Twenty Years Ago Today
Sergeant Rutter taught the Band to Play

Eric Idle
Eric Idle
The Story of the Rutles
by Eric Idle

It is only very rarely when writing comedy that you actually make yourself laugh out loud. It happened to me just once. I can remember precisely where I was the moment I thought of the Rutles. It was early summer in the Var, a most beautiful part of Southern France where I had a tiny house. A short walk from the three roomed tiled-roof house, nestling in a few acres of terraced olives, was an even smaller four square white-washed cabanon with a slanted roof in the old Provencal manner and a single glass-paneled door which served as a window letting in light. In the doorway I had installed a small rough wooden table where I perched on a Van Gogh straw chair and wrote in pencil in large French ring-leafed exercise books. My task (and indeed pleasure) was writing sketches, songs and film pieces for my very own TV series Rutland Weekend Television and the books piling up in front of me were filled with tea stained jottings and ideas for various skits and film bits.

I had dragged Neil Innes into the project and his job was to provide one or two songs per week. I would then fit them into sketches or link them or come up with film ideas. To this end he sent me demo tapes of his work while I wrote the rest of the material. Many of his songs were "Beatley," hardly surprising since the hit he wrote for the Bonzo Dog Band "I'm The Urban Spacemen" was produced by Paul McCartney. One of the songs sounded so very like the Beatles of "A Hard Days Night" era that it came to me in a flash: we should do it as The Rutles, and at the same time I got this gag of a TV interviewer walking and talking to camera and the camera moving just slightly faster away from him so that he has to hurry, then break into a run and finally ends up galloping after the camera which eventually leaves him behind. This image made me howl with laughter. I just knew it was funny. I stood outside the cabanon and laughed and laughed. Provence in all its olive, lavender, thyme and fennel-filled air carried on being Provence. Birds twittered, bees buzzed and huge improbable butterflies wobbled through the scented air. Taking a fresh lungful I went back inside and in one fell swoop wrote the speech the narrator would say.

The original Rutles - A full page ad from Rutland Stone Magazine (The Rutland Dirty Weekend Book ©Eric Idle 1976)
Flash forward later in the year and we are filming somewhere in Shepherds Bush, in the mean little back streets behind the BBC. We are set to shoot this gag. I am wearing a silly wig (as usual) hiding my shoulder length hair. Our cameraman has done lots of documentaries and he knows exactly the way the gag should work. The first take works fine. "From these streets" I begin walking slowly with the camera "very near the Cavern Rutland" - the camera car increases speed and I am forced to increase my pace to keep up with it, "Dirk, Nasty, Stig and Barry, the legendary pre-fab Four, the legendary Rutles.." the camera pulls away, I break into a run. I end up hurtling down the street yelling at full speed whilst the camera-car disappears round the corner. We do it again a couple of times but I know we've got it first take. It seemed really funny running up the street after a fast disappearing film crew. I had a strange little memory of my Provencal hideaway.

A few days later we are down in Shepperton Studios filming I Must Be in Love the song Neil had sent me, only now we are dressed as sixties Beatles and it has become a song from A Hard Days Rut. It's November, it's freezing, it's intermittently raining and we are making up sight gags in a field that has been a housing estate for almost twenty years now. Neil is Nasty, David Batley is Dirk, I am shaking a leg as George (Stig) and John Halsey is the lovable Barry.

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