The man who put Python on the big screen | Playboy Victor Lownes dies at 88

The man who put Python on the big screen

Playboy Victor Lownes dies at 88

Victor Lownes, the Playboy executive at the heart of the Swinging Sixties, has died of a heart attack at the age of 88.

As well as running the Playboy clubs in London and beyond – until gambling authorities started probing alleged licensing irregularities – he also has a role in the history of Monty Python.

It was his idea to make their first film And Now for Something Completely Different and convinced the team that it would be the ideal way to introduce them to the US market.

He financed its £80,000 budget – low even for the time – with another backer. Lownes had initially agreed to put in all the money, but got cold feet after running the idea by his friend, Roman Polanski, who said: ‘This is not funny.’

Sketches from the troupe’s TV series were shot for the 35mm format over six miserable weeks in Totteridge, North London, in the winter of 1970.

But the Pythons were to find he was an egotist who tried to exert more control over their work than they had been used to at the BBC.

He objected so strongly to one character, Ken Shabby, which he considered too gross, so the sketch was removed. Michael Palin said: ‘It was a shame as we all liked Ken Shabby.’

Another argument with Lownes occurred over Terry Gilliam’s opening credits. Because the names of the Pythons were shown in blocks of stone, Lownes insisted that his own name be displayed the same way. Initially, Gilliam refused but eventually he was forced to give in.  But then Gilliam then created a different style of credit for the Pythons so that in the end, Lownes's credit was the only one that appeared in  stone.

Lownes’s involvement meant the film was owned by Playboy, the only one the Pythons didn’t own, but it did mean the team could visit the Playboy Mansion. Terry Jones once said: ‘I actually went with my wife, so I did behave myself.’

The film did not achieve the hoped-for American breakthrough – that would come later – bit it did well in Britain.

 Lownes’s funeral will be held on January 26 at St. Luke's Church in Chelsea

Published: 13 Jan 2017

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