ctor, songwriter, comedian and singer

Born: December 9, 1944;

Died: December 29, 2019

NEIL Innes, a genuinely multi-talented instrumentalist who collaborated with Monty Python’s Flying Circus and was part of the celebrated Beatles parody, The Rutles, has died at the age of 75.

Innes wrote several original songs for Python and their film Monty Python and The Holy Grail (1975). Terry Gilliam, the troupe’s animator, called him the Seventh Python.

Innes played an important role in The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, a delightfully irreverent outfit in the 1960s that combined elements of music hall, trad jazz and psychedelic pop.

A decade later he was a member of the Beatles spoof band in the TV show, The Rutles, for which he wrote songs that captured the essence of the Beatles songs and reflected their intrinsic charm.

Later, he was seen on TV in his own show, The Innes Book of Records, for which he wrote and performed musical pastiches that carried the Innes trademark of sheer invention.

Neil James Innes was born in Essex to a Scottish father who was a warrant officer in the Royal Artillery. As a result of his father’s job Innes spent his early youth in West Germany, where he showed considerable musical talent, learning both the piano and the guitar.

On returning to the UK he attended Thorpe Grammar School and Norwich School of Art then won a scholarship to Goldsmith’s College, where he studied drama and fine art. He graduated in 1966 with a BA.

Innes and other students from Goldsmith’s formed a band which captured the zany nature of the era. Innes – the only member with a musical background – was the lynchpin of the Bonzo Dog Band and became its central figure with his surrealistic lyrics and his choice of headgear.

He performed wearing goofy hats with rubber ducks stuck on the top: it became a feature that he often retained on stage. In later years Innes delighted in wearing t-shirts boasting the inscription: “I am in the Prime of Senility.”

The band enjoyed considerable success and often played at the underground UFO Club in Soho alongside such renowned acts as The Who, The Kinks and Led Zeppelin.

They appeared in the 1967 Beatles film, Magical Mystery Tour. In 1968 Paul McCartney produced their only hit, Innes’s Ivor Novello award-winning song, I’m the Urban Spaceman.

The band split up in the early 1970s and Eric Idle asked Innes to warm up the audience for Monty Python’s Flying Circus. He was so successful that he became the troupe’s musical collaborator, performer and sketch-writer for the last series, in 1974.

Innes toured with the Pythons in the UK and America and played the Minstrel opposite Idle’s Brave Sir Robin in The Holy Grail. Innes also wrote one of the tracks for the movie, Death Cab for Cutie.

The Rutles enjoyed a cult popularity in the 1970s. They originated in a show created as a sketch in Idle’s television show, Rutland Weekend Television, and basically performed parodies of Beatles songs. The fictional band became an actual group which toured extensively and recorded widely, enjoying two UK chart hits.

Innes’s pastiche of Beatles music won praise even from fans of the Fab Four. The Rutles performed a “mockumentary”, All You Need Is Cash, with Innes as a Lennon-esque character named Ron Nasty.

The Rutles toured widely but their success was somewhat curtailed when ATV Music, who owned the Beatles copyright, threatened to sue. Innes reached a satisfactory out-of-court settlement.

The members of the Beatles had mixed reactions: George Harrison was very supportive and Lennon “enjoyed the barbs”. Innes’s songs lived on and are remembered fondly for their wit and musical charm.

In fact, Harrison often attended The Rutles’ recording sessions in Abbey Road and praised the Innes versions of the Beatles numbers, famously once commenting that he liked The Rutles better than he did the Beatles.

Innes’s next television project gained a large and enthusiastic audience. The Innes Book of Records (1979-81) was screened on BBC Two and explored various disciplines in music from jazz through music hall to disco. It cleverly mingled archive films, songs and the spoken word.

In the Eighties Innes wrote and narrated a children’s programme called The Raggy Dolls, on ITV, and continued to tour Britain with his one-man show.

Innes was a modest man who was delightful company and was possessed of a generous nature. He was a talented musician and lyricist who shunned the limelight. In 2008 a TV documentary, The Seventh Python, explored his career, and he was asked about his lack of public recognition.

Characteristically, he replied with a laugh: “I’ve never been someone very interested in playing the fame game. It’s a lot more fun being a Rutle than a Beatle. It really is.”

Innes is survived by his wife Yvonne (née Hilton), whom he married in 1966, and their three sons, Miles, Luke and Barney.

Alasdair Steven