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Major BBC Radio series salutes Beatles and Python pal/collaborator Neil Innes

by Julian McKenzie, Beatles News Special Correspondent

The late Neil Innes - the comedic-musical genius behind the Bonzo Dog Band and the Rutles - who had close creative links and friendships with the Beatles and Monty Python - is the focus of a new 180-minute, three-episode BBC radio documentary series.

The series - titled "Neil Innes: Dip My Brain In Joy" - will air on BBC Radio in December. The shows will premiere via broadcast in the UK on BBC digital radio and simultaneously worldwide via streaming on the BBC website available free-of-charge.  After their premieres each of the three episodes will then be freely available worldwide for the following month.

The shows tell the Neil Innes story - including his collaborations with the Beatles and Pythons - using a combination of archive recordings with Innes and new, specially-conducted interviews with his closest friends and colleagues.  The new interviewees include Pythons Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam; musicians Rick Wakeman and John Halsey (Barry Wom of the Rutles); comedians Stephen Fry and Adrian Edmondson ("The Young Ones"); producers John Goldstone (Python films), Ian Keill ("Rutland Weekend TV" & "The Innes Book of Records"), Martin Lewis (the "Secret Policeman's Ball" series & the Rutles "Archaeology") And in-depth perspectives from Innes' wife of 53 years Yvonne.

There will be focus on Innes' relationship with the Beatles - including his 1967 performance with his band the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band in the Beatles' film "Magical Mystery Tour" of his co-written song "Death Cab For Cutie", the Paul McCartney-produced hit single of Innes' composition "I'm The Urban Spaceman" and his long close friendship with George Harrison. Among his collaborations with Harrison: they acted together in comedic skits and performed music in the BBC's "Rutland Weekend TV" series, acted in the promotional films for Harrison's "Crackerbox Palace" and "This Song" – and Innes directed the music video for Harrison's iconic 1979 song "Blow Away". Harrison of course made a cameo appearance with the Rutles – the affectionate Beatles pastiche co-created by Innes and Eric Idle - for which Innes also wrote, arranged, performed & produced twenty songs for the 1978 film and album "All You Need Is Cash" - and twenty more songs for the 1996 reunion album "Archaeology."

Neil Innes (right) in drag for his tongue-in-cheek portrayal of childhood governess to his pal
George Harrison in the promotional film for Harrison's song "Crackerbox Palace" (1976) [Dark Horse]

There will also be focus on Innes' close association with Monty Python.  Dubbed by members of the comedy troupe as the "Seventh Python", he contributed to - and appeared: on several Monty Python albums; in their stage shows and tours; in their "Flying Circus" TV series and in three of their films ("Holy Grail", "Life of Brian" and "Hollywood Bowl"). His iconic songs for Monty Python – several of which were subsequently incorporated in the hit musical "Spamalot" – include "Knights of the Round Table", "Brave Sir Robin", "Arthur's Song" and "Run Away!" He was the only non-Python to have both song and script-writing credits on the "Monty Python's Flying Circus" TV series. Among his contributions were "The Most Awful Family in Britain" & "Appeal on Behalf of Extremely Rich People"

The title of the BBC Radio series - "Dip My Brain In Joy" - is drawn from the lyric of the iconic 1973 Innes hit song "How Sweet To Be An Idiot" that became a staple of Python stage shows and Innes' own concerts ("How sweet to be an idiot - And dip my brain in joy...")

Neil Innes - dubbed the "Seventh Python" by his pals in the comedy troupe was a frequent collaborator
in their group & solo projects. Left-to-right: Terry Gilliam, Neil Innes, Eric Idle, Terry Jones. [Getty Images]

The radio episodes will premiere on three successive Wednesdays in December.  And will then be accessible for anytime-streaming worldwide on the BBC website for the following 30 days.

Part One - Wednesday 2nd December 2020 - 11:00am GMT (3:00am PST - 6:00am EST)

Part Two - Wednesday 9th December 2020 - 11:00am GMT (3:00am PST - 6:00am EST)

Part Three - Wednesday 16th December 2020 - 11:00am GMT (3:00am PST - 6:00am EST)

Broadcast:  In UK on BBC Radio 4 Extra (A BBC digital radio station)

The shows can be heard streaming here.

The shows are narrated by English actress/comedian Diane Morgan - a co-star with Ricky Gervais in the Netflix series "After Life".  The series is produced by BBC producer Laura Grimshaw.

Innes died suddenly of a heart attack on 29th December 2019. He had just turned 75. The second of the three episodes will be broadcast on 9th December - the 76th anniversary of his birth.

There are plans underway for a major, virtual tribute concert in 2021 to be produced by Innes' longtime friend and occasional collaborator Martin Lewis. Admirers who wish to be notified about the upcoming tribute and other salutes to Neil Innes may sign up for news at www.NeilInnes.com. News will also be shared on the current Neil Innes website www.NeilInnes.media.

MORE ABOUT "NEIL INNES: DIP MY BRAIN IN JOY"

Neil Innes was a towering talent who was the key link between the Beatles and Monty Python.  His half-century working at the intersect of music and humor has left a rich legacy - both inspired and inspiring.

His influence permeates contemporary comedy and his song catalogue is both eclectic and iconic. He wrote and performed psychedelic pop and anarchic rock with the Bonzos; in the Rutles he penned and performed pitch-perfect affectionate pastiches of the Beatles; in other projects he wittily lampooned Bob Dylan, Elton John, Johnny Cash, Leonard Cohen, The Who, Frank Sinatra and many others. 

He had a prolific and diverse recording career – heard on literally dozens of albums - solo and in various collaborations. His critically-acclaimed three TV series of the "Innes Book of Records" (BBC - 1979-1981) presaged the conceptual music videos of the 1980s and beyond. He also became a popular presence on British children's television in the 1980s - writing, singing and acting on shows such as "The Raggy Dolls", "Puddle Lane", "The Riddlers" and "Tumbledown Farm".

In 1974 the Pythons invited Innes to contribute to the 4th series of their "Flying Circus" TV series - and he became the only non-Python to receive credits for both script and musical content in their shows. Photo shows them in a script conference January 1974. Right-to-left: Innes, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Python TV director/producer Ian MacNaughton. (In background - assistant Margaret Stott) [Radio Times]

In addition to being a very popular entertainer, he was also cherished in the entertainment community as a beautiful, kind, gentle, soul. He was, by turns, witty, intelligent, considerate, pedantic, delightful, literate, scholarly, well-read, passionate, empathetic and a lover of the absurd. A man of letters.  And he was occasionally discovered with an artificial duck on his head...

When questioned about the diversity of his canon of work Innes noted that "Shakespeare wrote comedies as well as dramas, and I like to think I do that too. I'm just like Shakespeare... Except with better songs."

The BBC Radio series will celebrate his life, work and immense creativity in a three-hour aural collage of archival gems and sonic treasures. There are vintage interviews, rare performances, shards from long-lost programmes, conversations with family, friends and fans. Among the new interviewees: his wife of fifty three years - Yvonne; fellow performers: Stephen Fry, Adrian Edmondson, Kevin Eldon, Arthur Smith and Rick Wakeman; touring-bandmates; Phil Jackson, Ken Thornton, John Halsey (well-known to Rutles fans as Barry Wom); his recording engineer Steve James, his musical director John Altman; producers: Ian Keill, John Goldstone and Martin Lewis - and Python members Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin.

Knights of the Round Table! Neil Innes and the Pythons on the set of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" in 1975. Back row (left-to-right): Eric Idle, John Cleese, Neil Innes. Front row: (left-to-right) Terry Gilliam, Michael Palin, Terry Jones. (Graham Chapman was busy 'king-ing'!) [Python Pictures]

FINAL WORDS FROM THE PYTHONS:

MICHAEL PALIN - "He was a great writer and he was eccentric and he was clever without being pretentious. And he was the warmest of people to be with... he was a most lovely friend. We were very lucky to have him on board.

Some called him the 'Seventh Python' but I prefer to think of him as the 'First Neil Innes'. He could turn his hand to anything. Songwriting, painting, acting design, bons mots – the folk singer who introduces himself with the line: 'I've suffered for my music - now it's your turn.'

It all seemed to come naturally and effortlessly to him. Neil had an original mind, and a subversive one, too. This made him a perfect fit for Python. He stepped in to help us many times and we loved having him around when filming or on tour, as he was the best company you could wish for during the long hours of doing nothing. Or showbiz as it's called.

Neil and the Pythons had some very good times together. We shall miss him hugely. His work though - lives on. Seek it out wherever you can."

JOHN CLEESE - "Lovely writer and performer. A very sweet man - much too nice for his own good"

ERIC IDLE - "Neil Innes is superb. I must be his biggest fan."


More information:

• "Dip My Brain In Joy" Streaming Audio
• Sign up for Neil Innes news
• Current Neil Innes website


Published November 27, 2020

This article is Copyright © 2020, Julian McKenzie, and may not be reproduced on other web sites or in print, in whole or in part, without expressed permission


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