Neil Innes thankful for his "lucky" comedy career
He's been a Bonzo, a Rutle and the seventh Python but Neil Innes has doggedly refused to be pigeonholed.
The 66-year-old's eclectic career has embraced chart success, a Beatles spoof, working with Monty Python, and children's television - and he admitted it all happened by accident. He will be at the British Music Experience at The O2 tomorrow evening.
"I had no ambition to go into showbusiness, it just happened by chance," explained Innes. "My whole career has been a highlight, so I'm very lucky. I've achieved a state of graceful futility after 40 years.
"I'm finding new things to do, like writing a book - a sort of autobiography - and I still do four or five live shows a month. Recently I've been working with Ade Edmondson and other chaps in the Idiot Bastard Band, and that's been a lot of fun."
Innes first came to prominence in the 1960s with the satirical Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.
"It all happened by accident really," he said.
"There we were, just playing some silly old English jazz in Kensington. I was living in Blackheath, so it was a bit of a journey, but luckily we came across the Bird In Hand pub in Forest Hill, which had a big back room.
"The landlord - one of those characters who stood cleaning glasses all day with a fag in his mouth - let us use it, and within weeks we were packing it out. From there, we had a meteoric rise."
Their biggest hit was I'm The Urban Spacemen in 1968, produced by Paul McCartney. Again, it happened by accident.
Innes said: "We were never really interested in chart success. Urban Spaceman became a hit because Paul produced it. He didn't want to be named, but it leaked out, and suddenly we were at number five in the charts.
"The record sold an incredible amount of copies, far more than you'd sell today, and it's nice it's still available."
After the Bonzos, Innes was co-opted into the Monty Python team, helping write the final TV series, and working on films like Holy Grail. He also created the Rutles, alongside Python's Eric Idle - a spoof of the Beatles that spawned a film, in which real-life Beatle George Harrison appeared, and a best-selling album.
Innes is not surprised the Python appeal endures.
He said: "If something's on a human scale it will last. People still like Laurel and Hardy and Buster Keaton, and I guess we can lump Python in with that as it was quite a long time ago.
"In Life of Brian there are things that are sublimely well observed. We kind of knew when we went out on the road that people liked it, because they knew the sketches by heart."
Interest in Python was reinvigorated in 2005 with Spamalot, a musical based on the Holy Grail film.
"They call it the Scottish musical," said Innes.
"I think it's because Eric Idle is so mean. I'm quite surprised it's run and run, but it's gratifying too. It's just a shame it's not still on in a London theatre."
Innes still keeps in touch with his Python sparring partners.
"I had a postcard from Michael Palin just yesterday. He wasn't anywhere exotic, just at home, but that's rather nice, don't you think? He really is a lovely man."
For tickets visit britishmusicexperience.com.