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Music

How Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd bankrolled a classic comedy

The worlds of cinema and music sometimes collide in the most beautiful way. During the 1970s, the twain met in rapturous harmony as the iconic comedy troupe Monty Python made some pals in the rock music world. Thanks to this kinship, the 1970s was not only full of great rock music but also a barrel of laughs. Monty Python were famously given a leg up by George Harrison during the Life of Brian project in the late ‘70s. But earlier in the decade, they were also helped by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull. 

While the comedy troupe had huge success with their original BBC sketch series, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, they found themselves rather out of pocket when it came to shooting their first film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). Fortunately, the troupe received a windfall backing from their keen followers in the music business. 

Taking to social media last year, Python Eric Idle revealed that Led Zeppelin contributed £31,500, while Pink Floyd Music coughed up £21,000, and Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson chipped in £6,300 of his own money. Adjusting for inflation, Led Zeppelin’s 1974 investment was equal to almost £336,000 in today’s money, Pink Floyd’s was about £224,000, and Anderson’s was worth approximately £67,000.

Other noteworthy financiers of the film include film producer Michael White (who gave £78,750), Island Records (£21,000), Charisma Records (£5,250), lyricist Tim Rice’s cricket team The Heartaches (£5,250), and Chrysalis Records (£6,300). The total budget for The Holy Grail was £175,350.

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In subsequent tweets, Idle noted that none of the benefactors visited the set because they were shooting in Scotland, and after watching the film, they joked that even with that much money, “We couldn’t afford horses.” Famously, they used halved coconut shells to emulate the sound of horses’ hooves galloping.

Idle said that Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page hung out with the Monty Python crew at the film’s premiere. Although he didn’t mention how much the film ended up grossing, he retweeted someone who found a figure online of $175 million. 

More famously, Monty Python were short of funding again when looking to shoot Life of Brian. Unfortunately, just as they were due to begin the project, EMI pulled their backing for the production. Fortunately, Idle had made friends with former Beatle George Harrison at the star-studded premiere for The Holy Grail in 1975. 

Knowing Harrison was a huge fan of their comedy, Idle phoned up Harrison and asked for some financial help; the former Beatle replied: “Done”. Life of Brian became the first film to be coordinated by Harrison’s HandMade Films company. Harrison also appeared in a small cameo role in the film, which can be seen below.

In a 2018 interview with Rolling Stone, Idle discussed how Harrison had helped the troupe out in one of their most difficult moments. “Nobody wanted Brian except George [Harrison], who put up his money for it,” he said. “We wouldn’t have made it but for him mortgaging his house.”

Idle also recalled how his close friend Harrison had lifted his spirits about being a member of Monty Python: “Once I was moaning a little bit on Brian, saying, ‘It was hard to get onscreen with Michael Palin and John Cleese.’ He said, ‘Well, imagine what it’s like trying to get studio time with Lennon and McCartney.’ I said, ‘All right. Absolutely. Got it. OK. Check. I’ll shut up now.’ Then it occurred to me that yes, in fact, we were slightly the outsiders, playing similar roles in our groups.”

Watch George Harrison’s cameo role in Monty Python’s Life of Brian below.