Neil Innes, Rutles star and 'seventh Python', dies aged 75

Neil Innes, the comedian and songwriter known for spoof Beatles band the Rutles as well as his work with Monty Python, has died aged 75, according to his agent.

Born in 1944 and raised in Germany and the UK, he studied drama at Goldsmiths college, where he formed the absurdist pop group the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. They scored a Top 5 hit with I’m the Urban Spaceman in 1968, produced pseudonymously by Paul McCartney – it won Innes an Ivor Novello songwriting award.

Innes was later known as “the seventh Python” thanks to his contributions to the comedy troupe’s sketches and films, including the songs Knights of the Round Table and Brave Sir Robin in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Innes also contributed the whistled melody to Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, from Life of Brian.​

Pre-Fab Four … the Rutles, from left, Neil Innes, Ricky Fataar, Eric Idle and John Halsey.

Pre-Fab Four … the Rutles, from left, Neil Innes, Ricky Fataar, Eric Idle and John Halsey. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Following the dissolution of Python, Innes teamed with Eric Idle to create the sketch show Rutland Weekend Television. It spawned the Rutles, a pastiche of the Beatles with Innes playing a Lennon-esque character called Ron Nasty, performing songs such as Cheese and Onions, Ouch!, and Get Up and Go. A TV film, All You Need is Cash, was released in 1978, and featured cameos from George Harrison, Mick Jagger, Bill Murray and Michael Palin. Innes most recently toured the UK with the Rutles in May and June 2019.

Innes’ spoof songs were targeted by Beatles publisher ATV Music who successfully argued that Lennon and McCartney should be added to the songwriting credits, and settled out of court with Innes’ publisher. After another legal dispute, Innes was added to the credits of Oasis’s song Whatever, which was deemed to have imitated his song How Sweet to Be an Idiot. “The music business is like a school where big boys come and take your candy away,” Innes said in 2013. “No other business in the world gets away with stealing like the music business – apart from banking.”

In November, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band won a legal case over the rights to the band name, with members including Innes successfully preventing former promoter Bob Carruthers from using it. Innes had also threatened legal action against Idle over royalties for the Monty Python musical Spamalot, saying in 2014, “the gloves are off, I am not being polite any more,” though the case was never filed.

The League of Gentleman and Sherlock star Mark Gatiss was among those to pay tribute to Innes, writing on Twitter: “As a Python-obsessed teen I saw him at Darlington Arts Centre & missed my bus home to catch his brilliance. I used to record ‘The Innes Book of Records’ on C-60s & marvel at his talent. I still hum ‘I like Cezanne, says Anne’. Sweet dreams, sweet idiot.”

Comedian Diane Morgan called him “one of the nicest people I’ve ever met and a towering talent,” while director Edgar Wright said he was “forever a fan” of Innes.


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