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This is the back cover to the 1965 comedy album by Earle Doud and Alen Robin, Welcome To The LBJ Ranch. Possibly inspired by the “break-in" records of Bill Buchanan, and definitely inspired by the success of Doud’s First Family albums, Welcome To The LBJ Ranch consists of excerpts of recorded interviews with that era’s most important political figures (Nixon, Eisenhower, LBJ, etc.) interspersed with newly recorded, and wholly inappropriate, questions. It was performed by the comedy interviewers at the Fine Recording Studios in New York City on Wednesday the 25th of August 1965.The album is perhaps best-remembered for its cover, featuring as it does a series of terrific caricatures by Frank Frazetta - but let’s look at the back. Specifically, let’s look at its photographs of the panel and their audience. Even more specifically, let’s look who is in the audience with the cackling brunette - top row, third photo from the left.Well, it’s only bloody John Cleese, isn’t it. Four years before Monty Python, two years before At Last The 1948 Show, one year before The Frost Report.Cleese was in New York performing on Broadway with Tommy Steele in Half A Sixpence, which had opened exactly four months earlier to the day of this recording. Cleese was used to being photographed for comedy’s sake by this time, of course - mere months previously he had hit the newsstands in a photo-story for Harvey Kurtzman’s Help! magazine, famously then being edited by Terry Gilliam.
This is the back cover to the 1965 comedy album by Earle Doud and Alen Robin, Welcome To The LBJ Ranch. Possibly inspired by the “break-in" records of Bill Buchanan, and definitely inspired by the success of Doud’s First Family albums, Welcome To The LBJ Ranch consists of excerpts of recorded interviews with that era’s most important political figures (Nixon, Eisenhower, LBJ, etc.) interspersed with newly recorded, and wholly inappropriate, questions. It was performed by the comedy interviewers at the Fine Recording Studios in New York City on Wednesday the 25th of August 1965.

The album is perhaps best-remembered for its cover, featuring as it does a series of terrific caricatures by Frank Frazetta - but let’s look at the back. Specifically, let’s look at its photographs of the panel and their audience. Even more specifically, let’s look who is in the audience with the cackling brunette - top row, third photo from the left.

Well, it’s only bloody John Cleese, isn’t it. Four years before Monty Python, two years before At Last The 1948 Show, one year before The Frost Report.

Cleese was in New York performing on Broadway with Tommy Steele in Half A Sixpence, which had opened exactly four months earlier to the day of this recording. Cleese was used to being photographed for comedy’s sake by this time, of course - mere months previously he had hit the newsstands in a photo-story for Harvey Kurtzman’s Help! magazine, famously then being edited by Terry Gilliam.
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This Havana Aroma Drives Them Crazy

Excellent evening was had last night at the Cinema Museum, Kennington, in the company of two of the cast of Goldfinger - Caron Gardner and Margaret Nolan. Collectively their contribution to his film lasts little longer than three minutes, so it was the rest of their career which fascinated their audience for the majority of the evening - discussion of a bygone era of glamour modelling which over the decades morphed into feminism and creative art, via a succession of movie and TV roles.

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Margaret Nolan in particular had evolved out the sexism of the sixties into an established avant-garde artist. Famous for her role as Dink (what a name!) in Goldfinger, she is seen massaging James Bond before being patted on the bottom and shooed away as the topic turns to “man talk”. Nolan revealed for a bombshell in the sixties this is often what her real life was like - people wouldn’t talk to her at parties, addressing her through her husband who often told her at such events to keep quiet. When a later boyfriend demanded she dispose of her film memorabilia, she organically discovered cutting up stills formed a cathartic photomontage expressing her frustration with a life of being typecast both onscreen and off.

She was very proud of both this new stage of her creative development, and her work in socialist theatre. But of her comedy career, for which I know her best, she’s not so proud of - and last night a mention of the Carry On series lead to a severe eyerolling, and posthumous ticking off of producer Peter Rogers.

Now, Groucho Marx.

Groucho Marx was well known for trading barbs with Margaret Dumont, but he also shared a screen with our own Margaret Nolan in a series of UK adverts - and of course I was desperate to ask what he like. Groucho may very well be the purest essence of comedy to ever live, and the increasingly dwindling number of people who met him can quote an otherwise unrecorded witticism. If there was one here to hear, I was going to hear it.

But this was the thing - the ad was sort of sexist comedy role from which Margaret Nolan was trying to escape. Would she respond to my query with that familiar - and appropriately Grouchoesque - eyerolling?

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Introduced to Margaret by her twin sister, I was delighted when I asked her about working with Groucho Marx and her face lit up enormously, those huge brown eyes opening as widely as they did back in her glamour days. The ads, circa 1963, were for Doncella Cigars, she explained, and were directed by Richard Lester. Groucho was, Nolan recollected with pleasure, as charming and funny as he appeared on screen - at one point Lester asked Groucho to “move left”; “You mean politically?" Groucho retorted.

On this stream of consciousness Nolan also recalled that Groucho Marx was not too well paid for the ad, but was being put up in a suite in the posh London hotel in which the ad was shot. He then traded this suite for a regular room and cashed in the difference.

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Margaret Nolan and Groucho obviously got on well, but so did she and Dick Lester. Specifically because of this ad, Lester cast Nolan in his next project, A Hard Day’s Night - she plays the girl on the arm of Wilfred Brambell’s character as he gambles the night away. You may recall him looking down her top and assuming out loud that she’s an excellent swimmer.

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The Beatles, too, apparently took a shine to Nolan during this film (in fact she got them all to sign a page of her script, which she later sold for a small fortune) as they wanted her to appear hostess Wendy Winters with them on their Magical Mystery Tour. Alas, she was unavailable.

And with that we have another definitive link from the Marx Brothers to The Beatles. Thanks, Margaret Nolan!

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Graham Was The Sort Of Lead

An extract from the first part of a two-part Douglas Adams interview, from Starburst issue 31, 1981, in which he discusses some of his pre-Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy comedy associations:

After you left Cambridge, one of the things you did was collaborate with Graham Chapman of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

That’s right. I wrote with him for about eighteen months on a lot of projects that mostly didn’t see the light of day. And those which did actually didn’t work awfully well.

Which ones did see the light of day?

Well, we wrote and made the pilot for a television series. The series itself never got made because Graham, got more involved back in Monty Python again. This was really during the Python lull and nobody was really sure what the future of Python was going to be. So we wrote this sketch show called Out Of The Trees which actually had some very good material in it, but just didn’t hang together properly. Graham was the sort of lead and there was also Simon Jones (who plays Arthur Dent in Hitch-Hiker) and Mark Wing-Davey (who plays Zaphod Beeblebrox). It was shown once on BBC2, late on Saturday night, against Match of the Day. I don’t even think it got reviewed, it was that insignificant. There were some very nice things in it; it just didn’t stand up. The structure for it hadn’t really been found.

What else did you do with Graham Chapman?

Curiously enough, the thing we virtually came to blows about was his autobiography. He wanted to co-write it. He actually went through about five co-authors, of which I was the first, and really I didn’t think it was the sort of thing you could do as a pair. It came out recently (A Liar’s Autobiography, pub. Eyre Methuen) and it’s good. I think there’s one very bad section which was the bit he and I co-wrote.

It must have seemed a great opportunity. Writing with one of the Monty Python stars.

Yes, the promise of this period. I thought This is terrific! this is my big break! And, at the end, there was nothing to show for it except a large overdraft and not much achieved. And I suddenly went through a total crisis of confidence and couldn’t write because I was so panicked and didn’t have any money and had a huge overdraft paying the £17-a-week rent. So I answered an advertisement in the Evening Standard and got a job as a body guard to an Arab oil family.

But you were still sending off ideas to The Burkiss Way on Radio 4.

Yes. Simon Brett, the producer of The Burkiss Way, asked me if I’d like to write some bits for it and, at that stage, I just felt I’m washed up. I can’t write, I may as well accept this fact now. But he insisted, so I sat down and wrote a sketch which, I thought, would prove to everybody once-and-for-all that I could no longer write sketches. And everybody seemed to like it rather a lot. (Laughs) The one thing I’d spent all the summers since Cambridge trying to interest people in was the idea of doing science-fiction comedy; I couldn’t get anybody interested at all. Simon was the only person I hadn’t gone to with the idea. And, after I’d done these bits for Burkiss, he said to me, quite out-of-the-blue, I think it would be nice to do a science fiction comedy series. It was extraordinary. And so it carried on from there.

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My Knowledge Of Art Is Infinitesimal

Groucho Marx’s introduction to From Frozen North To Filthy Lucre by Ronald Serle with commentaries by Jane Clapperton (Viking Press, 1964):

My knowledge of art is infinitesimal. I know that Rembrandt was deaf (no, that was Beethoven), I know that Van Gogh got hungry one day and cut off his own ear and that Toulouse-Lautrec walked around on his knees. And that’s about it.

So for me to write an extended frontpiece for Ronald Serle’s collection would not only kill the sale of book, but would also ruin what is left of my vanishing career.

However, it does not need the curator of the Museum of Modern Art to tell the world that Mr Serle is a genius. Whatever the price, the buyer will be getting all the best of it.

Groucho Marx signature

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Terry Gilliam - A Biography by Michael Palin

Michael Palin wrote this biography of Terry Gilliam for the Brazil presskit. It has never been reprinted anywhere until now

TERRY GILLIAM - A BIOGRAPHY

BY MICHAEL PALIN

TERRY GILLIAM, the shy diminutive genius of the British film industry, is, in fact, an Englishman inside an American body. Born and raised in Minneapolis, Los Angeles and New York, he came over to England in the mid ’60s on a very cheap flight, but, thanks to films like “Jabberwocky” and “Time Bandits” and his new epic “Brazil” he has now well over half the money for the fare back.

Despite this new affluence Gilliam has decided to make his home in England — “It’s so much cheaper than getting builders to make it,” he jokes. On arrival in England Gilliam was found to be insane and sent to join the Monty Python team — a unit set up by the BBC to deal with those who were too silly to find normal work. Gilliam was the animator of the group, and was occasionally given major acting roles, such as the now legendary Man in Suit of Armour with Dead Chicken. “It was either Marlon Brando or Terry Gilliam for the part,” remembers one of the Pythons, “but everyone was using Brando.” But it was Gilliam’s cartoons with their Wittgensteinian overtones that captivated the British public and led to Terry being allowed to park his car in the BBC car park, if there was space.

But for restless, ambitious Gilliam mere glory was not enough. “I want to be able to afford the best shampoo in the world,” he was once heard to say and it was almost inevitable that in 1976 he would become the first of the Monty Python team to make his own film. It was called “Jabberwocky.” The film became a cult success in Gilliam’s house and after “The Life of Brian,” in which Terry extended his acting range, he collaborated with nice, talented Michael Palin on the screenplay for “Time Bandits.”

The film was so good and exciting that if Gilliam had been British he would probably have been offered a knighthood. As it was, he was ignored. “I directed ‘Time Bandits’!” he would shout, but bus after bus would go past. So he was forced to undergo further treatment with the Python team. The result was “The Meaning of Life” — a marvelous film (in color).

But success in itself was no longer an attraction to the constantly, vibrantly inventive brain part of Gilliam’s head. He wanted power. A chance meeting with Arnon Milchan at a Meet Arnon Milchan evening in London led to a friendship which led to Gilliam being given the chance to make what he’s always wanted… really big explosions.

"Brazil," as the result was eventually known, is the first film to have a country named after it. It’s bound to arouse strong feelings. But Gilliam is no stranger to controversy — he once took a melon back to a shop — and in his characteristic way he’s ready for anything.

On the front door of his castle in London hangs a simple motto “You don’t have to be mad to work here — but it herps.” Even spelt wrong, there’s no getting away from the wit, wonder and wizardry of the man Cahiers du Cinema once described as Terry Gilliam.

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Breaking news at this hour! Catchphrases That Somehow Never Caught On: PFFR
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My excellent cockney accent

Letter to the Daily Mail, 15th July 1982:

The real thing!

In her TV review of Twentieth Century Box, Mary Kenny reaches the conclusion ‘as in My Fair Lady’ that my excellent cockney accent ‘just can’t be real’.

Mary thinks I either learned it from a ‘Teach Yourself Cockney’ cassette or else I am Hungarian.

Quite obviously Mary grew up in a quaint little Oirish village where she gathered her stereotypes from stiff British black and white films wherein the maid would whine about ‘toffs’, exclaim ‘cor bloomin’ and never dare get involved in this ‘ere new fangled television lark’.

Sorry to spoil the joke gal, but colourful Baker was born in Deptford and has lived for the past 24 years in the well known Hungarian hamlet of Bermondsey, SE16. He never attended university, nor RADA nor even the fiendish Loveaduck School of Ethnic Linguistics, Budapest.

He does, however, enjoy eels and mash (for which he is learning to use cutlery).

Consider yourself one of us, Mary!

DANNY BAKER,

London, W.

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