Joan Crump was a second year student at De Montfort University in Leicester when, on placement with Leicester Comedy Festival, she managed to get video interviews with Monty Python legends Terry Jones and Michael Palin.Here she remembers the amazing experience and pays tribute to “kind, generous” Terry Jones, who died this week aged 77.
“Leicester Comedy Festival was putting together a tribute to Graham Chapman, the Monty Python member who had grown up in Leicestershire, to mark the tenth anniversary of his death. I was in the second year of my Arts Management degree, and was on placement at the comedy festival when I was asked to manage the project. Six months of my life were spent on everything Monty Python.
“We wanted to do a film about Graham’s contribution to Monty Python and after a lot of ringing around and emailing, Terry Jones and Michael Palin said we could interview them. We never heard back from Eric Idle or John Cleese, and Terry Gilliam was keen but couldn’t do the dates because he was making a film. I was a Monty Python fan, but not a super-fan. I soon realised that there were people who could quote entire scripts.
“We hadn’t got any kit so we asked DMU’s film department, and three students and a lecturer volunteered to do the filming with us.
“I rang up Terry Jones, and he said to come over to his house to interview him, so off we went to south London, where he was living at the time. He opened the door and said ‘Hello Joan’ and then said: ‘I didn’t expect quite so many of you’ because everyone had turned up and we turned his front room into a studio. Camera and cables and lights everywhere. He was in the kitchen making everyone tea.
“He was very amenable, he allowed us to invade his home for a morning and he was absolutely lovely. I think because we were doing something about Graham, they were so generous with their time and could not have been kinder.
“It was the most amazing experience, I was in the second year of uni, I couldn’t imagine anybody was allowing me to do this.”
Joan cut the interviews with clips from Monty Python TV episodes, films and series like Ripping Yarns, all from original footage she had been given access to. The result was an original 45-minute centrepiece film that was played at that year’s Leicester Comedy Festival.
A few years after graduating, Joan returned to DMU as a lecturer and her students were organising Cultural eXchanges, the university’s annual two-week arts festival. In 2003, Terry Jones happened to be doing a book tour promoting his work on Chaucer (he was an accomplished medievalist) and was invited to do a talk.
“I remembered he loved real ale,” said Joan. “So we all went out afterwards to the Swan and Rushes and he got us absolutely trolleyed on JHB, an ale from Rutland, and then toddled off to the train station.
“He was just a lovely, lovely man. I just think it’s brilliant that this film is out there, and people can see it. They were so happy to help and it is an incredibly interesting insight into Graham Chapman. It was a very Leicester story we were telling, I think, because it looked at him growing up and what his influences were.
“You can imagine, for a year two student, it was the most incredible privilege to do this, and meet these people who were just comedy giants.
“That experience really set me onto the path I followed in my career. It taught me that if we have an idea to do something, and you go for it, you can ask people to do all sorts of stuff. I run festivals now, and one of the things that makes them stand out is putting on unique events that nobody else has – that really stems from that first experience.”
Geoff Rowe, Director of Leicester Comedy Festival, said: “We’re really proud of the opportunities Leicester Comedy Festival offers DMU students to get involved, develop their knowledge and gain valuable real life experience.
We’ve worked closely with DMU for many years and the experience Joan had back in 1998 has obviously stayed with her until now which I think demonstrates the impact of the partnership.
“For Leicester Comedy Festival 2020 we have been able to extend our partnership with DMU and offer more opportunities for students to get involved. I can only hope the involvement this year will stay with the current students for as long as it’s stayed with Joan.”