Emily Garside was at the BAFTA Cymru awards’ 25th anniversary ceremony this month, which saw the honouring of a very special talent.
This year’s BAFTA Cymru awards celebrated their 25th Anniversary, and in choosing the person to honour for their Lifetime Achievement award, it seems almost obvious that Colwyn Bay’s best known comedian, writer, actor, director, Python, Terry Jones be honoured.
When Jones’ name was read out at the nominations party earlier this month it was via a list of puns and references to the great work he’s done. (Who could resist throwing in references to ‘nobody expecting the BAFTA nomination’, or that someone had no doubt been ‘a very naughty boy’, and how much of a ‘Ripping Yarn’ it would be). There was a frisson of excitement that BAFTA Cymru had the chance to honour the work of Terry Jones, and indeed that there would be an opportunity for him to come home to Wales to accept the award at the ceremony. The initial excitement of the announcement was darkened the next morning when, in reacting to the news of the honour, Jones’ family announced that he has been diagnosed with a form of dementia that affects his ability to communicate.
It had been announced that fellow Monty Python member, and friend, Michael Palin would be delivering the introduction to Terry Jones at the ceremony. Following the announcement Palin posted a Facebook update that ended with “Terry doesn’t say very much but he smiles, laughs, recognises and responds, and I’m always pleased to see him. Long may that last.” And although the announcement of the special award was marred with some sadness, the sentiment of celebrating what Jones has achieved, and his contribution to Welsh talent in film and TV seemed a fitting sentiment to move forward with.
At the ceremony itself Jones and Palin arrived together, and watching them from a distance, going to the waiting crowd to sign autographs, it would seem little was different. Seeing Jones smiling and meeting fans was heartening, and as Palin had said in his post, Jones was still able to enjoy and engage in his own way. That fans welcomed and talked to him as they ever might have, despite his not being able to respond and engage in the same way as previously, also showed a great deal of respect and love with which he is treated by fans. Heartening also was the clear friendship between them, Palin keeping close by, and taking a hand or an arm to steady Jones as they posed for photographers, both of them smiling and enjoying some of the pomp and ceremony of the occasion.
As the final award of the evening, the Lifetime Achievement award was given, as is tradition with a prelude of a speech and show reel of the recipient’s ‘best bits’. Enlisting Palin meant that the speech was both heartfelt, and funny. Palin relayed his early meetings with Jones at University, and how he wasted little time then or now, mocking his Welsh roots. But he noted that he quickly learned that “Life seemed more exciting when Terry was around.” And that they quickly became friends through their shared love of absurd comedy; “The first sketch we performed was as a pair of police officers at the Edinburgh festival and for the next few years we were inseparable. Recounting the years spent together in Monty Python and beyond Palin commented that “His force of character and tireless workaholism kept us all up to the mark. He has been relentlessly prolific while being a wonderful friend.” He concluded that “Terry has been relentlessly prolific, whilst remaining the nicest man, and the most wonderful friend. For all the joy and the pleasure and the laughter and the stimulation he’s brought to so many people, I can think of no one more worthy of recognition tonight.”
There followed a video reel of some of Jones’ career highlights, and watching Palin stand on stage backlit by his friend’s ‘Greatest hits’ was a striking and moving moment, and he seemed every bit as engrossed as the audience who laughed at the chance to once again re-live some of Jones’ finest comedy moments, including of course, as the Mother of the Messiah (and very naughty boy).
Predictably the audience was on their feet by the time Jones was accompanied on stage by his son, and it was clear he was pleased – probably fairly amused – at the response. Giving the audience a typically Jones-eque response he proceeded to attempt to ‘wear’ the BAFTA mask, before instructing the audience to ‘Quiet down!’. Once obeyed (naturally) his son Bill stepped up to speak on his father’s behalf. Struggling with emotion he took his father’s arm and said “We would like to thank everyone. I know it’s a great honour for dad to win this award.” Adding “The struggles we’ve been going through at the moment it’s been hard.” Finally, he added, “We are so proud of him. And I know he is very proud”, before escorting his Father back to his seat.
For many being honoured that night, work Jones had been a part of had no doubt influenced their life and career choices. This collective sense we have about the artists who influence whichever field we are in, bring a closeness to people who inspire us, and Jones is one who inspired generation after generation and no doubt will continue to do so with his words and his performances. It seems particularly cruel then for an illness to take away some of that ability.
However, Michael Palin commented in an interview with the BBC, the evening didn’t feel sad to him, or to Terry and his family; it felt as it should do, a celebration. He continued again on his Facebook page the next day: “The concern you’ve shown for Terry and the personal accounts of living with dementia which so many of you have shared is moving and uplifting. I’m still reading them and I hope Terry is too. Thank you all for caring enough to put finger to keyboard. It means a lot.”
Many thanks to Get The Chance for their help in facilitating this article.