Friday 8 December 2017

How Eric Idle Dropped Me as His Biggest Fan Because I’m a Scientologist - the Whole Story

Last month, I was invited to tell the story on STAND, as a guest blogger, of how Eric Idle dropped me as his biggest fan because I’m a Scientologist.

Due to limited space, I was not able to tell the whole story, so here it is in full, plus Eric Idle's subsequent responses to my blog post. It covers our initial friendship and my rapid and sudden plunge into Eric Idle's trash can... from hero to zero.

If you're still in any doubt as to how dedicated a fan I am of Monty Python, simply browse this blog. When I browse it from time to time, even I'm impressed with the level of Python devotion I've had since 1976.

So this particular sad tale begins when Eric answers my tweet of 9 Oct 2012 (my Twitter account for Monty Python stuff being @uptone) when I asked him about the day we met at the stage door of the Royal Albert Hall. My tweet included a video of him chatting with fans and signing autographs after his wonderful show we had just seen called "Not The Messiah" which I really enjoyed.

Then, a few months later in early 2013, I saw someone tweeting about Eric's show at the time called "What About Dick?" and I encouraged her to get the "What About Dick?" download. As you can see, Eric was very happy with me for doing this. I take this opportunity to tell Eric how much I love Python and how I want others to enjoy it too.

Then, a few days later, I encourage someone on Twitter to go and see my favourite show, Eric's masterpiece, "Spamalot" which I have seen 19 times, ever since 2007. As you can see, Eric's happy with me again. I then congratulate him for Spamalot being such an enormous success over the years. (ATG stands for Ambassador Theatre Group, the theatre organisation that was managing the Spamalot tour at the time).

Listening to the Monty Python albums formed a major part of my school days, and I still listen to them and think about them to this day. To mark the Monty Python's 20th anniversary (1989), the book "Just the Words" comprising the scripts of all 45 Monty Python TV episodes was published. 

Monty Python's "Just the Words"

However, the scripts of the albums have never been published! It's as if the Pythons just forgot about them, or just never got round to publishing them. A transcription of the albums has been an object of desire for me for many decades. In fact in 1979, short of cash, I transcribed "The Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the Film of Monty Python and the Holy Grail" in its entirety, on a typewriter, as a Christmas present for a school friend, the school friend with whom I used to enjoy Python albums during our Cranleigh School days.

Here's the title page of the transcript,

and here's the first page of side two of the album that includes Eric Idle's hilarious monologue "The Story of the Film So Far".

So I suggested to Eric on Twitter that the album scripts should finally get published. He not only thinks this is a good idea, he sort of appoints me, there and then, as the coordinator for this project, telling me to speak to Geoffrey Strachan of Methuen, the publishers of "Monty Python's Big Red Book", "The Brand New Monty Python Papperbok" and others.

It turned out that Geoffrey had retired so I met with Peter Tummons from Methuen instead, to discuss what needed to happen for this album scripts book to become a reality.

Eric then told me that he had got in touch with the other Pythons who all agreed to the idea, which I then informed Methuen about.

Eric told me that I have to put the book together (which would involve transcribing each of the approx ten albums, depending on which were included in the book) and creating additional material such as a silly introduction, and a section that included any stories the Pythons could remember about writing and recording the albums, plus any photos in existence of them in the sound booth or at the mixing desk etc. Then my plan was to have one chapter per album, with each chapter starting with the album cover artwork of each album plus a bit of blurb about each one, followed by each transcript.

I almost had to pinch myself that, by a strange quirk of tweet, I was actually now working on an official Monty Python book! Can you imagine how excited I was about seeing my name in the book when it is published? "Compiled and transcribed by... me"! And what an exciting day it was going to be when the book launches with a book signing at some big London bookshop, with one of more of the Pythons in attendance, and me watching the whole thing with my "backstage" pass, and with so much pride since it was my idea!

Now Eric was telling me that the book should include notes and memories of each album, and to get Terry Gilliam to design the book's cover! Really? This was so unreal! I didn't even know how to contact Terry Gilliam!

Then, in early September 2013, John Cleese was selling his art at a London art gallery in order to raise funds for the heavy alimony payments he had to make as part of his divorce from Alyce Faye Eichelberger. It was a glittering and packed event which I attended as did Prof Brian Cox, Sir Tim Rice and many other celebrities including Eric Idle. Unfortunately though, he and I never managed to actually speak to each other because the place was so packed and he was busy talking with Tim Rice etc that the opportunity never arose. I blogged about the event here

By this time, Eric and I were e-mailing each other about the album scripts project and, the day after John Cleese's art sale, Eric e-mailed me this:

OK, there's no book deal yet, fine... but Eric was sorry to miss me? Wow! Someone I've idolized my whole life is sorry to miss ME! How amazing is that? 

I then spotted a news story online with photo about this event and sent it to Eric in case he hadn't seen it, and here's his response on Twitter.

My enthusiasm for Spamalot knows no limit and I continued to encourage others to go and see it "because I want everyone to enjoy it". I've seen it 19 times myself, and even found myself on stage one time being thanked by the cast for helping them find the Holy Grail which I had apparently been sitting on throughout the whole show!

John Wood as "peasant" on stage at Woking's New Victoria Theatre with King Arthur (Joe Pasquale)
and his Knights, having been presented with a tin of Spam for helping them find the Holy Grail

Here, it looks like I've sold another Spamalot ticket to a stranger, this time it's @RulesofLondon, for which Eric thinks I deserve an award.

But then, my honeymoon period came to an abrupt end when Eric is told on Twitter that I am a Scientologist. (@johnalexwood is the Twitter account I use to talk about Scientology stuff)

And here the inaccuracies begin: I'm not sure what a "top Scientologist" is, but it sounds like an honour to be described as such. Nonetheless, I worked at the drug rehab, Narconon UK, from 1992 to 1994 and I was never its "head".

From this point onwards, there is something morally or factually wrong with all of Eric's tweets that concern me. For starters Eric, I am not the "self proclaimed Number One Python fan" and I've never claimed anything of the sort! I merely won a BFI Twitter competition that they were running during the 2012 London Film Festival to mark the release of Graham Chapman's "A Liar's Autobiography" - the film you (the only Python that did not take part in the film) wanted nothing to do with, and the film you were even critical about in interviews, much to everyone's surprise and discomfort. I know because I was hired by Trinity Filmed Entertainment to run the film's Twitter account for three months to help promote the film while it was being launched in the UK. 

Anyway, quite why Eric was so interested in my religion, I had no idea, but he didn't seem too friendly about it. So I decided to tackle the problem head-on and send him the following e-mail, two days later:

Something I had done concurrently during all of this was to set up a Facebook dating group for Monty Python fans, after I got divorced and after my realisation that I was SO into Python, that if my next girlfriend didn't like it or understand it, there would be something fundamental, missing from the relationship, for me. It just seemed to make sense that if both her and I loved Python, it would be a great foundation stone for our relationship. 

This was the time that the media was getting interested in the-then forthcoming Monty Python shows at the O2, and since the media knew I was the "biggest Monty Python fan", they came to me for my comments about it. So I let Eric know what I had been doing in this area too, as well as about the media that the dating site had been getting, that included newspaper articles and many radio interviews.

Here's an excerpt of the e-mail I sent Eric on 18 Dec 2013:


Media I have generated to date
  5. - attached
  6. The Sunday People (print version only) - attached
That's 6 articles and 6 radio interviews. 4 of the articles (one of which being The Sun) were about the Facebook Dating Group I recently set up:

It currently has 95 members but if there was any way you could tweet and/or blog about it, and giving out the above link, the membership will probably quadruple overnight... 

The Sun, 8 Dec 2013

Sunday People, 8 December 2013

East Grinstead Courier, 28 November 2013
(I really didn't want to do the silly walk for this article
but the photographer was very persuasive...)
And here I am on Belgian TV News on the day of the first show at the O2

Monty Python trapt reünietournee op gang - video: Het journaal - 02/07/14
Click here to see behind-the-scenes photos of the film crew in my home:

That's quite lot of free media exposure for the Pythons and additional promotion of their O2 show isn't it? Not bad for just a (unpaid) fan, hey?

The Facebook group I set up was initially called Monty Python Dating. I called it that because, well, it was a dating site for fans of Monty Python...! To be totally honest, it never even occurred to me that use of the Monty Python name was something I would have to get permission for from Monty Python themselves. If it was a paid-for dating service in the Monty Python name, then fine, but it was, and still is, totally free to join. The other reason it never occurred to me is because there are so many other unofficial Monty Python groups, Facebook Pages, Fansites etc out there, all with "Monty Python" in their name, that I had, perhaps subconsciously, formed the opinion that you don't need permission because everyone was doing it. It's like Monty Python themselves had set a precedent that use of their name for anything online was OK by them. Here's what I mean:
and countless others... you get the idea.

I received no reply to my e-mail, above, to Eric of 20 Dec 2013. He's probably very busy, I thought. In the meantime, I really wanted to get my dating group booming to increase the number of members, not only for my purposes (I was fed up being single!) but also to help others find a mate and be happy. I figured that one retweet from Eric about it would instantly put it in the limelight. I had previously e-mailed him about it but also received no reply. I had also tweeted it to him but received no retweet. So I figured he must be really busy, but attempted to pierce his consciousness by asking as many Python fan friends on Twitter as I could to tweet to Eric about the dating site in the hope that he will finally RT it. This went on for a month, still with no response from Eric at all.

By this time, I had just finished transcribing "Another Monty Python Record" and I sent it to him for proofreading, as he had asked me to do, on 21 Jan 2014. This time I received an almost instant reply:

As if that wasn't enough, Eric then decided to "warn" everybody about my dating site with this tweet:

Eric speaks on behalf of the Pythons here. I wonder if he actually consulted all four. Somehow I doubt Michael Palin, for one, would approve of his bully tactics.

In my STAND blog post, I covered my shock of receiving this e-mail, particularly the first half of it that concerns Scientology; the purpose of this blog post is not to repeat myself. I want to address here the second half of his e-mail.

"You have no right to act in the name of Monty Python" says Eric. If running a free dating site for Monty Python fans that included "Monty Python" in its name was technically "acting in the name of Monty Python", then he's right.

The dating group I originally set up was Now, I don't see too much difference between that site and all those others above, do you? I realise that Eric's newly formed prejudice towards me had actually caused him to assume that I was purposely trying to make people believe that the dating site was an official Monty Python service! Did he really think that Python's biggest fan would stoop to such trickery at Python's expense? I confess, it wasn't until afterwards I realised I should have added in the Facebook group's description that the dating site was an unofficial Monty Python dating site. But it's not as if it ever said it was the Official Monty Python dating site! 

And as far as I know, Eric has never gone after any of the above sites that similarly include Monty Python in their URL (web address). There are many more, not listed above, that include Monty Python in their site name but not in their URL. One particularly notable site that Eric does not appear to have gone after is which includes the transcripts of all the 45 Monty Python TV shows from 1969-74. This site is, essentially, a transcript of the "Just The Words" book. You could very easily argue that this site harms Monty Python financially because it obviates the need for people to buy the book, since it appears online in its entirety. Yet Eric has allowed it to remain online, unchallenged, for around 20 years. It even says in the footer of the site 

"Most of the material was reaped from All the material is copyright Python Productions Ltd and remains their property, and I will remove it if they should request so." 

And the site also includes a disclaimer, 

"All the material presented here remains the property of the copyright holders and will be removed at their request."

So why does my humble little free-to-use Python dating site, that in no way harms Python financially, appear to be the only site that Eric has ever had a problem with, as far as I am aware? Not only did Eric believe that I was trying to trick people into believing the site was an official Monty Python site, but he had also decided that it was only posing as a dating site, but its real purpose was to "recruit" Scientologists. 

In response to Eric's e-mail, I respected his wishes and immediately deleted the dating group and replaced it with one that didn't have Monty Python in its name or URL. It is now called Pythonesque Dating and its URL is I chose the name Pythonesque because it is an ordinary English word listed in dictionaries that means "farcically surreal or absurd".

Despite Eric's extreme intelligence, the blinding effect of his religious prejudice doesn't allow him the luxury of being able to properly think any of this through. How does he imagine I was actually going to "recruit" new Scientologists through this Facebook group? For one thing, unless I am FB friends with members of the dating group (and 99% of the 179 members, I am not), I can't talk to them privately, so the only way would be for me to make posts to the whole group about Scientology, which would be off-topic to the subject of the group, which is of course, Monty Python and Dating. It wouldn't be very workable, would it?

But let's say I FB Friend each new member and try to "recruit" them into Scientology via FB Messenger as he might believe. Just how was I expected to do that? I think the Burglar/encyclopedia salesman Monty Python sketch in Episode 5 that Eric was in, may have gone to his head.

Man Burglar! (longish pause while he waits, he rings again) Burglar! (woman appears at other side of door)
Woman Yes?
Man Burglar, madam.
Woman What do you want?
Man I want to come in and steal a few things, madam.
Woman Are you a Scientologist?
Man No madam, I'm a burglar, I burgle people.
Woman I think you're a Scientologist.
Man Oh I'm not, open the door, let me in please.
Woman If I let you in you'll turn me into a Scientologist.
Man I won't, madam. I just want to come in and ransack the flat. Honestly.
Woman Promise. No Scientology?
Man None at all.
Woman All right. (she opens door) You'd better come in then.
Man enters it through door.
Man Mind you, I don't know whether you've really considered the advantages of becoming a Scientologist. You know, it can really do you wonders.

Anyway, if I wanted to "recruit" new Scientologists, why does the dating group have to have anything to do with it? I could just friend anyone on Facebook and chat to them on FB Messenger anyway if I really wanted to? There are millions of people to choose from, after all.

Here are some of Eric's tweets that show exactly what he thinks of my Monty Python dating group. Interestingly, he never refers to "acting in the name of Monty Python" in any of his tweets. He only seems to have a problem with the very concept of Monty Python dating as well as its Scientology connection, as he believes.

He clarifies his position on the dating group here:

Then Eric was asked if he was going to sue me over the dating site, and here's his reply.

I suspect Eric is referring here to Mark Forstater, producer of the "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" film who successfully sued the five living members of Monty Python over a royalties dispute over merchandising income from the film, especially after the runaway success of the "Spamalot" musical. 

In July 2013, the High Court ruled that the surviving members of Monty Python owed Mark £800,000 in past royalties and legal fees. So you can attire Mark with the epithet "loser" if you want, but it would be weird because he won the case.

A Python fan then comes to my rescue on Twitter and complains to Eric about his closed-mindedness, to which Eric replies, "Yes and the Nazis were quite sweet too". When challenged about resorting to mentioning the Nazis, he replies, "Resorting to what? Intelligent comment?"

Here, Eric confirms that he believes that my dating site "may be used to recruit".

Eric then reveals a little more, the extent of his hatred towards Scientology with this tweet, following the reply I received from Christopher McQuarrie, the director of "Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation". It concerned Tom Cruise's line in the film ("It's just a flesh wound.") which, of course, reminded me of the similar line by the Black Knight in "Monty Python and the Holy Grail".

"Well of course he did he's a Scientologist. Beware."

The next incident revolves around a Monty Python exhibition that a student was putting on in London, that Terry Jones went to see. The student tagged me in one of his tweets promoting the event, to which Eric responded three times, each tweet leaving a bad taste in the mouth.

Eric Idle calls me an "asshole". Charming.

I'm now also "a Scientologist who is Not Good". How can you say that? You put the boot without knowing anything about me! To quote the Holy Grail: "Well, you didn't bother to find out, did you? What I object to is that you automatically treat me like an inferior!" 

Eric then claims I have been "banned" from and by Python:

Eric's prejudice caused him to tweet non-sensical statements like this that he clearly hasn't thought through, again. Eric, just how is it possible to be "banned from and by Python" exactly? Anyway, it looks like the other Pythons never got your memo because I attended the launch of Terry Gilliam's Gilliamesque book at the Royal Festival in October 2015 and chatted with him at the stage door afterwards. No mention at all that I was "banned" from speaking to him. He gave me a big hug and was really friendly to me as always, as you can see here. 

Gemma, me and Terry Gilliam
I also spent the evening of 5 Feb 2017 with Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin at The Roundhouse in London. That was when I got down on one knee and proposed to Gemma Harris (who I met via my Monty Python Dating site) in front of Terry and Michael, whose words to us on saying goodbye were "I wish you a long and happy life together". Looks like Michael Palin didn't get your memo either...

Sanjeev Bhaskar, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam after my proposal to Gemma
at The Roundhouse, London, 5 Feb 2017
Since the full name of "Spamalot" is "Monty Python's Spamalot", then, strictly speaking, your "ban" should also apply to "Spamalot". I should not have been allowed to buy a ticket for the 18 Nov 2017 performance in Woking in the first place, no? And when I met the cast at the stage door afterwards, surely they should have all refused to talk to me? In fact, they all seemed very happy to meet me and receive my compliments about their performance. (I then tweeted a lot about how much I enjoyed the show, by the way). Clearly Eric, the theatre nor the cast received your memo either.

Over the years, I have never stopped promoting the dating site, but sometimes when I do, Eric gets all upset and comes out with more blatant prejudiced statements like this one.

As if Eric can stop me tweeting about the dating site! Illusions of grandeur perhaps? I think "surely even a Scientologist can understand" is going a bit too far. And when he says "No fans of ours", he's talking on behalf of the other Pythons again; I bet he didn't consult with them before tweeting this. Maybe someone should ask them.

Having previously tweeted that he wouldn't sue losers like me, he now claims that he's onto "them" (is that all Scientologists everywhere or a pluralised version of me, or maybe he's referring to Gemma and me?) and that legal measures are next, and that I am a twat and a menace. Yet more Eric Idle charm and professionalism.

Well over three months have passed now since Eric's tweet and I still haven't received any letters from his lawyers...

So I continue to promote the Python dating site and so does Gemma via @PythonesqueDate. Eric then proves that his charm and his bigotry know no bounds:

"If you are Scientologists you can fuck off." 
Admittedly, one of the reasons Eric responded in this way was probably because, on top of promoting the dating site against his wishes (as if he can dictate what I promote or don't promote online), I had also started gathering support from other Python fans who were. understandably, enraged over Eric's appalling behaviour towards me. I had coined the acronym PARP which stood for Pythonites Against Religious Prejudice and had been tweeting it and tagging my Python fan friends, like so:

The idea for "PARP" came to me from one of Terry Gilliam's cartoon drawings in the "Hamsters: A Warning" story in Monty Python's 1974 book "Monty Python's Brand New Papperbok", but I couldn't think what POOT could stand for so it became PARP instead. OK, so Eric didn't like us telling him he was prejudiced, so he told us to fuck off. Fair enough.


I was then invited by STAND to guest blog this story, and after it went online, it prompted someone to tweet to Eric their displeasure about the fact that Eric was discriminating against fans who practice Scientology, and to my astonishment, Eric replies "Totally" - openly admitting that he is discriminating against the Scientology religion!

He also replied that "our job was to combat ignorance"

In terms of ignorance Eric, your tweets display a staggering level of ignorance about me and my religion. Because you never asked, you know nothing about how Scientology has helped me in my life and about how I have used Scientology to help others. I also doubt you've ever read a single Scientology book or studied a Scientology course, nor ever set foot in a Scientology church (of which there are many to choose from in your hometown of LA), nor ever honestly discussed the religion with a Scientologist. I guess your fixed opinion would not allow to to do any of that.

Then Eric receives another response to my STAND blog post on Twitter, asking him if he had something against Scientologists. Based on his e-mail to me and his numerous tweets above, the reply here is a blatant lie! 

"I have no problem with people's beliefs..."?? You've got to be joking Eric. You clearly have a massive problem with mine to start with. And considering you tweeted on 18 Oct 2012 that you believe in the separation of Church and Planet, as an atheist, you obviously have a problem with everyone else's beliefs too! 

Eric also states that Scientology "despises Psychology" and that it is "very suspect on Rehab". While L. Ron Hubbard was no fan of psychology it's true, if he despised anything, it was actually psychology's close cousin, the fake science of psychiatry. He said that psychiatrists are "the sole cause of decline in this universe". It is well documented the there is zero science behind the "syndromes" listed in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), psychiatry's billing Bible, and the influence that psychiatry had over the creation of the Holocaust is also well known. In fact, in 1969, the Church of Scientology and the psychiatrist Prof. Thomas Szasz founded the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR), the non-profit watchdog organisation that investigates and exposes psychiatric human rights violations. 

Not sure what you mean exactly by "suspect on Rehab". I wrote to you on 20 Dec 2013 and told you that I saved my university friend's life (his words) when I introduced him to Narconon UK. I helped saved the life of many others while I worked at Narconon UK from 1992-94. So I am clearly not "suspect on Rehab" at all. Wherever you're getting your scraps of information about me from, it's wrong. Narconon is a worldwide network of extremely effective non-religious rehabs that use L. Ron Hubbard's drug rehab methodology.

So all religion is "nonsense"... OK. But in your last e-mail to me, you told me you had a right to "avoid me", so you obviously do care what people believe. You're contadicting yourself Eric. 

In any case, what is your problem with a Monty Python dating site? There are well-established Star Trek, Star Wars and Harry Potter dating sites (Google it!), so why not Monty Python dating? 

Then my friend John Mappin tagged Eric in a tweet expressing his dismay about Eric's prejudiced behaviour, and here's Eric's response.

He's an asshole and lies.
How pleasant! You're accusing me of lying but you give no specifics. Be fair Pascal! Give me a chance to defend myself.

I have an idea that your accusation may be based on the fact that Gemma, my fiancée, who I found via Pythonesque Dating (my Monty Python Facebook dating group), decided to become a Scientologist after we became a couple. From this, you may have concluded that, since she is now a Scientologist, it's proof that, despite my claims to the contrary, the real purpose of my dating site is, after all, to recruit Scientologists.

Unfortunately, as far as I know, Gemma and I are still the first couple to have been created by the site. I am hoping we will have our second couple soon. But I live my life how I want to, and I just happen to be a Scientologist who happens to be a Monty Python fan. The same is true for the other members of the site. What religion they follow or however else they choose to live their life is no business of mine. 

The 179 members of the group probably have no idea or interest in what religion I follow. If what you think is true, I would have contacted each one of them and tried to get them interested in Scientology, right? Well, I'd be happy to provide you all their names (with their permission) so you can ask them yourself, if I have ever contacted them about Scientology or tried to get them interested in the religion. Ironically, if they now know I am a Scientologist, they would have actually heard it through you from all the fuss you've kicked up about it!

I've always felt that one of the most important "messages" in all of Monty Python, and what it primarily stands for is not to take life too seriously. Yet, Eric's behaviour towards me totally goes against that spirit and and I'm really quite baffled by the whole affair. It's hardly Looking on the Bright Side of Life! 

I must say, having been a dedicated fan for over 40 years, I didn't expect to be treated like this. But you know what they say, "No one expects the Spanish Inquisition".

Tuesday 5 December 2017

How Eric Idle Dropped Me as His Biggest Fan Because I’m a Scientologist

How Eric Idle Dropped Me as His Biggest Fan Because I’m a Scientologist

Much has been written about what it is like to be subjected to discrimination at work, on the street, within one’s own family or even via so-called “documentaries.” But I’d like to share what it’s like to have a celebrity—someone you have admired and been a fan of your whole life—suddenly and very publicly turn against you for no other reason than your religion. 

Ever had the experience of stroking a cat you love and the cat is purring away when it suddenly and viciously turns on you and scratches or bites your hand for no reason? 

Well, that’s how it feels, only much worse.

Monty Python
Monty Python
The idol in question is Eric Idle, one of the members of the hugely popular and influential comedy group Monty Python. I have very fond memories of listening to Monty Python records with a school friend back in 1976 when I was 16 years old which, coincidentally, was the same year I discovered Scientology. I remember literally rolling on the floor in hysterics from the sound effects in the hilarious “Are You Embarrassed Easily?” sketch on the 1972 “Monty Python’s Previous Record.” 

Monty Python humor has often been compared to Marmite. Some people love it and others hate it. I think of it as a particular wavelength that not everyone can tune into. But I tuned into it immediately. I found it liberating. It was as if I had been given permission to laugh at formal, stiff, traditional things in life that I had never, up until then, even thought of questioning. Which is why, for me, it was much more than a silly TV show—it was a different way of looking at the world and it helped me see the ridiculous side of life, and it taught me not to take life too seriously. 

So for those, and many other reasons, Monty Python really is that important to me, which is why I decided, after my divorce in 2010, that my next ideal partner would have to be someone as infatuated with it as I was—it would be a match made in heaven. Having gotten nowhere “hanging around in bars,” I decided to set up my own Monty Python dating site!

John proposing to his girlfriend in front of two Monty Python members
John Wood proposes to his girlfriend, Gemma, in front of two members of Monty Python in February.
(Click here to see the video of my proposal)

By that time, my Monty Python devotion was starting to get some media attention. In 2012, I won the British Film Institute’s competition to find the biggest Monty Python fan. In my entry, I explained that I’ve visited many Monty Python filming locations, gotten my name in the credits of an official Monty Python documentary (“Almost the Truth”); met and been photographed with all of the Pythons except Graham Chapman (who passed away in 1989); seen “Spamalot” 19 times and saw “Monty Python Live at the O2” four times, and that I was actively seeking a Monty Python mate. This was interesting to the media, and even more so when I actually set up the dating site called Pythonesque Dating. An article about it appeared in the UK national newspaper “The Sun.” A young lady called Gemma Harris happened to see the article and joined the site, and in February of this year, I proposed to her in front of Terry Gilliamand Michael Palin, two members of Monty Python. Gemma and I are currently planning our Monty-Python-themed wedding for October 5th, 2019—Monty Python’s 50th anniversary. 

Over the course of all of this, I became the media’s go-to Monty Python fan and was interviewed by six different BBC radio stations regarding the group’s farewell show in London. 

Now that you understand what a genuine die-hard fan I am, imagine my excitement when, a few years ago, Eric engaged with me on Twitter and, soon after, invited me to be the coordinator for an official Monty Python book that I suggested! He told me to meet with the Python’s publisher to discuss the project, which I did, and he told me to get Terry Gilliam to design the cover, while he would be the proofreader. By this time, we had progressed to emailing each other and later, we found ourselves both at the same London event (John Cleese was selling his art to finance his astronomical alimony). I was hoping to speak to Eric there but he was engaged in conversation with Tim Rice and I didn’t want to interrupt, even though Eric’s wife kindly offered to introduce me. As it happens, I had met Eric previously at his “Not the Messiah” show at the Royal Albert Hall. Anyway, the next day, Eric emailed me to say he was sorry we never met up at the event. In other words, all was well—great, in fact—between us.
This is Eric Idle we’re talking about—the very person who taught me to question things and not take them at face value or just accept what everyone else says! To be different and not be a sheep… Why couldn’t he practice what he preached?
That is, until Eric “found out” I was a Scientologist. (I put that in quotation marks because I am one of the most visible online Scientologists in the world.) 

It was at that point that he sent me a far-from-friendly email that read “…now I know what your beliefs are, I have the right to avoid you… This correspondence ceases here.”

Eric Idle and John Wood
Eric Idle (right) and John Wood, October 2009.
It was one of those moments that, for the rest of your life, you will never forget where you were when it happened. I was lying on my bed checking my phone when I got the message. I was devastated. How do you cope with being a lifelong, die-hard fan of somebody, then actually pulling off getting to know them… only to have them suddenly turn on you like that? I don’t mind telling you that for about three months, I was a bit shaken up by the experience. 

It was a confusing time because nothing could ever take away, for me, the magic of Monty Python sketches, albums, books and films, and yet one of the team now hated me on a personal level, purely for my religion (or what he thought it was). Man, that was a tough one. 

Here are some of the tweets that then followed from Eric: 

  • “The so-called Monty Python dating site is run by a Scientologist… You should beware.”
  • “If you are Scientologists you can f*** off.”
  • “We do not like you, or support you. No fans of ours.” 

Eric is revered as a brilliantly clever writer, responsible for such masterpieces as his Monty Python monologues, the “Nudge, Nudge” sketch and of course “Spamalot.” Sadly, in his tweets above, he appears to have descended into neo-Nazi hatespeak.

Eric Idle
Eric Idle (Photo by Kathy Hutchins/
I couldn’t get my head around the fact that Eric was obviously a highly intelligent man, so why wasn’t he able to look at Scientology in an intelligent way—to separate the lies and rumors from actual fact? It’s clear he’s convinced that Scientology is something diametrically opposed to what it really is. But this is Eric Idle we’re talking about—the very person who taught me to question things and not take them at face value or just accept what everyone else says! To be different and not be a sheep. (The same thing Scientology teaches you, by the way.) Why couldn’t he practice what he preached? 

So I did the only thing I could: I decided to separate the man from the performer in my mind. That helped. I realized he has simply bought the bigotry, uninspected—which I found so disappointing—but I wasn’t going to let that get in the way of my never-ending enjoyment of Monty Python itself. 

Eric, without a doubt, Monty Python and Spamalot make people happy—your message is even “always look on the bright side of life.” The relentless laughter throughout Spamalot every time I’ve seen the show and the happy smiling faces of the audience as they leave the auditorium is testament to that. But the antipathy you have expressed toward me just because of what you think Scientology is, is ugly and had quite the opposite effect on me and the many others who witnessed it. It breaks my heart. 

I hoped you would be smarter and bigger than that.

About John Wood

John lives in East Grinstead where he runs his own social media management company and volunteers in the fields of drug prevention and rehabilitation. His father, Leonard Berney, liberated Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp and his stepfather, Kenneth Wood, invented the Kenwood Chef food mixer.