Jabberwocky: A catalogue of the inception, by Michael Palin


A sultry August afternoon in Wardour Street. Lew Grade sat alone in the Sandwich Scene gazing into the middle distance. He’d had a hard morning altering the posters for “Can Muhammed Keep It Up Downstairs?”, and despite his plans to make a life of Buddah with Mike and Bernie Winters as the One Indivisible Being, something was wrong, there must be a better religion around – one with excitement, adventure, glamour, spills and a good chase at the end. Was there a chase at the end of Shintoism?

Across the road a group of film executives had just clinched a million-dollar deal to pay for their lunch, and were staggering triumphantly towards Dean Street to announce the good news to film critics and screenwriters, assembled for the 3.10 performance of Strip City.

Suddenly a small bearded figure in a stained mackintosh approached me as I was coughing blood outside the old Associated-British Pathe building, and thrust into my hand a crumpled piece of paper which bore the single word “Jabberwocky”. I looked up, but the figure was gone, lost in the swirling mass of Film Producers thronging the Golden Mile, or the Golden Twelve and a Half Yards as it is now.

“Jabberwocky” what did it mean?

Later that day in the toilets at Blackhorse Road Underground Station, I heard the word “Jabberwocky” again. It came unmistakeably clearly, from behind the third door from the end, marked “For Film Producers Only”. Within days the whole of Wardour Street was buzzing with talk of Jabberwocky – it was a new board game, a kebab with remarkable aphrodisiac properties, a skin irritation associated with drought.

The mystery appeared insoluble until a report came in that the Jabberwocky had been sighted! It was alive and frightening people in South West London. I dashed to Waterloo, and reached South West London within days.

The Jabberwocky, as it turns out, is a creature too awful to describe. Even Lewis Carroll, who invented it (and Alice in Wonderland) couldn’t describe it. Yet in the leafy suburbia of Shepperton, Jabberwocky is taking horrendous shape. I managed to track down some of those responsible as they writhed around on the ground after lunch.

Co-writer and Director, Terry Gilliam, from Monty Python – “most brilliant and disturbing graphic artist of our time” – as he described himself in “Exchange and Mart”. Charles Alverson, co-writer, hippie and American “novelist”, The Producers – Sandy Lieberson, who had first approached me in the gutter outside Pathe House, and John Goldstone with whom he shares a beard. Michael White whose own life is shortly to be filmed as “Carry on up The Confessions of An Impresario”, is a shameless party to the creation of this Jabberwocky.

Actors of the calibre of Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Denis Compton could only watch helplessly as the Jabberwocky lured dozens of their fellow artists into its clutches. Max Wall as King Bruno the Questionable, whose palace and body are falling around him, John Le Mesurier is his sexy helpmate, Passelewe and Michael Palin has been lured in by his Python chum Terry Gilliam to play Dennis the Peasant, the role which Charles Laughton would have turned down had he been alive. The list of actors who have succumbed to the Jabberwocky is endless: Warren Mitchell. Harry H. Corbett, Rodney Bewes, Simon Williams, John Bird, Terry Jones, Graham Crowden, Annette Badland, Bryan Pringle, Christopher Logue, Deborah Fallender, Bernard Bresslaw, all should have known better.

But is was getting late, and the monsters head was about to appear so, pausing only to take a few car numbers for the local police, I turned and rushed away from Shepperton as fast as I could, and behind me as the Jabberwocky began to assume its fearful form, all I could hear was laughter.

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