Terry Jones, who has died aged 77, was one of the six original members of the Monty Python team, alongside John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Graham Chapman and the animator Terry Gilliam.

A swarthy, large-featured man, Jones specialised in the show's cast of bizarre middle-aged women characters in Hilda Ogden-style dresses, though he also became familiar as the nude organist who appeared in interludes between the main sketches.

Perhaps his most famous creation was the mother in Monty Python's Life of Brian who yells at her son's devoted followers: "He's not the Messiah, he's a very naughty boy."


Jones also directed three Python films - Life of Brian, Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Meaning of Life - and was responsible for one of the most grotesque pieces of humour ever committed to screen: the "Monsieur Creosote" sequence in The Meaning of Life, in which he played a gourmand who explodes after eating a gargantuan meal.

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Terence Graham Parry Jones, the son of a bank clerk, was born in Colwyn Bay, Wales, on February 1 1942. While Terry was still a boy the family moved to Claygate in Surrey, and he was educated at the Royal Grammar School in Guildford, where he was head boy, captain of the rugby team and a crack shot in the Cadet Corps.

He won a place to read English at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, where he soon became involved in the theatre, writing and appearing in revues. It was at Oxford that he met his fellow future Python, Michael Palin.


After graduating in 1965, both men joined the BBC, writing and performing in shows such as The Frost Report, the children's show Do Not Adjust Your Set, The Complete and Utter History of Britain and At Last the 1948 Show, alongside the likes of David Frost, David Jason, Bill Oddie, Tim Brooke-Taylor and the "two Ronnies", Barker and Corbett.

In 1968 Jones and Palin were working with Eric Idle and the American artist Terry Gilliam on Do Not Adjust Your Set when John Cleese suggested they join him and his writing partner Graham Chapman to work on a new show.

Although no one had a name for it or any idea about what form it should take, the BBC obligingly gave them a commission for a 13-episode series of comedies.

After debating various suggestions for a title (Jones's preferred option was Chapman's suggested "Toad Elevating Moment"), they eventually decided on "Bun, Wackett, Buzzard, Stubble and Boot", only to be told to think again by the BBC, just as the programme title was due to go in the Radio Times. They then opted for Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Deciding the show's format was more tricky owing to the rivalry between the two main writing factions: the Cambridge duo of Cleese and Chapman vs the Oxford team of Palin and Jones.

The Oxford team's humour was more visual and anarchic, the cerebral Jones envisioning a stream-of-consciousness approach to programme structure with sketches which did not necessarily have any comedic rationale or punchlines but moved fluidly from one to another with much cross-referencing of jokes.

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Cleese and Chapman's humour was more punning and verbal, and Cleese, in particular, wanted a more conventional structure with sketches that were clearly funny.

While the tensions between the two factions undoubtedly spurred both sides to heights of competitive creativity, it led to rifts and rows.

Jones, according to Michael Palin, felt undervalued and "oppressed" by Cleese's dismissive handling of his suggestions and angry at the way Cleese seemed to expect the Oxford men to do the tedious donkey work. When, in 1973, they decided to call it a day, so deep were the divisions that the final six shows were made with little or no contribution from Cleese.

Monty Python cast Monty Python's Flying Circus - undated - from left - John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin and Eric Idle print scanned from Herald archive 09/03/
Monty Python cast Monty Python's Flying Circus - undated - from left - John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin and Eric Idle print scanned from Herald archive 09/03/

The Pythons continued to work together, though never very harmoniously, on a series of feature films. Jones, who had taken an active interest in directing on the television shows, shared the director's credit with Gilliam on Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), before taking sole charge on The Life of Brian (1979) and The Meaning of Life (1983), their last film as a team.

Later, Jones had success with Personal Services (1986) and The Wind in the Willows (1996), in which he also starred as Toad. Eric the Viking (1989) was less successful commercially.

Jones had always been fascinated by the medieval period and, during the filming of Holy Grail, he spent hours in the British Library working on what would become Chaucer's Knight (1980), a controversial but acclaimed study in which he suggested that the poet was being ironic in his account of chivalrous knighthood.

In 2003 he co-authored Who Murdered Chaucer?, a non-fiction mystery story sparked by the disappearance of the poet from records of the time.

Jones's interest in medieval history led him into a new career as the presenter of popular history programmes for the BBC and as a lecturer and speaker at literary festivals. On television he presented series on the Crusades (1996); Ancient Inventions (1998); a jaunty eight-part BBC Two series, Medieval Lives (2004); and Barbarians (2006).

He lectured on Chaucer at Oxford and Cambridge - and even Liège, where he sent an audience of Belgian Python fans to sleep with his standard one-and-a-half-hour Chaucer seminar and slide show.

As a writer, Jones co-wrote Ripping Yarns with Palin, the screenplay for Labyrinth (1986) and numerous works for children, including Fantastic Stories and The Beast with a Thousand Teeth.


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He also occasionally wrote for The Observer, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, emerging as a strident critic of the "despicable" Tony Blair and the war in Iraq. Many of his articles on the conflict were published in a paperback collection, Terry Jones's War on the War on Terror (2005).

Jones had a horror of being manipulated, refusing to watch BBC news programmes, which he felt had become cowed and unreliable after the Hutton Report into the death of the Ministry of Defence scientist David Kelly, and wearing his watch on a belt round his waist rather than on his wrist as a mild protest against the dictatorship of time.

In 1970 Jones married Alison Telfer, a scientist whom he had met at Oxford and with whom he had a son and daughter. In 2005 he gave an interview in which he explained that he and his wife had an "open" marriage and that they had both taken lovers.

Shortly afterwards, he began a relationship with Anna Söderström, a Swedish Python fan more than four decades his junior whom he had met at a book signing - whereupon his wife threw him out of the family home in Camberwell, south London.

Jones, who had been suffering from dementia in later years, is survived by Anna Söderström and by a daughter and son of his first marriage and a daughter of his second.