‘On January 21, 1959 the Rutles story began at 43 Egg Lane, Liverpool, where Ron Nasty and Dirk McQuickly first bumped into each other. Ron invited Dirk to help him stand up. Dirk, merely an amateur drinker, agreed and on that spot a legend was created, a legend that will last a lunchtime. They were soon to be joined by Stig O’Hara, a guitarist of no fixed hairstyle, but it would be another two years before they found their regular drummer, Barrington Womble, hiding in the van. When they did, they persuaded him to change his name to save time and his haircut to save Brylcreem. He became simply Barry Wom. ”
And so begins the saga of the Rutles. But who are the Rutles?
In 1975 a new TV comedy series appeared on British screen, Rutland Weekend Television, the love child of Eric Idle, ex-Monty Python and one time Bonzo Dog Band frontman Neil Innes. The show ran for two series and is remembered only in cult comedy circles. One sketch contained a Beatle-esque song called “I Must Be In Love” and the band who performed it were dubbed the Rutles. After the demise of RWT, the Rutles should have ceased to be, but after a few Rutles related appearances on such shows as Saturday Night Live in the States Innes and Idle decided that the Rutles had the potential for film length coverage and in 1978 “All You Need Is Cash” the story of the Rutles hit the screens. It was slaughtered by critics in America and but in the UK the demand was so high for the film it was rerun only a few months later. The Rutles had arrived.
The film is the documentary of an imaginary band, and Eric Idle plays the narrator in typical Python style. All of the mad cap techniques learnt from those days and the RWT sketches are put to good use but there is a sense of continuity about the film that was lacking in many Python releases. All You Need Is Cash is still essentially a series of sketches but all contribute to the overall story of the Prefab Four, documenting their rise from four ordinary lads from Rutland to multimillionaire pop stars. The Beatles parallel is obvious but never scathing, you can tell that this is as much a tribute to them as a parody of them. The band are Innes and Idle, the Lennon and McCartney characters and John Halsey (drummer) and Ricky Fataar (lead guitar) but they are joined by an all star cast of British and American comedy greats. Michael Palin, John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Gilda Radnor, Bill Murray as well as spoof interviews with the likes of Mick Jagger, Paul Simon and Ron Wood for added effect. George Harrison also plays a cameo as an interviewer.
Although I think that anyone will find this film hilarious, for Beatles fans this is a must as the in-jokes and parodies make the film. The early Liverpool days, to Hamburg’s Rat Keller, the success, the films, Tragical Mystery Tour, the founding of Apple-core Publishing and the final demise of the Rutles, its all there in glorious tongue in cheek homage. Not only do the Rutles look and sound like the Beatles, the humour of the original band is there. That quick and slightly irreverent wit that the band were famous for has not been lost in translation.
Reporter: It must have been a great honour, meeting the queen.
Ron Nasty: Yes, it must have been.
Reporter: What did she ask you?
Barry Wom: She asked us who we were. And then to get out.
Reporter: What did you say?
Dirk McQuickly: [pointing at Ron Nasty] I said I was him.
Along side the film of this imaginary band is the music, which stands up well outside the context of the film. This fact is borne out by the fact that the songs charted in the Britain over a number of years and Chappell who owned the publishing rights to the Beatles songs sued for infringement against Neil Innes. In such classics as, Baby Let Me Be, Hold My Hand and Ouch! can be seen the original inspiration. To the untrained ear these songs sound like a hold collection of Beatle songs that never made the albums, Innes `s writing being that good.
It is a clever script, probably Eric idles best work, with enough of its own identity to stop it becoming a total clich of Beatle jokes and done with a touch of respect. Fans of the Beatles, Python, Saturday Night Live or Rutland Weekend Television will love it but so too will anyone with a sense of humour and a sense of musical history. This is the first mockumentory of its type, a few years before prior to Spinal Tap, its Heavy Metal descendant, and is a great story, has great songs, and great jokes.
But like all great stories there is a tragic ending and I will let Eric Idle have the last word in the guise of the Narrator.
Narrator: In the midst of all this public bickering, ‘Let it Rot” was released as a film, an album, and a lawsuit. In 1970, Dirk sued Stig, Nasty, and Barry; Barry sued Dirk, Nasty, and Stig; Nasty sued Barry, Dirk, and Stig; and Stig sued himself accidentally. It was the beginning of a golden era for lawyers, but for the Rutles, live on a London rooftop, it was the beginning of the end.