I was raised with laughter. My parents' house was always filled with comedians, dancers, actors and writers. My Mother was a ballerina, and danced with The Royal Ballet Company in London."Laughter is not at all a bad beginning for a friendship,and is by far the best ending for one." OSCAR WILDE
I learned to laugh young from the best in the business. Eric Sykes, Tommy Cooper, Norman Wisdom, Hattie Jacques, Spike Milligan, and Peter Sellers. In 1968 however I discovered a new breed of comedian, a group that'd recently graduated from Cambridge and would eventually become Monty Python's Flying Circus in 1969.
A year earlier David Frost produced a TV show called "HOW TO IRRITATE PEOPLE" written by Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, and Marty Feldman, and starring Connie Booth, Michael Palin and John Cleese. I remember roaring with laughter when I watched sketches like "The Car Salesman" and "Airline Pilots," where Cleese and Chapman as the pilots start "reassuring" the passengers, announcing things like "Our destination is Glasgow... but there's no need to panic," the messages becoming more and more incomprehensible until the passengers all finally bail out. I loved the intelligent and irreverent wit of this new breed of comedian. I also discovered the comic genius of Marty Feldman, who had been the chief writer on The Frost Report (1966-67) (where he got to know Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett). After a successful career including the brilliant film "Young Frankenstein," Marty Feldman died at 48, of a heart attack in 1982.
The late 1960's were a time of immense discovery for me. I lived in London. Music was everywhere. The Kings Road in Chelsea never slept, and nor did I. In those days you could rub shoulders with Mick Jagger at The Chelsea Drug Store at 4.00 am and bump into Maurice Gibbs of the Bee Gees or Graham Nash of the Hollies the very same night. London was hopping, and I was part of that explosion. I was attending concerts several times a week seeing bands like "The Incredible String Band" "Pink Floyd," "Jethro Tull," "Ten Years After," or "The John Mayall Blues Breakers," at clubs like the Marquee Club on Wardour St in SoHo.
I loved music, but I loved comedy more.
A VIDEO TRIBUTE TO COMEDY
The Python's were a surreal comedy group that made 45 episodes of the (now) wildly popular Monty Python's Flying Circus that aired on BBC from 1969 until 1974. It was written and performed by Cambridge graduates, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin. Their absurdist comedy approach threatened the British establishment, but the subsequent criticism that followed, simply fueled The Pythons ambitions more, and because they had complete creative control at "Aunty Beeb" they lampooned the establishment at every opportunity, much to the concern of my aforementioned Aunt!
My Mum was a ballerina. She first danced with The Ballet Rambert as a teenager and then joined The Royal Ballet Company in 1937. Sadly, the second world war arrested her career in full pirouette, but she remained dear friends with Dame Margot Fonteyn and the Royal Ballet's choreographer Sir Freddy Ashton. As a little boy I remember vividly sitting on their knees, listening to their laughter and stories, and being in the center of dozens of "beautiful people," at the party's my mum would give during the early 1950's. Actors, comedians, and writers were my uncles and aunts, and I loved being part of their world, even as a tiny boy. It was my entrance into showbiz, and I was sold.
Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, and Buster Keaton were my heroes, and as I grew into a teenager I discovered the genius of Norman Wisdom, Eric Sykes, Hattie Jacques and the inimitable Tommy Cooper. They were extraordinary Physical comedians, (which is a "rarely subtle" form of comedy, a clownish exploitation of movement, and the most primordial human medium of expression.) And that love affair with such irreverent comedy was why I fell in love with Monty Python right from the start.
During that time, I was developing a scheme to bring music to young children so that they could learn to laugh the way I had as a child. I was becoming more and more interested in Early Childhood Development. In reality, it would take me a full 14 more years to realize my dream.
I discovered early on in our relationship that my partner Laura had a natural genius for comedy. We'd been performing to kids in preschools for about a year and the comfier she became with her audiences the more willing she was to take comedic risk. Her timing was brilliant and the kids loved her shtick. We wrote several skits and tried them out on our young audiences. They adored them and we found that each time we returned to the same school the kids wanted us to perform the identical routine they'd so enjoyed the month before. So we did, but we also kept adding "comedy sketches" and new songs, so our shows became a series of vaudevillian routines, pratfalls and slapstick. Our preschool shows ultimately became "the perfect storm" for our pediatric tomfoolery, as we perfected our comedic comfort zones.
We knew we were on to something big, and we summoned our "best slapstick" and wrote enough material for several 60-minute shows. Laura is a beautiful women and has a magnificent singing voice. I play guitar and sing adequately, and you'd be amazed at how many people would come up to us after a show, and say, "You guys are great. You should consider turning professional." It was our running joke for years, and stopped ONLY after we'd performed for the President at The White House. We were then officially professionals, after only 10 years "on the boards."
In the early days performing to kids, Laura tended to be the "straight man" in our routines, with me being the goofball I naturally am. But as time went on we began to notice that audiences got a huge kick when La was the "primary" and I became the butt (always in a tasteful good natured way) of her jokes. She has the comic genius of Gilda Radner, Lucille Ball and Tina Fey all rolled into one. And with her beautiful smile and lovely voice, Kids naturally are drawn to her. It was great for me to see the huge respect from our audiences that Laura received as a comedienne AND a woman.
As The Battersby Duo, we've been lucky enough to receive a Grammy Nomination in 2010, and have sung and laughed along with millions and millions of kids at venues like The White House and The Kennedy Center. Had we not been raised on the laughter, and the genius of comedians like Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Eric Sykes, Lucille Ball, Ruth Buzzi and Rowan and Martin's Laugh in, we might never have been given permission to become the kind of musical comedians that we ultimately became. Thanks from us, to all those brilliant comedians. We're so grateful to you all.
CHARLIE CHAPLIN'S CLASSIC MASTERPIECE TRAILER
As President Bill Clinton famously said to me after a performance at The White House in 1997. "Let me see Mr. Tim, you're telling me that you get paid to misbehave?" "hmmm......sounds like a pretty good job to me. "