It all began 40 years ago when Eric Idle (Monty Python) persuaded Neil Innes (Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band) to join him in a TV comedy series for BBC 2 called Rutland Weekend Television. The concept was satirical - a spoof low-budget TV station, (the smallest in Britain) that could only churn out ludicrously cheap “programmes”.
Idle would write sketches and Innes would put pictures to songs…
Innes suggested to Idle that they could do a send-up of A Hard Day’s Night, the Beatles first movie. “It’s in Black and White, it’s speeded up, and we could wear wigs and tight trousers and run around a field somewhere…”
Idle agreed. “I’ve got a sketch about a man making a documentary who’s so boring, the camera runs away from him…”
And so the name “Rutles” was born. But no one could have foreseen what was around the corner. A year or so later, such was the enormous pressure on the Beatles to get back together again, the one-off Rutland Weekend clip was shown in the USA – as part of a “running gag” - on NBC’s hugely popular “Saturday Night Live”.
It was a sensation. Thousands of people wrote in. Mailbags were bulging - and so were the trousers. Everyone got the joke. Lorne Michaels, the producer, believed the entire Beatles story could now be re-told – as “The Rutles”. The people upstairs at NBC agreed and gave him the money.
Eric Idle quickly came up with the title: “All You Need Is Cash – the story of the Pre-Fab Four”. Bill Murray, John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd soon got involved – as did George Harrison, who brought in Mick Jagger and Paul Simon.
The world’s first “Rockumentary” – or “Mockumentary” - was broadcast in the discontented summer of 1978. To this day it proudly holds the record for the lowest viewing figures - ever - on American Prime Time Television.