Eric Idle

Eric Idle

Eric Idle with guitar, 2012
Born (1943-03-29) 29 March 1943
South Shields, Tyne and Wear, England, UK
Residence Vermont, United States
Alma mater Pembroke College, Cambridge
Occupation Actor, composer, comedian, musician, singer-songwriter, writer
Years active 1967–present
Notable work Monty Python, The Rutles, Spamalot
Spouse(s) Lyn Ashley (m. 1969; div. 1975)
Tania Kosevich (m. 1981)
Children Carey (b. 1973)
Lily (b. 1990)
Parent(s) Nora Barron Idle
Ernest Idle

Eric Idle (born 29 March 1943) is a British comedian, actor, voice actor, author, singer-songwriter, musician, writer and comedic composer. Idle is a member of the British surreal comedy group Monty Python, a member of The Rutles and the author of the Broadway musical Spamalot.

Early life and education

Idle was born in Harton, near South Shields in County Durham, to which his mother had been evacuated from the north west of England. His mother, Norah Barron (Sanderson),[1] was a health visitor and his father, Ernest Idle,[2][3] served in the Royal Air Force during World War II, only to be killed in a hitch-hiking accident shortly after the war.[4] His mother had difficulty coping with a full-time job and bringing up a child, so when Idle was seven, she enrolled him in the Royal Wolverhampton School as a boarder. At this time, the school was a charitable foundation dedicated to the education and maintenance of children who had lost one or both parents.[5] Idle is quoted as saying: "It was a physically abusive, bullying, harsh environment for a kid to grow up in. I got used to dealing with groups of boys and getting on with life in unpleasant circumstances and being smart and funny and subversive at the expense of authority. Perfect training for Python."[5]

Idle stated that the two things that made his life bearable were listening to Radio Luxembourg under the bedclothes and watching the local football team, Wolverhampton Wanderers. Despite this, he disliked other sports and would sneak out of school every Thursday afternoon to the local cinema. Idle was eventually caught watching the X-rated film BUtterfield 8 (suitable for audiences aged 16 years and over under the contemporary film certificates) and stripped of his prefecture, though by that time he was head boy. Idle had already refused to be senior boy in the school cadet force, as he supported the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and had participated in the yearly Aldermaston March.[5] Idle maintains that there was little to do at the school, and boredom drove him to study hard and consequently win a place at Cambridge University.[5]


Pre-Python career (1965–1969)

Idle attended Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he studied English. At Pembroke, he was invited to join the prestigious Cambridge University Footlights Club by the president of the Footlights Club, Tim Brooke-Taylor, and Footlights Club member Bill Oddie.

I'd never heard of the Footlights when I got there, but we had a tradition of college smoking-concerts, and I sent in some sketches parodying a play that had just been done. Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie auditioned me for the Footlights smoker, and that led to me discovering about and getting into the Footlights, which was great.[6]

Idle started at Cambridge only a year after future fellow-Pythons Graham Chapman and John Cleese. He became Footlights President in 1965 and was the first to allow women to join the club.[7] Idle starred in the children's television comedy series Do Not Adjust Your Set co-starring his future Python fellows Terry Jones and Michael Palin. Terry Gilliam provided animations for the show. The show's cast also included comic actors David Jason and Denise Coffey. Idle also appeared as guest in some episodes of the television series At Last the 1948 Show, which co-featured future Python members John Cleese and Graham Chapman.

Monty Python (1969–1983, 2014)

Further information: Monty Python

Idle wrote for Python mostly by himself, at his own pace, although he sometimes found it difficult in having to present material to the others and make it seem funny without the back-up support of a partner. The other Pythons usually worked in teams and Cleese admitted that this was slightly unfair – when the Pythons voted on which sketches should appear in a show, "he (Idle) only got one vote". However, he also says that Idle was an independent person and worked best on his own. Idle himself admitted this was sometimes difficult: "You had to convince five others. And they were not the most un-egotistical of writers, either."

Idle's work in Python is often characterised by an obsession with language and communication: many of his characters have verbal peculiarities, such as the man who speaks in anagrams, the man who says words in the wrong order, and the butcher who alternates between rudeness and politeness every time he speaks. A number of his sketches involve extended monologues (for example the customer in the "Travel Agency" sketch who won't stop talking about his unpleasant experiences with holidays), and he would frequently spoof the unnatural language and speech patterns of television presenters. Unlike Palin, Idle is said to be the master of insincere characters, from the David Frost-esque Timmy Williams, to small-time crook Stig O'Tracy, who tries to deny the fact that organised crime master Dinsdale Piranha nailed his head to the floor.

The second-youngest member of the Pythons, Idle was closest in spirit to the students and teenagers who made up much of Python's fanbase. Python sketches dealing most with contemporary obsessions like pop music, sexual permissiveness and recreational drugs are usually Idle's work, often characterised by double entendre, sexual references, and other "naughty" subject matter – most famously demonstrated in "Nudge Nudge." Idle originally wrote "Nudge, Nudge" for Ronnie Barker, but it was rejected because there was 'no joke in the words'.[8]

A competent guitarist, Idle composed many of the group's most famous musical numbers, most notably "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life", the closing number of Life of Brian, which has grown to become a Python signature tune. He was responsible for the "Galaxy Song" from The Meaning of Life and "Eric the Half-a-Bee", a whimsical tune that first appeared on the Previous Record album.

Post-Python career (1973–present)

Eric Idle in 2003

After the success of Python in the early 1970s, all six members pursued solo projects. Idle's first solo work was his own BBC Radio One show, Radio Five (pre-dating the real Radio Five station by 18 years). This ran for two seasons from 1973 to 1974 and involved Idle performing sketches and links to records, with himself playing nearly all the multi-tracked parts.

On television, Idle created Rutland Weekend Television (RWT), a sketch show on BBC2, written by himself, with music by Neil Innes. RWT was 'Britain's smallest television network'. The name was a parody of London Weekend Television, the independent television franchise contractor that provided Londoners with their ITV services at weekends; Rutland had been England's smallest county, but had recently been 'abolished' in an administrative shake-up. To make the joke complete, the programme went out on a weekday. Other regular performers were David Battley, Henry Woolf, Gwen Taylor and Terence Bayler and George Harrison made a guest appearance on one episode.

A legacy of RWT was the creation, with Innes, of the Rutles, an affectionate parody of the Beatles. The band became a popular phenomenon, especially in the U.S. where Idle was appearing on Saturday Night Live – fans would send in Beatles LPs with their sleeves altered to show the Rutles. In 1978, the Rutles' mockumentary film All You Need Is Cash, a collaboration between Python members and Saturday Night Live, was aired on NBC television, as written by Idle, with music by Innes. Idle appeared in the film as "Dirk McQuickly" (the Paul McCartney-styled character of the group), as well as the main commentator, while Innes appeared as "Ron Nasty" (the band's stand-in for John Lennon). Actors appearing in the film included Saturday Night Live's John Belushi, Bill Murray and Gilda Radner, as well as fellow Python Michael Palin, but also real musicians of the 1960s such as former real Beatle George Harrison, as well as Mick Jagger and Paul Simon. Idle wrote and directed the Rutles comeback in 2008 for a live show Rutlemania! to celebrate the 30th anniversary.[9] The performances took place in Los Angeles and New York City with a Beatles tribute band.[10]

In 1986, Idle provided the voice of Wreck-Gar, the leader of the Junkions (a race of robots built out of junk that can only speak in film catchphrases and advertising slogans) in The Transformers: The Movie. In 1987, he took part in the English National Opera production of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera The Mikado, in which he appeared in the role of the Lord High Executioner, Ko-Ko. In 1989, he appeared in the U.S. comedy television series Nearly Departed, about a ghost who haunts the family inhabiting his former home; the series lasted for six episodes as a summer replacement series.

Idle received good critical notices appearing in projects written and directed by others – such as Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989), alongside Robbie Coltrane in Nuns on the Run (1990) and in Casper (1995). He also played Ratty in Terry Jones' version of The Wind in the Willows (1996). However, his own creative projects – such as the film Splitting Heirs (1993), a comedy he wrote, starred in and executive-produced – were mostly unsuccessful with critics and audiences.

In 1994, he appeared as Dr. Nigel Channing, chairman of the Imagination Institute and host of an 'Inventor of the Year' awards show in the three-dimensional film Honey, I Shrunk the Audience!, which was an attraction at Walt Disney World's Epcot from 1994 until 2010 and at Disneyland from 1998 until 2010. The film also stars Rick Moranis and other members of the cast of the 1989 feature film Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. In 1999, he reprised the role in the second (poorly received) version of the "Journey into Imagination" ride at Epcot, replacing Figment and Dreamfinder as the host. Due to an outcry from Disney fans, Figment was reinstated into the ride. Idle is also writer and star of the 3-D film Pirates – 4D for Busch Entertainment Corporation.

In 1995, he voiced Rincewind the "Wizzard" in a computer adventure game based on Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. In 1996, he reprised his role as Rincewind for the game's sequel, and composed and sang its theme song, "That's Death". In 1998, Idle appeared in the lead role in the poorly received film Burn Hollywood Burn. That same year, he also provided the voice of Devon, a dragon, in Warner Bros. Animated film Quest for Camelot and as Slyly the albino Arctic fox in Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie.

In recent years, Idle has worked with people who regard him as a huge inspiration, such as Trey Parker and Matt Stone in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, in which he voiced Dr. Vosknocker. He has also made three appearances on The Simpsons as famous documentarian Declan Desmond, so far the only appearance on the show by a Python. From 1999 to 2000, he played Ian Maxtone-Graham on the NBC sitcom Suddenly Susan. He has also acted as narrator of the AudioNovel version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl and Waddlesworth the parrot in 102 Dalmatians and the video game of the same name.

In late 2003, Idle began a performing tour of several American and Canadian cities entitled The Greedy Bastard Tour. The stage performances consisted largely of music from Monty Python episodes and films, along with some original post-Python material. In 2005, Idle released The Greedy Bastard Diary, a book detailing the things the cast and crew encountered during the three-month tour.

In 2004, Idle created Spamalot, a musical comedy based on the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The medieval production tells the story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table as they journey on their quest for the Holy Grail. Spamalot features a book and lyrics by Eric Idle, music by Idle and John Du Prez, direction by Mike Nichols, and choreography by Casey Nicholaw.[11]

More recently, Idle provided the voice of Merlin the magician in the DreamWorks animated film Shrek the Third (2007) with his former Python co-star John Cleese, who voiced King Harold.

Idle's play What About Dick? was given a staged reading at two public performances in Hollywood on 10–11 November 2007. The cast included Idle, Billy Connolly, Tim Curry, Eddie Izzard, Jane Leeves, Emily Mortimer, Jim Piddock and Tracey Ullman.[12] The play returned on 26–29 April 2012 in the Oprheum Theatre with most of the cast returning with the exception of Emily Mortimer who was replaced by Sophie Winkleman. Russell Brand also joined the cast. The play was made available for digital download on 13 November 2012.

Eric Idle was a popular addition to the 2012 Summer Olympics closing ceremony at the Olympic Stadium in London on 12 August, performing "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life".

Eric Idle was the creator and director of the live show "Monty Python Live (mostly) – One down, Five to go", which took place at the O2 Arena in London between 1 and 20 July 2014.

Other credits


Idle has written several books, both fiction and non-fiction. His novels are Hello Sailor and The Road to Mars. In 1976, he produced a spin-off book to Rutland Weekend Television, entitled The Rutland Dirty Weekend Book. In 1982, he wrote a West End farce Pass the Butler, starring Willie Rushton. During his Greedy Bastard Tour of 2003, he wrote the diaries that would be made into The Greedy Bastard Diary: A Comic Tour of America, published in February 2005.

Idle also wrote the book and co-wrote the music and lyrics for the musical Monty Python's Spamalot, based on the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It premiered in Chicago before moving to Broadway, where it received the Tony Award for Best Musical of the 2004–05 season. Idle won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics.

In a 2005 poll to find "The Comedians' Comedian" (UK), he was voted 21 in the top 50 greatest comedy acts ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders.

An example of Idle's idiosyncratic writing is "Ants in Their Pants" – a poem about the sex life of ants. It starts as follows:

'Where does an ant get its rocks off?
How does the ant get it on?
Do ants have it away, say three times a day,
Is it once a week sex, or p'raps none?'



Idle is an accomplished songwriter, having composed and performed many of the Pythons' most famous comic pieces, including "Eric the Half-a-Bee", "The Philosophers' Song", "Galaxy Song", "Penis Song" and, probably his most recognised hit, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life", which was written for the closing scene of the Monty Python film Life of Brian, and sung from the crosses during the mass crucifixion. The song has since been covered by Harry Nilsson, Bruce Cockburn, Art Garfunkel and Green Day. Idle, his fellow Pythons, and assorted family and friends performed the song at Graham Chapman's memorial service. Idle performed the song at the closing ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games on 12 August 2012[13] and as the farewell song of the last show of the Pythons at the O2 arena, 20 July 2014.

As Ko-Ko in the 1987 English National Opera production of The Mikado, Idle wrote his own 'Little List' on "As some day it may happen".

In 1990, Idle sang and co-wrote the theme tune to the popular British sitcom One Foot in the Grave. The song was later released, but did poorly in the charts. However, when "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" was adopted as a football chant in the late 1980s, Idle's then neighbour Gary Lineker suggested Idle re-record and release the popular track. With help from Radio 1 breakfast show host Simon Mayo, who gave the song regular airplay and also used the chorus within a jingle, it became a hit, some 12 years after the song's original appearance in Life of Brian, reaching number 3 in the UK charts and landing Idle a set on Top of the Pops in October 1991. He recorded a special version of the song for Mayo's own use on air ("Come on Simon, get another song on now; why don't you put on a nice Cliff Richard record?") and changed the line "life's a piece of shit" to "life's a piece of spit" in order to get daytime airplay on radio. Idle presented Mayo with a model human foot, akin to the one used in the Monty Python title sequence, as a thank you gift for promoting the song.

In 2004, Idle recorded a protest song of sorts, the "FCC Song", in which he lambastes the US Federal Communications Commission for fining him $5,000 for saying the word "fuck" on national radio. The song contains 14 uses of that expletive. The song can be downloaded in MP3 and OGG Vorbis format at the Internet Archive.[14]

In 2004, the musical comedy Spamalot debuted in Chicago and opened in New York's Shubert Theatre on 14 February 2005. Idle wrote the lyrics and book for Spamalot, collaborating with John Du Prez on much of the music. The original 2005 Broadway theatre production was nominated for 14 Tony Awards and won three: Best Musical, Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical (Sara Ramirez), and Best Direction of a Musical (Mike Nichols).

He wrote, produced and performed the song "Really Nice Day" for the movie The Wild.[15]

In June 2007, "Not the Messiah", a comic oratorio by Idle and John Du Prez premiered at the inaugural Luminato arts festival in Toronto. Idle himself performed during this 50-minute oratorio, along with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and members of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir. The composer, John Du Prez, was also present. Shannon Mercer, Jean Stilwell, Christopher Sieber, and Theodore Baerg sang the principal parts. The American premiere was at Caramoor (Westchester County, New York) on 1 July 2007. Soloists were the same as in the Toronto performance, but the accompanying chorus was made up of members of New York City's Collegiate Chorale. The show was revised and expanded for a tour of Australia and New Zealand in 2007, including two sell-out nights at the Sydney Opera House.[16] A tour during the summer of 2008 included performances with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington D.C., the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Virginia, and Houston.[17][18][19]

Idle contributed a cover of Buddy Holly's "Raining in My Heart" for the tribute album Listen to Me: Buddy Holly, released 6 September 2011.

Idle also wrote and sang a variant of the galaxy song for Professor Brian Cox's show, Wonders of Life as well as the new theme for Cox's radio show The Infinite Monkey Cage.[20]




Year Title Role Notes
1971 And Now for Something Completely Different Various roles Also writer
1975 Monty Python and the Holy Grail Various roles Also writer
1979 Monty Python's Life of Brian Various roles Also writer
1982 Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl Various roles Concert film; also writer
1983 Monty Python's The Meaning of Life Various roles Also writer
1983 Yellowbeard Commander Clement
1985 National Lampoon's European Vacation The Bike Rider
1986 The Transformers: The Movie Wreck-Gar Voice
1988 The Adventures of Baron Munchausen Berthold / Desmond
1990 Nuns on the Run Brian Hope
1990 Too Much Sun Sonny
1992 Mom and Dad Save the World King Raff
1992 Missing Pieces Wendel
1993 Splitting Heirs Tommy Patel / Thomas Henry Butterfly Rainbow Peace Also writer and executive producer
1995 Casper Paul "Dibs" Plutzker
1996 The Wind in the Willows Mr. Rat
1998 An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn Alan Smithee
1998 The Secret of NIMH 2: Timmy to the Rescue Evil Martin Voice
1998 Quest for Camelot Devon Voice
1998 Hercules: Zero to Hero Mr. Parentheses Voice
1998 Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Movie Slyly Voice
1999 Dudley Do-Right Prospector Kim J. Darling
1999 South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut Dr. Vosnocker Voice
2000 102 Dalmatians Waddlesworth Voice
2002 Pinocchio Medoro English dub
2003 Concert for George Himself / Barber / Mountie Documentary
2003 Hollywood Homicide The Celebrity Cameo
2004 Ella Enchanted Narrator Voice
2005 The Aristocrats Himself Documentary
2007 Shrek the Third Merlin Voice
2008 Delgo Spig Voice
2014 Monty Python Live (Mostly) Various roles Concert film; also writer and director
2014 The Boxtrolls Composer: "The Boxtrolls Song"
2015 Absolutely Anything Salubrious Gat Voice


Year Title Role Notes
1967–1970 No – That's Me Over Here! Co-creator and writer
1967–1969 Do Not Adjust Your Set Various roles 27 episodes; also Writer
1969–1974 Monty Python's Flying Circus Various roles 45 episodes; also co-creator and writer
1975–1976 Rutland Weekend Television Dirk McQuickly / Various roles 14 episodes; also co-creator and writer
1976–1979 Saturday Night Live Himself 6 Episodes
1978 All You Need Is Cash Dirk McQuickly Television film; also writer and director
1981 Laverne & Shirley Derek DeWoods Episode: "I Do, I Do"
1982 Faerie Tale Theatre Narrator Episode: "The Tale of the Frog Prince"; also director and writer
1985 Faerie Tale Theatre The Pied Piper Episode: "The Pied Piper of Hamelin"
1989 Around the World in 80 Days Jean Passepartout 3 episodes
1989 Nearly Departed Grant Pritchard 6 episodes
1991 One Foot in the Grave Mervyn Whale Episode: "The Man in the Long Black Coat"
1996 Frasier Chuck Voice
Episode: "High Crane Drifter"
1998 Pinky and the Brain Pinky's Mom and Dad Voices
Episode: "The Family That Poits Together, Narfs Together"
1998–1999 Hercules Mr. Parentheses Voice
11 episodes
1998–1999 Recess Galileo Voice
2 episodes
1998 The Angry Beavers Spanque Voice
Episode: "Open Wide for Zombies/Dumbwaiters"
1999–2000 Suddenly Susan Ian Maxtone-Graham 22 episodes
2000 Buzz Lightyear of Star Command Guzelian Voice
Episode: "War and Peace and War"
2001–2002 House of Mouse Pluto Angel Voice
2 episodes
2002 MADtv Zookeeper Episode: "#8.18"
2002 The Rutles 2: Can't Buy Me Lunch Narrator / Dirk McQuickly / Lady Beth Mouse-Peddler Television film; also writer, director and producer
2002 The Scream Team Coffin Ed Television film
2003–2012 The Simpsons Declan Desmond Voice
4 episodes
2003 National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure Plane passenger Television film
2004–2005 Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go! Scrapperton Voice
3 episodes

Video games

Year Title Role Notes
1995 Discworld Rincewind Voice
1996 Discworld II: Missing Presumed...!? Rincewind Voice
1996 Monty Python & the Quest for the Holy Grail Various roles Voice
Also producer and writer
1997 Monty Python's The Meaning of Life Various roles Voice


Year Title Role Notes
2004 Spamalot Writer and co-lyricist
Tony Award for Best Musical
Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics
Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album
Nominated—Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical
Nominated—Tony Award for Best Original Score
Nominated—Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical
2007 Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy) Various roles Also writer
2009 An Evening Without Monty Python Director
2012 What About Dick? Piano Also writer and co-director
2014 Monty Python Live (Mostly) Various roles Also co-writer and director


  1. "Search Register Office records - South Tyneside Council". South Tyneside Birth death and Marriages.
  2. Barratt, Nick; "Family detective", 17 February 2007 (Retrieved: 19 August 2009)
  3. Eric Idle Biography (1943–), Theatre, Film, and Television Biographies
  4. "Casualty Details". CWGC. 24 December 1945. Retrieved 1 June 2011.
  5. 1 2 3 4 McCabe, Bob (15 September 2005). The Pythons' Autobiography by the Pythons. Orion. ISBN 978-0-7528-6425-9.
  6. The Life of Python, George Perry, Pavilion Books Ltd, 1994.
  8. Comment made by Eric Idle during an interview shown on the ABC-TV program "7.30 Report" on 28 November 2007.
  9. Original Rutles reunite for 30th anniversary, Vol 3 Issue 1, 3 March 2008, Rutles News
  10. "'Rutlemania'". Retrieved 4 November 2008.
  11. ERIC IDLE, Monty Python's Spamalot
  12. "Eric Idle asks 'What About Dick?'". Variety. 23 October 2007.
  13. Goldsmith, Belinda (13 August 2012). "London says goodbye with musical extravaganza". Reuters. Retrieved 13 August 2012.
  14. "Internet Archive: The FCC Song".
  15. "IMDb: Eric Idle".
  16. "Something Completely Different". Retrieved 4 November 2008.
  17. "'Not the Messiah': Eric Idle Revs Up". The Washington Post. 26 July 2008. Retrieved 4 November 2008.
  18. "Monty Python's Eric Idle Resurrects 'Life of Brian'". Retrieved 4 November 2008.
  19. "Tonight and Friday: Eric Idle with the Houston Symphony". Retrieved 4 November 2008.
  21. "(9620) Ericidle = 1993 FU13". 17 June 2007.

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