*Note: this fanfic was inspired by a recent dream I had, in which I was a hairdresser on the set of Monty Python & The Holy Grail. Except for the names of the characters, it is purely a work of fiction. If any events below actually did take place during the Grail shooting, it is purely coincidental.
I couldn't believe the news. I was a part-time hairdresser up here in Stirling, Scotland. Not much happens here.... either little old ladies come in and ask to have their hair dyed blue and set in some horrific beehive style, or young men in their teens and twenties ask to have their (long) hair styled in that David Cassidy "shag" hairdo that's been so popular the last few years. I fix their hair, get paid, and that's how it usually is. But this one day was different. It was a rainy cold day in mid-April, 1974, when Annie, a coworker and friend, told me that she'd heard from a friend-of-a-friend that the Monty Python boys were going to be shooting a movie up here. Now, of course this was probably just a rumour, but I was a huge Monty Python fan and I had missed seeing them on the television since Flying Circus stopped airing new shows the previous year. Consequently I was very very excited. I loved the Pythons and even had a minor crush on them.
"Are you sure they're coming here?" I asked Annie, incredulously.
"Well, my friend Martha who works at that old hotel a few blocks from here, told me that they were shacking up at the place for some time while they're making this picture," she answered, "I'm not sure exactly when, but I think they're coming in a week or two."
We drank our tea, chatted a little while longer, and went our separate ways. On the drive home, all I could think about was the possibility of meeting those 6 wonderful guys. Being a hairdresser, I often wondered what it would be like if they had come into my hair salon (unisex of course, as many new places were these days) and given me an opportunity to style their hair. It wouldn't be long before I would have that opportunity.
Around the 27th of April, I was told by the manager of the salon that the producers of the Pythons' new movie were looking to complete their crew. They had brought in their own costumer, Hazel Pethig - who had worked with them during the Flying Circus television show; they had found someone to do the makeup, but were still short of one important thing - hairdressers. They needed two hairdressers for the six Python boys, plus Connie Booth, plus Carol Cleveland, plus various other actors and extras. They were hoping to find someone local as they didn't want to go travelling all over Scotland as they had done in looking for castles at which to shoot the movie. Annie and I jumped at the chance. We headed toward the old hotel, and met with Mark Forstater the producer, as well as the two directors - Terries Gilliam and Jones, in the lobby. It was a real thrill meeting 1/3 of the Python team.
"Hello, I'm Mark Forstater, the producer," Mark said, shaking my hand, "and I'm sure you've seen Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones before."
"Er, only on the telly," I blurted out. Terry Jones extended his hand in greeting. "Hello," he said warmly. I shook his hand, but could hardly speak. He seemed taller in person, with lovely dark eyes and thick, wavy shoulder-length black hair - minus the sideburns he had throughout most of Flying Circus. "It's a real pleasure to meet you," I said, regaining my confidence. Terry J smiled, "and this is the Terry with the American accent." Terry Gilliam, who had been sitting in a leather-back armchair and was very quiet the whole time, stepped forward and shook my hand. "I love your artwork," I exclaimed. "Thanks," Terry G grinned. In contrast to Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam seemed shorter in person, and he was very very quiet throughout the whole meeting; I wondered if he was this quiet during any of the Python script meetings.
"Well, as you've both been told," Mark began, "we've gotten most of our crew together, but we're still in search of hairdressers. We're on a tight budget as it is, and we begin shooting in two days, so we are looking for someone local to work on the set with us. We'll be shooting for about 5 weeks, and we really don't have a dressing room to speak of. We have rented a truck from Budget Rent-A-Car, which can serve as a dressing room and a place for you to work."
Annie and I got excited. "It would be our pleasure to work with you," we nearly blurted out at the same time.
"Now I must warn you that we're on a shoestring budget here, and you may not see much money at the start, but I promise you that you will get paid," Mark went on. For once I didn't care if I had gotten paid or not; working with the Pythons was a dream come true for me.
"Let's put it this way," Terry Jones interrupted, "can you cut hair?"
Annie and I nodded.
"Then you're hired," Terry answered. We all laughed. They informed us that we would meet them at the hotel around 7 in the morning, and we would all drive over to the first shooting location. Annie and I left the hotel, starstruck. If meeting two of the Pythons was this exciting, I hoped I would be able to handle meeting the other four.
Early the morning of the 29th of April, I fixed myself a quick breakfast and raced outside. It was a 10-minute drive to the hotel, but it seemed like an eternity. I parked my car across the street, and as soon as I got out I noticed a few familiar faces in front of the hotel. Terries Jones and Gilliam were already outside, loading the equipment into the truck. Mark Forstater, Julian Doyle, and Terry Bedford (the other crewmembers) were also there. I went over and introduced myself.
"Good to see you again," Terry J smiled, "we're just waiting for the others, then we'll be on our way." As soon as he spoke, I saw Eric Idle and Michael Palin exiting the hotel. I felt I was going to faint right on the spot; I did have a minor crush on Terry, but I was just about madly in love with Eric and Michael. As soon as they reached us, Terry introduced me to them both.
"This is Eric, our resident cheeky chap," Terry said wryly. I found Eric to be more handsome in person - a tall, wiry fellow with lovely blue eyes and long, sideswept wavy brown hair. He looked a bit tired, though. Guess he was up watching The Late Show. "Hello," Eric said softly, as he shook my hand. I had heard that he was the cheeky, sarcastic one, but he acted like a complete gentleman towards me. "You're a very beautiful young lady," he smiled, increasing the charm factor. Michael rolled his eyes. Terry had to speak with Eric about something, and the two walked toward the other side of the truck.
"Don't mind him," Michael smiled in his beautiful smile that made my heart melt, "I'm Michael Palin, and it's very nice to meet you," he said, offering his hand. I shook his hand, completely awestruck. Like Eric, Michael was much more handsome in person, with beautiful, deep greenish-greyish eyes, perfect teeth, and of course, those cute dimples. But the thing I immediately noticed about him was his hair. It was a bit longer than I had noticed in the television series, parted on the side, and perhaps a bit shaggy even (he was clearly due for a trim). He had shaved off his mutton-chop sideburns, which hardly made any difference; he still looked lovely. I could tell I was going to enjoy working with him.
"Terry tells me that you're going to be working as a hairdresser on the set," Mike said. He had a bit of shyness about him, which only made him more appealing. "That's very good," he continued, "because I don't know very much about hair styling, as I'm sure you can see," he laughed as his hair flopped in his eyes with the ensuing breezes. "Oh, don't worry. I'll take care of that," I laughed. I found myself relaxing and becoming more comfortable with him. "I'm very curious, what is this movie all about?"
"Well, it's a bit of a foray into the Arthurian world," Michael answered, "it's the story of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table in search of the Holy Grail, such as that which Sir Thomas Malory has written about. The script is called 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail.'" I giggled a bit, to which Michael said, "and I can see we picked a good title."
He asked if I'd like to see one of his costumes, and brought me around to the side of the truck. Inside were a few bags full of various costumes. "Ah," he exclaimed, as he pulled out a suit of "chain mail" armour made out of knitted string of some sort, along with a long white surcoat with a huge, red cross painted on the front. "Hmm," I muttered, maybe a tad impressed. "Oh, wait a moment, there's one more piece," he said, and produced a large white shield, also with a red cross painted on it. He held it up, putting on an air of dignity, which made me giggle.
"So, you are Sir....?" I trailed off; I had read Tennyson and Malory's Arthurian texts, but my memory was failing me at this point.
"Sir Galahad," Mike offered, "actually it's 'Sir Galahad the Pure.' Like the knight in Arthurian literature I am supposed to be sworn to chastity in this movie, but I almost end up forsaking it, and...well, I won't give away that part of the film," he winked.
Just then, I saw John Cleese and Graham Chapman exiting the hotel. They seemed to be engaged in a conversation about something in the script. "Well, it's about time!" Terry Jones shouted excitedly. He was clearly eager to get started on the film. John muttered something under his breath which probably was best that I didn't hear. Suddenly he saw me standing amongst the other Pythons. "Oh, I'm terribly sorry," he exclaimed, "who do we have here?" Terry introduced me to both John and Graham. "Oh. Hairdresser, eh? Pleasure to meet you," John half-smiled, extending his hand in greeting. John was much taller in person - about one whole foot taller than myself - and like Michael and Terry J, he had shaved off his sideburns. His hair also looked a bit thinner on top than I remembered watching Flying Circus. While not as overly friendly as some of the others, he was still polite and cordial. Graham then shook hands with me. "Jolly good to meet you," he exclaimed, pipe in his mouth, flask of gin in his hand. Graham actually looked quite lovely in person. Tall, thin, nice blue eyes, dirty blonde hair, although now he had grown a beard (for the movie, perhaps?). He seemed to be quite charming, if not a bit intoxicated. The two Terries exchanged worried looks, as if they were worried that Graham was a bit too intoxicated to take today's filming seriously.
Terry Jones informed us all that they would be shooting one of the climatic scenes - the "Bridge of Death" scene - today. We all got in our cars and drove to Bracklin Falls (if memory serves), where the scene was going to be shot. Once we arrived, the actors got into costume and makeup was applied. Annie and I were given the outline of our duties. She would be in charge of John, Graham, and Terry G; I had Eric, Michael, and Terry J; the others were split amongst ourselves. I was told that I wasn't really needed today, since the actors were going to be in full armour, including knights hoods. Terry J and Eric did require faux moustaches, and Terry G needed a whole wig and beard, but they were applied by the makeup artists. While my colleague Annie was reading a magazine, I sat on the end of the truck, feeling a bit sorry for myself. One of the makeup artists called out that Eric and Michael were having trouble getting their hair to stay put under the knight hoods - after all, it was very windy out. I brushed Mike's hair straight back and wet it a bit. I was surprised at how soft his hair actually was. I put up the knights hood and told him to stand outside near the cliff in the wind, and report back to me. To no avail, Mike's hair was blown every which way. I dug out some Harmony Hair Spray (note the irony here as the Pythons had once made an industrial film for this product), brushed his hair straight back and applied the hair spray. This seemed to do the trick, and so I did the same with Eric's hair. It worked for the scene, and I was commended for a job well done. I did very little of anything else the rest of the day. I did get some reading done, though.
As the days went by, my duties became more numerous, as some of the boys actually ended up needing trims, especially Michael. It was the beginning of the second full week of shooting, and they were about to film a scene inside Doune Castle - a crazy singing-and-dancing scene with the Pythons dressed as different knights than the main characters they played. Neil Innes was also in costume as a singing knight. It was quite early in the morning - Terry Jones liked starting real early so they could get as much finished as possible in one day. After an incredibly early breakfast, I was dozing off in my foldout chair, when I felt a very slight tap on my back. I opened my eyes, and saw Michael standing in front of me. He was already dressed in costume - not in his Sir Galahad armour, but in a different armour with a blue-and-yellow-checkered surcoat. "I'm sorry to bother you," he said quietly, "but I was wondering if you could do something for me." I sat up, groggy but eager to help out the guy I had a major crush on. "Sure, what is it?" I asked. "My hair keeps flopping in my eyes and it's literally driving me to drink," he said, slightly annoyed, "We're going to start filming soon, but I was wondering if you have a little time -"
"For a quick trim?" I asked. "Yeah," he replied, "unless I'm bothering you?" "Oh no, not at all," I replied, "sit right down in front of the mirror here and I'll have you finished in no time." Mike sat down and I fastened a towel around his neck. I was actually glad he had approached me when he did. I had noticed that his hair was getting a bit shaggy, and it had been a while since he'd last gotten it cut. I first ran my fingers through his hair, again surprised at how soft it was. I must ask him which shampoo he uses. I was a bit nervous, so I made small talk. "Oh my, they're starting already?" "Oh yes," he replied, "and what a trying time we're having. Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones are already arguing over where the cameras should go. John is screaming at both of them for taking so long to set up - it's complete pandemonium out there! I'm glad I ducked in here." So was I.
I wet his hair thoroughly (I had made it a rule never to cut dry hair, unless it was a very slight trim), and noticed it was quite long when wet, just about to his shoulders. I started combing through his hair, when he started a bit nervously, "er, don't cut too much off - I've been in the process of growing it for some time - but just enough so that it's out of my eyes."
"No problem," I replied, "I'm a big fan of yours, and I would never want to disappoint you." He smiled and put his head back as I finished combing. I lifted my scissors and was very careful about how I cut Michael's hair. I started at the back of his head, cutting only about an inch off his already long hair. When I got to the front of his head, I cut a bit less off. It was still long, but I knew it would be out of his eyes once it was dry. As the hair fell onto his face, he twitched his nose almost like a bunny rabbit. I giggled a bit. "I'm almost done," I promised. "Ah," he answered, "for a minute I was starting to worry that I was allergic to my own hair!" We enjoyed a good laugh.
I found an outlet and plugged in my hair dryer. As I blew Mike's hair dry, I brushed it off to the side. Once it was all dry, he looked very nice indeed. He actually thought it was a bit too short - especially the front forelocks (or "bangs") - but as long as it was out of his eyes was all he cared about. He gave me a kiss on the cheek (good thing his wife wasn't around) and thanked me for doing such a good job. All I could do was stare in the mirror, with my hand pressed to my cheek, thinking "I'll never wash this cheek again."
Annie saw me staring off into space. "What happened to you?" she asked, concerned.
"Oh," I came back to earth, "I just gave Michael a quick haircut and he thanked me with a kiss on the cheek."
"Ohhh," she grinned, "I thought he looked a bit different."
"I think he looks super," I said, again with that dreamy look on my face.
"Well you had it easy. I just gave Terry G a haircut and I know he hated it. He didn't say so, but I could tell. At least his Patsy character gets to wear that hood all the time."
I laughed, as I knew Annie was not having as much fun as I was. We then headed for the caves near Killin or Loch Tay, for some of the Cave of Caerbannog scenes. I didn't have a lot to do there, which was fine. For the next four days or so, we stayed at Doune, filming more inside the castle for the Castle Anthrax scene. I watched as they filmed that scene, and was still proud of myself for what I had done. Mike's hair looked lovely even when it was wet. They also filmed some of the "French taunting" scenes at the castle, and had even set up the cardboard "camelot" nearby. Every so often Michael would get a bit annoyed that his hair (especially the forelocks) seemed to curl up on one side of his face.
"Don't worry, it will grow back in no time at all," I reassured him. He went back outside to where they were filming a very crucial scene...the cow landing on top of them. I didn't see the whole thing, but I did notice all of them on their knees, and John was particularly loud, screaming that he was uncomfortable and wanted to leave. Terry G finally had enough and started exploding at them all, particularly John. He went off in a huff, left them all over there, and laid down in the grass. There were a few outbursts of this nature during filming, but thankfully not too many; for the most part everyone was having a pretty good time.
I didn't have to work on Terry Jones' hair much, just a light trim a week or so later. His hair was fairly no-nonsense, easy to work with and take care of. Eric puzzled me a bit because his hair was already quite long, and just grew longer. He didn't seem interested in getting a trim, and I didn't ask him if he wanted one. His hair was very nice, anyway, so it didn't matter. For the most part, he just needed help keeping his hair under his knight's hood (in which case Harmony Hairspray did the trick!). Also, whenever he didn't wear the knight's hood up, he was wearing his "Sir Robin" wig, so the appearance of his own hair wasn't much of an issue. Michael was outfitted as the King of Swamp Castle, and I had helped the makeup artists with his costume - mostly the beard and wig he had to wear. His hair was in that weird growing-out stage, so it was good that he was wearing this costume during this time. By the end of shooting - namely the "Tim the Enchanter" and "knights before God" scenes, Mike's hair had grown in quite nicely, almost to the extent to which it was before filming began.
At this time, I had started growing depressed, for I knew filming would be ending and I would no longer be able to work with these brilliant men. One day while they were taking a break from filming the "knights before God" scene, I was sitting near the truck in the grass, feeling sorry for myself. Michael came over and sat down next to me. "Are you all right?" he asked, concerned. I looked up at him, in his Sir Galahad costume, his beautiful eyes full of concern.
"I suppose so," I sighed, "it's just that I'm going to miss working with all of you. I've thoroughly enjoyed it."
"Well, I'm going to miss you too. And Terry J. and Eric as well. You did a great job as our hairdresser, and you are a very kind person."
Just then, Terry J. jumped out at us with a polaroid instant camera, and snapped a quick picture. After it developed, he showed it to Michael, who handed it to me.
"Here, you can keep this picture to remember us by. Oh, and if you're ever around London - " He handed me a piece of paper with the Python Office address on it. " - look us up."
I was stunned as I took the paper from him. "I don't know what to say," I started, "thank you." Michael gave me a big hug, then it was Terry's turn. "It's been a pleasure working with you," Eric smiled, "oh, and thanks for *not* cutting my hair - bloody scissors, what good are they for." he said wryly. I even gave Eric a hug. Just then, Terry J. announced that he had seen the last take, and the film was completely finished. There was a loud cheer from the cast and crew. That night, we all celebrated at a local pub.
The next day, it was hard saying goodbye to all the Pythons. I told them I would be taking a trip to London soon, and would try to visit them. And I certainly wouldn't miss the premiere of the film for anything. Now, 27 years later, I still have fond memories of being a little-known hairdresser from Scotland, working with the Pythons on the Holy Grail set. And I still have the polaroid snapshot of Michael and myself. It had almost started to fade, so I had it protected and put in a frame. I will treasure it forever.
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