstrated in many of his sketches with Palin, Jones was also interested in making comedy that was visually impressive, feeling that interesting settings augmented, rather than detracted from, the humour. His methods encouraged many future television comedians to break away from conventional studio-bound shooting styles, as demonstrated into the 21st century by shows such as Green Wing, Little Britain and The League of Gentlemen.

Of Jones's contributions as a performer, his parodic, screechy-voiced depictions of middle-aged women are among the most memorable. His humour, in collaboration with Palin, tends to be conceptual in nature; a typical Palin/Jones sketch draws its humour from the absurdity of the scenario. For example, in the “Summarise Proust Competition”, Jones plays a cheesy game show host giving a series of contestants 15 seconds to condense Marcel Proust's lengthy work À la recherche du temps perdu; in the "Mouse Organ" sketch, he plays a tuxedoed man using mallets to bash mice who have been trained to squeak at a select pitch, and when “played” in the correct order reproduce the tune "Bells of St. Mary". In both cases, the laughs originate in the madness of the idea itself. Jones was also notable for his gifts as a Chaplinesque physical comedian, perhaps best demonstrated in the "Undressing in Public" sketch. He was often cast as the straight man, or as a nerdy or put-upon character, often with ambitions or dreams beyond his abilities, in contrast to the authority figures often played by John Cleese or Graham Chapman.

Directorial work

Jones co-directed Monty Python and the Holy Grail with Terry Gilliam, and was sole director on two further Monty Python movies, Life of Brian and Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. (The latter featured one of his most famous characters, the grotesquely obese Mr. Creosote). As a film director, Jones finally gained fuller control of the projects and devised a visual style that complemented the humour and, once again, concentrated on allowing the performers room to breathe. Examples include the use of wide shots for long exchanges of dialogue, and more economical use of music. His methods encouraged many future television comedians to break away from slapstick or studio-bound shooting styles, as demonstrated by Green Wing and The League of Gentlemen. His later films include Erik the Viking (1989) and The Wind in the Willows (1996). In 2008, Jones wrote and directed an opera titled 'Evil Machines'.

On the commentary track of the 2004 "2 Disc Special Edition" DVD for the film Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, Terry Jones stated that to his knowledge Ireland had only banned four movies, three of which he had directed: The Meaning of Life, Monty Python's Life of Brian and Personal Services.

As an author

He co-wrote Ripping Yarns with Palin, and wrote the screenplay for Labyrinth (1986), although his draft went through several rewrites and several other writers before being filmed; much of the finished film wasn't written by Jones at all. He has also written numerous works for children, including Fantastic Stories and The Beast with a Thousand Teeth.

He has written books and presented television documentaries on medieval and ancient history and the history of numeral systems. His series often challenge popular views of history: for example, Terry Jones' Medieval Lives (2004) argues that the Middle Ages was a more sophisticated period than is popularly thought, and Terry Jones' Barbarians (2006) presents the cultural achievements of peoples conquered by the Roman Empire in a more positive light than Roman historians typically have.

He has written numerous editorials for The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and The Observer condemning the Iraq war. Many of these editorials were published in a paperback collection titled Terry Jones's War on the War on Terror.

Chaucer's Knight: The Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary (1980) offers an alternative take on the historical view of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Knight's Tale as being a paragon of Christian virtue. Jones asserts that, after closer examination of historical rather than literary context, The Knight is actually a typical mercenary and a potentially cold-blooded killer.

Working with musicians

Jones has performed with The Carnival Band and appears on their 2007 CD Ringing the changes (Park Records PRKCD98).

In January 2008, the Teatro São Luiz, in Lisbon, Portugal, premiered "Evil Machines" - a musical play, written by Jones (based on his book) and with original music by Portuguese composer Luis Tinoco. Jones was invited by the Teatro São Luiz to write and direct the play, after a very successful run of "Contos Fantásticos", a short play based on Jones' "Fantastic Stories", also with music by Luis Tinoco.

Personal life

Jones was married from 1970 to 2003 to Alison Telfer, and they have two children together, Sally (born in 1974) and Bill (born in 1976). He was kicked out of the house by his family after admitting to have an affair with 19 year old Anna Soderstrom. On 21 October 2006, it was reported in The Daily Mirror, that Jones had been diagnosed with bowel cancer. Another article dated three days later, also by The Mirror, indicated that the exploratory surgery performed on Jones had good results.

Selected bibliography


Illustrated by Michael Foreman

Illustrated by Brian Froud

  • Goblins of the Labyrinth (1986), ISBN 1-85145-058-0
    • The Goblin Companion: A Field Guide to Goblins (1996), ISBN 1-85793-795-3 – an abridged re-release, in a smaller format, with the colour plates missing
  • Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Book (1994), ISBN 1-85793-336-2
  • Strange Stains and Mysterious Smells: Quentin Cottington's Journal of Faery Research (1996), ISBN 0-684-83206-2
  • Lady Cottington's Pressed Fairy Journal (1998), ISBN 1-86205-024-4
  • Lady Cottington's Fairy Album (2002), ISBN 1-86205-559-9

Illustrated by Martin Honeysett & Lolly Honeysett


  • Chaucer's Knight: The Portrait of a Medieval Mercenary (1980), ISBN 0-297-77566-9; rev. ed. (1994), ISBN 0-413-69140-3
  • Who Murdered Chaucer?: A Medieval Mystery (2003), ISBN 0-413-75910-5 – with Robert Yeager, Terry Dolan, Alan Fletcher and Juliette Dor
  • Terry Jones's War on the War on Terror (2005), ISBN 1-56025-653-2

With Alan Ereira

  • Crusades (1994), ISBN 0-563-37007-6
  • Terry Jones' Medieval Lives (2004), ISBN 0-563-48793-3
  • Terry Jones' Barbarians (2006), ISBN 0-563-49318-6


Documentary series

Political articles


  • An asteroid, 9622 Terryjones, is named in his honour. When asked during a webchat if this was the greatest honour he has received, Jones replied, "I didn't realise it was an honour to have a barren lump of rock named after one."

Further reading

  • Wilmut, Roger (1980). From Fringe to Flying Circus: Celebrating a Unique Generation of Comedy, 1960-1980. London: Eyre Methuen. ISBN 0-413-46950-6.


External links

Twice a Fortnight
Graeme Garden — Terry Jones — Jonathan LynnBill OddieMichael Palin
Do Not Adjust Your Set
Denise CoffeyEric IdleDavid Jason — Terry Jones — Michael Palin

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