Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Happy birthday to J.B. Priestley, the Monty Python fan

The writer and wartime broadcaster J.B. Priestly was born on 13 September 1894 and lived to be an admirer of Monty Python's Flying Circus.

This was revealed by the late great Barry Cryer in a 2017 interview with We Are Cult. (Graham here is Graham Chapman.)

Tell us about the J.B. Priestley story…

During the Python tour, I told Graham, my absolute idol as a writer was J.B. Priestley, and typical Graham, I remember he said, “Ooh, Ba, you’re a bore on the subject of J.B. Priestley…” I said, “I’m sorry!”

“Ring him up”, he said.  I said, “You don’t just ring a man like that up, and how would I know his phone number?” and I thought, “Wait a minute, Wendy at Yorkshire Television did a documentary…” and that’s that.  You can’t plan this sort of thing.  So I ring Wendy at YTV, I say “Have you got J.B. Priestley’s phone number?” ‘”Yes!” Gives me the number, oh boy!

A woman answers the phone, we thought it was his secretary or assistant, it was his cleaning lady!  I said, “Is Mr Priestley there?” Silence. Click. [Gruffly:] “Hello”. I sobered up in a split second. [Barks:] “Who’s that?” I said, “Oh, my name’s Barry Cryer?” [Snaps:] “Is it indeed?” And then I floated away on a pink cloud, this great man said, “I’ve heard you on the wireless.” 

So I thought, what can I say to him?  I said, “My mate and I, we’re writers, and we’d like to come and see you.” [Gruffly:]  “Who’s yer mate?”  I said, “Er, Graham Chapman…” [Sharply:] “Monty Python, eh?” 

Turns out Priestley was a big Python fan.  So what can I say to him that won’t worry him. I said, “Can we have tea with you?” “Yessss. Monday, three o’clock, I’m giving me address, I’m giving up me walk.”  

I’m in Coventry on the Sunday night, not a million miles from Alverston, where Priestley lived.  So Graham and I book a car, John Cleese heard about it and joined in, we went down and met the great man, Graham and JB swopped pipe tobacco…

That was Graham, you see. Direct. ‘Ring him.’ Fascinating.  And then you find out Priestley’s a fan of Python and that it wasn’t shown for a while and then it was shown late at night instead of show jumping.  Priestley was furious!  The Python gang were thrilled when they heard Priestley was a fan!

Priestley died in 1984, a month short of his 90th birthday.


Anonymous said...

Priestley’s problems seeing Monty Python are explained by the simple fact that he lived in the Midlands. In the early 1970s the BBC was still very keen on regional broadcasting, and when everyone else was watching Chapman Cleese et al, those of us in the Midlands were shown a special local programme on the motor industry. Absolutely infuriating!

Jonathan Calder said...

The first time I saw a Monty Python sketch (Confuse a Cat) was on Robert Robinson's Junior Points of View. Python itself was on way after the bedtime of well brought up children in the 1960s.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I had forgotten that - it was indeed broadcast very late at night. (As was the thing on the motor industry.)