Summary: In 1978, Kim “Howard” Johnson ran away to join the circus—Monty Python’s Flying Circus, that is. The Pythons converged on Tunisia to film their timeless classic Life of Brian, and Howard found himself in the thick of it, doubling for nearly all the Pythons, playing more roles in the film than John Cleese, and managing to ruin only one shot. He became the unit journalist, substitute still photographer, Roman soldier, peasant, near-stalker, and, ultimately, friend and confidant of the comedy legends. He also kept a detailed journal of what he saw and heard, on set and off, throughout those six weeks.
The result is a unique eyewitness account that reveals the Pythons at work and at play in a way that nothing else written about them could do. Now, for the first time ever, the inside story of the making of the film is revealed through the fly-on-the-castle-wall perspective.
Monty Python’s Tunisian Holiday, by Kim “Howard” Johnson 7.75
“One of the finest and most accurate records of the making of the film that I have ever read. I just wished I could remember what actually went on then.” –Terry Jones
Kim “Howard” Johnson is an American Monty Python fan who totally lucked out. He met them at the Chicago premiere of ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail‘ and stayed in touch with them afterwards. He was later invited to visit and he jumped at the chance, winding up on the set of ‘Life of Brian‘ with them.
‘Monty Python’s Tunisian Holiday’ is a detailed account of the making of Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ in Tunisia, broken down on a day-by-day basis for the whole five weeks that he was there. Subtitled “My Life With Brian”, it is a first-person perspective of the shoot, backed by candid on-set interviews.
For those expecting zaniness and hilarity, it must be noted that there are few attempts at humour, aside for the Pythons own quips, quoted here: this book truly is a precise overview of what took place, from the wake-up calls to make-up to the delays to the days off – all from Johnson’s own personal notes.
People who love to see production shots are in for a treat here as we see the cast and crew in and out of make-up, killing time and spending moments with their loved ones. ‘Tunisian Holiday’ is rife with behind-the-scenes pictures; Johnson had his camera with him and he snapped quite a few shots along the way.
It took me a little bit to get into it, as it was rather dry (as anyone familiar with making movies knows, it can be rather tedious work), but after the first dozen pages or so, it read exceptionally well. It helped that I’m very familiar with the picture, as well as Monty Python, so the references weren’t lost on me.
My favourite part was reading of Palin’s mischievousness during the Pilate scene, as he assisted Idle and Gilliam in the scene where, as Roman Guards listening to Pilate speak, they try to suppress their laughter. He also relished the crowd sequence and seemed to be having a lot of fun, being quick to say absurd things.
Another fun section is towards the very end, when Johnson hears the news that George Harrison (who financed the picture) was going to visit the set. His excitement is palpable even as he remains reserved so that he doesn’t want to make a fool of himself and his idol by acting like a drooling fanboy.
But, beyond that, the book is a relatively straight-forward account of what took place on location and on set, as well as behind the scenes as they were all waiting around for their next scenes. This is really a bird’s eye view of the making of this motion picture, something that not all readers will appreciate.
‘Monty Python’s Tunisian Holiday’ is truly for die-hard fans of Monty Python and/or ‘Life of Brian’ and/or cinema. Die-hards. All others may find this far too terre-à-terre to be entertained by or engrossed with it. But anyone willing plod through couldn’t possibly get a better account of what movie-making is like.
It’s a lot of work, even when it feels like a holiday.