Monty Pythoners lose final court battle over ‘Spamalot’ musical royalties
By Li-mei Hoang
LONDON (Reuters) – The surviving members of the British comedy troupe Monty Python lost a High Court battle on Friday over tens of thousands of pounds in royalties from their hit Broadway musical “Spamalot”.
Mark Forstater, who helped produce the 1975 film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” on which the stage show was based, said he had not received his fair share of the profits from the spin-off.
Despite hearing evidence from three Pythons – Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones – the judge, Justice Alastair Norris, sided with the producer.
“I have always been adamant I was correct. I have been proved right – justice has prevailed,” Forstater said.
Inspired by the film, the musical opened on Broadway in 2005 and has also enjoyed a successful run in Britain. Idle wrote the lyrics and collaborated on most of the music.
Forstater, an American based in Britain, argued that he was entitled to one-seventh of the profits from the “Holy Grail” film and any merchandise or spin-offs.
His lawyer told the court that for the purposes of profit-sharing, it had been agreed in 1974 that Forstater was “the seventh Python”.
However Palin, along with Jones and Idle, who formed Monty Python with John Cleese, Terry Gilliam and Graham Chapman, dismissed this suggestion.
“The idea of a seventh Python just doesn’t happen … I don’t think there was ever any suggestion this man was going to be a ‘seventh Python’,” said Palin, giving evidence in December.
In his judgment, Norris said Palin had been a “balanced and trustworthy” witness but had admitted his recollection was “hazy”, while evidence from Jones had been “suffused with a sense that Mr Forstater had done very well out of his brief connection with the Pythons”.
“Eric Idle was frank enough to acknowledge that he now disliked Mr Forstater, but he expressed the hope that, in his evidence, he was being honest and that his dislike did not affect his honesty,” Norris said.
“He undoubtedly regarded Mr Forstater as ungrateful.”
His ruling also made reference to the Pythons’ lack of business acumen, highlighting a diary entry from Palin in 1975.
“As we are a soft lot and not at all businesslike, I think it would be in the finest traditions of Python irrationality if we gave Mark an extra 1,000 pounds and a silver tray with some cut-glass sherry glasses and told him to stop writing to us for more money,” Palin wrote.
“Beyond that even I am not prepared to go. Oh, all right, some cheese straws to go with the sherry glasses.”
The judge added: “As I assess the evidence, the Pythons continued at that point to be ‘a soft lot and not at all businesslike’.”
No members of the Python group were present in court to hear the ruling.
Final figures will be worked out at later hearings but Forstater told reporters he was entitled to more than 200,000 pounds ($300,000) including interest, the Press Association reported.
“There is a sadness, though, about having to face people who were my friends in court,” he said. “The friendship has gone.”
Forstater said he did not think the litigation would damage the Pythons’ reputation. “They’re an institution,” he said. “I still think they are very funny.”
(Editing by Michael Holden and Janet Lawrence)