Graham Chapman

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Graham Chapman
Graham Chapman Portrait.png
Born Graham Arthur Chapman
(1941-01-08)8 January 1941
Leicester, England
Died 4 October 1989(1989-10-04) (aged 48)
Maidstone, Kent, England
Cause of death
tonsil and spinal cancer
Other names Gray Chapman
Alma mater Emmanuel College, Cambridge
  • Comedian
  • writer
  • actor
Years active 1960–1989
Notable work Monty Python
Partner(s) David Sherlock (1966–1989)

Graham Arthur Chapman (8 January 1941 – 4 October 1989) was an English comedian, writer, actor, and one of the six members of the surreal comedy group Monty Python.

Early life and education[edit]

Chapman's house at 89 Southwood Lane, Highgate.

Chapman was born on 8 January 1941 at the Stoneygate Nursing Home, Stoneygate, Leicester, the son of Walter Chapman and Edith Towers. His father worked as a policeman.[1] He had an elder brother, John, who was born in 1936.[2] One of Chapman's earliest memories was seeing the remains of Polish airmen who had suffered an aeroplane accident about Leicester, and he later said the horrific sights of this remained in his memory.[3]

Chapman was educated at Melton Mowbray Grammar School. He showed a strong affinity for science, sports and amateur dramatics, and was singled out for attention when a local paper reviewed his performance of Mark Antony in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.[4] Graham and John Chapman were both avid fans of radio comedy, being especially fond of The Goon Show.[5] He was an avid fan of radio comedy from an early age, becoming especially drawn to that of The Goon Show,[5] and Robert Moreton's skill of telling jokes the wrong way round and reversing punchlines. He also enjoyed Frankie Howerd, the team of Jimmy Jewel and Ben Warriss, It's That Man Again, Educating Archie, Take It From Here and Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh. Biographer Jim Yoakum notes that "the radio shows didn't necessarily make him laugh."[6] He took up pipe smoking aged 15, which continued for the remainder of his life.[7]

In 1959, Chapman began to study medicine at Emmanuel College, Cambridge.[8] At Cambridge, Chapman joined the Footlights, where he first began writing with John Cleese. Following graduation, Chapman joined the Footlights show "Cambridge Circus" and toured New Zealand, deferring his medical studies for a year.[9] As part of the tour, he began his writing partnership with future Python John Cleese.[10] Following the tour, he continued his studies at St Bartholomew's Medical College,[11] but became torn between whether to pursue a career in medicine or acting.[12]


Pre-Python career[edit]

Chapman and Cleese wrote professionally for the BBC during the 1960s, initially for David Frost, but also for Marty Feldman. Chapman also contributed sketches to the radio series I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again and television programmes such as The Illustrated Weekly Hudd (starring Roy Hudd), Cilla Black, This is Petula Clark, and This Is Tom Jones. Chapman, Cleese, and Tim Brooke-Taylor later joined Feldman in the television comedy series At Last the 1948 Show. There, Chapman displayed a gift for deadpan comedy (such as in the sketch "The Minister Who Falls to Pieces") and for imitating various British dialects. Chapman and Cleese also wrote for the long-running television comedy series Doctor in the House. Chapman also co-wrote several episodes with Bernard McKenna and David Sherlock.

Monty Python[edit]

Further information: Monty Python

In 1969, Chapman and Cleese joined the other Pythons including Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin for their sketch comedy show Flying Circus. In David Morgan's book Monty Python Speaks, Cleese asserted that Chapman, although officially his co-writer for many of their sketches, contributed comparatively little in the way of direct writing. Rather, the other Pythons have said that Chapman's biggest contribution in the writing room was an intuition as to what was funny. Cleese said in an interview that one of Chapman's great attributes was "his weird takes on things".[citation needed] In writing sessions Chapman "would lob in an idea or a line from out of left field into the engine room, but he could never be the engine",[citation needed] Cleese said. In the Dead Parrot sketch, written mostly by Cleese, the frustrated customer was initially trying to return a faulty toaster to a shop. Chapman asked "How can we make this madder?",[citation needed] and then came up with the idea that returning a dead Norwegian Blue parrot to a pet shop might make for a more interesting subject than returning a toaster. In Monty Python Live at Aspen, Cleese said that the original idea came from a man Palin bought a car from, who had endless excuses for everything that went wrong with it. Cleese said that he and Chapman believed that "there was something very funny there, if we could find the right context for it".[citation needed]

Chapman played the lead roles in both of the Pythons' two feature films Holy Grail and Life of Brian. Cleese complimented Chapman by saying that he was "very possibly the best actor of all of us".[citation needed] In the late 1970s, Chapman moved to Los Angeles, where he guest-starred on many television shows including Hollywood Squares, Still Crazy like a Fox, and The Big Show. Upon his return to Britain, Chapman became involved with the Dangerous Sports Club (an extreme sports club which introduced bungee jumping to a wide audience). Chapman and Douglas Adams wrote a pilot for a TV series in 1975, Out of the Trees, but it never went beyond the initial episode. In 1978, Chapman co-wrote (with Bernard McKenna) and starred in The Odd Job alongside David Jason who had previously appeared on Do Not Adjust Your Set with Idle, Jones, and Palin. The film was only moderately successful. Chapman's memoir, A Liar's Autobiography, was published in 1980 and, unusually for a work of this type, had five authors: Chapman, his partner David Sherlock, Alex Martin, David Yallop and Douglas Adams.

Although writing had begun in the late 1970s, Chapman was finally able to secure funding for his much cherished pirate project Yellowbeard in 1982. Once again, Chapman collaborated with writer Bernard McKenna and for the first time with Peter Cook. The film, which starred Chapman as the eponymous pirate, also featured appearances from Peter Cook, Marty Feldman, Cleese, Idle, Spike Milligan, and Cheech & Chong. It marks the last appearance of Feldman, who suffered a fatal heart attack during shooting. It was released in 1983 to mixed reviews. In a 2001 interview, Cleese described Yellowbeard as "one of the six worst films made in the history of the world".[13] Eric Idle also later dismissed the film although he remembered his participation fondly.[14]

Final years[edit]

After reuniting with the other Pythons in The Meaning of Life, Chapman began a lengthy series of U.S. college tours in which he would tell the audience anecdotes about the Pythons, the Dangerous Sports Club, Keith Moon, and other subjects. In 1988, he appeared in the Iron Maiden video Can I Play with Madness. His final project was to have been a T.V. series called Jake's Journey. Although the pilot episode was made, there were difficulties selling the project. Chapman was also to have played a guest role as a television presenter in the Red Dwarf episode "Timeslides", but died before filming was to have started. In the years since Chapman's death, despite the existence of the "Graham Chapman Archive", only a few of his projects have been released. One of these projects is a play entitled O Happy Day, brought to life in 2000 by Dad's Garage Theatre Company in Atlanta, Georgia. Cleese and Palin assisted the theatre company in adapting the play.

Personal life[edit]

Nicknamed "the late Graham Chapman" by his fellow Pythons (due to his constant tardiness), Chapman enjoyed pipe-smoking, mountaineering and rugby football. Chapman was once invited to address the Oxford-Cambridge Union; he arrived dressed as a carrot. When Chapman was called up to speak, he proceeded to smile and say nothing at all (much to the amusement of his audience) resulting in "the only time in history a silent man has incited a riot."


Chapman kept his sexuality a secret until 1967, although he did allude to it in some Monty Python sketches. He disclosed his homosexuality on a chat show hosted by British jazz musician George Melly, becoming one of the first celebrities to do so publicly. Several days later, he also disclosed it to a group of friends at a party held at his home in Belsize Park, where he officially introduced them to his partner, David Sherlock, whom he had met in Ibiza in 1966. Chapman later told a story in his college tour that when he went public, a member of the television audience wrote to the Pythons to complain that she had heard a member of the team was gay, adding that the Bible said any man who lies with a man should be taken out and stoned. With other Pythons already aware of his sexual orientation, Idle replied, "We've found out who it was and we've taken him out and had him killed."[15] In his book Graham Crackers, Chapman said that this took place just before Cleese left the show, and he wondered what the woman thought about his disappearance after getting Idle's response.

Chapman was a vocal spokesman for gay rights, and in 1972 he lent his support to the fledgling newspaper Gay News, which publicly acknowledged his financial and editorial support by listing him as one of its "special friends". In 1971, Chapman and Sherlock adopted John Tomiczek as their son. Chapman met Tomiczek when the adolescent was a run-away from Liverpool. After discussions with Tomiczek's father, it was agreed that Chapman would become Tomiczek's legal guardian, and Tomiczek later became Chapman's business manager. Tomiczek died of a heart attack in 1992.[16]


Chapman began drinking heavily during his time at Cambridge, and by the Python years was drinking as much as three pints of gin a day.[9][12] He decided to stop drinking while filming Holy Grail after suffering a bout of delirium tremens. He remained sober during the final years of his life.[9][12]

Illness and death[edit]

In 1988, a routine visit to a dentist revealed a small, but malignant tumour on one of Chapman's tonsils; Chapman suspected it had developed due to his years of pipe-smoking, which he had recently stopped. Both tonsils were removed via a tonsillectomy. The following year, however, the cancer had spread into Chapman's spinal cord, where another tumour was surgically removed. Chapman had several chemotherapy treatments and tumour removal surgeries during the final months of his life, and at one point, he used a wheelchair. A few weeks before Chapman's death, despite initial signs of recovery, his cancer was declared terminal. Chapman had filmed scenes for the 20th anniversary of the first broadcast of Flying Circus, the final time he appeared on television, but he had developed pneumonia three days before his death. Chapman died on October 4, 1989 from complications of metastatic tonsil cancer and secondary spinal cancer.[17][18]

Those present at the time of Chapman's death in Maidstone Hospital included his partner David Sherlock, brother, sister-in-law, and the other Pythons Cleese and Palin, who had to be led out of the room to deal with their grief.[19] Jones and Peter Cook had visited earlier that day. Chapman's death occurred on the eve of the twentieth anniversary of the first broadcast of Flying Circus, and Jones called it "the worst case of party-pooping in all history". It was reported that Chapman's last words were: "Sorry for saying fuck", to a nurse who accidentally stuck a needle in his arm moments before he died.[20]


The five surviving Python members had decided to stay away from Chapman's private funeral to prevent it from becoming a media circus and to give his family some privacy. They sent a wreath in the shape of the famous Python foot with the message: "To Graham from the other Pythons. Stop us if we're getting too silly". A private memorial service for Chapman was held at St. Bartholomew's Hospital two months after his death, with a chorus of the "Chinese" (Engrish) version of the hymn "Jerusalem" ("… Bling me my speal, oh crowds unford, bling me my chaliot of file…"). Cleese delivered his eulogy to Chapman, which began as follows:

Graham Chapman, co-author of the "Parrot Sketch", is no more. He has ceased to be. Bereft of life, he rests in peace. He's kicked the bucket, hopped the twig, bit the dust, snuffed it, breathed his last, and gone to meet the great Head of Light Entertainment in the sky. And I guess that we're all thinking how sad it is that a man of such talent, of such capability for kindness, of such unusual intelligence, should now so suddenly be spirited away at the age of only forty-eight, before he'd achieved many of the things of which he was capable, and before he'd had enough fun. Well, I feel that I should say: nonsense. Good riddance to him, the freeloading bastard, I hope he fries. And the reason I feel I should say this is he would never forgive me if I didn't, if I threw away this glorious opportunity to shock you all on his behalf. Anything for him, but mindless good taste. …[21]

Cleese continued after a break from the laughter in the audience and claimed that Chapman had whispered in his ear the night before while he was writing the speech, saying:

"All right, Cleese, you say you're very proud of being the first person to ever say 'shit' on British television. If this service is really for me, just for starters, I want you to be the first person ever at a British memorial service to say 'fuck'!".[22]

After Cleese, Palin later spoke, saying that he liked to think that Chapman was there with them all that day—"or rather, he will be in about twenty-five minutes", a reference to Chapman's habitual lateness when he and the other Pythons were working together. Choking back tears, Idle stated that Chapman had thought that Palin talked too much and had died rather than listen to him any more. Idle also led the other surviving Pythons and Chapman's close friends and family in a rendition of the song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from the film The Life of Brian. Not to be outdone by Cleese, Idle was heard saying during the song's close: "I'd just like to be the last person at this meeting to say 'fuck'. Thank you very much. God bless you, Graham".[23] Ten years after Chapman's death, his ashes were first rumoured to have been "blasted into the skies in a rocket".[24] In a second rumour, Chapman's ashes were scattered on Snowdon, North Wales.[25]


Since Chapman's death, the speculation of a Python revival was inevitably diminished. Idle stated: "We would only do a reunion if Chapman came back from the dead. So we're negotiating with his agent." Subsequent gatherings of the Pythons have included an urn said to contain Chapman's ashes. At the 1998 Aspen Comedy Arts festival, the urn was "accidentally" knocked over by Terry Gilliam, spilling the "ashes" on-stage. The apparently cremated remains were then removed with a dust-buster.[26] Asteroid 9617 Grahamchapman, named in Chapman's honour, is one of six asteroids named after the Python members.

In 1997, Sherlock allowed Jim Yoakum to start the Graham Chapman Archives. Later that year, the novel Graham Crackers: Fuzzy Memories, Silly Bits, and Outright Lies was released. It is a semisequel to A Liar's Autobiography, with Chapman works compiled by Yoakum. Ojril: The Completely Incomplete Graham Chapman, a collection of previously unpublished material, was released in 1999. It contains scripts Chapman wrote with Douglas Adams and others, such as "Our show for Ringo Starr, a.k.a. Goodnight Vienna". In 2005 Calcium Made Interesting: Sketches, Letters, Essays & Gondolas was published. At one time, the script for "Out of the Trees", written by Chapman and Adams in 1975 (and later extensively rewritten by Chapman with Bernard McKenna), was on-line. Jim Yoakum had it removed, to the disappointment of cowriter Adams, who had made no objections to it being there.[citation needed]

Recordings of Chapman's college tours during the 1980s have been released over the years. The C.D. A Liar Live was delayed several times, but was released as A Six Pack of Lies in 1997. Other college tours also came out on C.D., such as Spot the Loony in 2001. A DVD of the tours (Looks Like a Brown Trouser Job) was released in 2005. The single episodes for "Out of the Trees", which was wiped but later recovered on an early home video system, and "Jake's Journey" still have not been released. In 2004, there was talk of a movie about Chapman's life, to be called Gin and Tonic, by Hippofilms in co-operation with Jim Yoakum. Auditions were held in March 2004 in California,[27] but the project has been officially abandoned. Its website is no longer active and the Internet Movie Database page has been deleted; the Graham Chapman Archive's website has disappeared as well.

In June 2011, it was announced that most of the surviving Python members (everyone except Idle) will perform in a 3-D animated version of Chapman's memoir A Liar’s Autobiography: Volume VI.[28] The film, titled A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman has a running time of 85 minutes. It was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2012 and premiered in the UK on 16 October 2012 as part of the BFI London Film Festival. The voices of Cleese, Gilliam, Jones, and Palin were spliced into commentary recorded by Chapman reading from his memoir and taped shortly before his death and the story of Graham Chapman's life is told in 17 different animation styles by 14 different animation studios. The film's official trailer claims that Graham Chapman said, "This is the best film I've been in since I died."[29]

In September 2012, a British Comedy Society blue plaque, to commemorate Chapman, was unveiled at The Angel pub in Highgate, North London, by Jones, Palin, Barry Cryer, Ray Davies and Carol Cleveland.[30] Palin said, "This was Graham's manor and Graham was a lovely guy. I spent many happy times with him, most of which I forget. Highgate was his patch and he should be celebrated because he was a very good, brilliant, funny, nice, wise, kind man, who occasionally drank too much."[31] In December 2014 a green plaque funded by Leicestershire County Council was placed on Chapman's former home in Burton Road, Melton Mowbray.[32]


Year Film Role Notes
1969 The Magic Christian Oxford Crew Uncredited
Also Writer
1970 Doctor in Trouble Roddy
The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer Fromage Also Writer
1971 And Now for Something Completely Different Various Roles Also Writer
The Statue News Reader
1974 Monty Python and the Holy Grail King Arthur, Various Roles Also Writer
1978 The Odd Job Arthur Harris Also Writer/Producer
1979 Monty Python's Life of Brian Brian, Various Roles Also Writer
1982 Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl Various Roles Also Writer
1983 Monty Python's The Meaning of Life Various Roles Also Writer
The Crimson Permanent Assurance Clerk Short Film
Yellowbeard Captain Yellowbeard Also Writer
1987 Still Crazy like a Fox Detective Inspector Palmer TV Film
1988 Jake's Journey Sir George/Queen TV Film
Also Writer
1989 Stage Fright Smart Alec Uncredited
2012 A Liar's Autobiography: The Untrue Story of Monty Python's Graham Chapman Himself (Archive footage) Voice
Also Writer
2014 "Monty Python Live (Mostly)" The Colonel and other characters (Archive footage) Also writer


  1. ^ "Chapman, Graham (1941–1989), comedian and writer". 2004. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/55386. 
  2. ^ McCabe 2005, p. 3.
  3. ^ McCabe 2005, pp. 1,7.
  4. ^ McCabe 2005, p. 10.
  5. ^ a b McCabe 2005, p. 11.
  6. ^ Chapman, Graham (2006). Jim Yoakum, ed. Calcium Made Interesting: Sketches, Letters, Essays & Gondolas. London: Pan Books.  ISBN 978-0-330-43543-7; ISBN 0-330-43543-4. Note: This is the same book as listed in the Bibliography, but a year later by a different publisher.
  7. ^ McCabe 2005, p. 16.
  8. ^ McCabe 2005, p. 18.
  9. ^ a b c "Graham Chapman – Writer and Actor"
  10. ^ McCabe 2005, p. 23.
  11. ^ "Entertainment, Queen Mary, University of London". Retrieved 14 August 2012. 
  12. ^ a b c George, Perry (1995). The Life of Python. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Running Press. ISBN 1-56138-568-9. 
  13. ^ 2001 interview included as an extra on the release of the John Cleese film Clockwise.
  14. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  15. ^ Stern, Keith (2009). Queers in History: The Comprehensive Encyclopedia of Historical Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, and Transgenders. BenBella Books. p. 99. ISBN 978-1-935251-83-5. 
  16. ^ Graham Chapman – Comedy Writer and Actor BBC,, 29 January 2003
  17. ^ "Mourning Monty Python Lays to Rest Silly, Brave, Unique Graham Chapman". 
  18. ^ "Monty Python reunion 'unlikely'". BBC News. 9 September 2003. Retrieved 4 May 2010. 
  19. ^ The Pythons Autobiography
  20. ^ Chapman, Graham, and Jim Yoakum. Graham Crackers. N.p.: Career, 1997. Print.
  21. ^ John Cleese, Eric Idle (1989). Graham Chapman's funeral (.SWF) (Video). London, England, United Kingdom: YouTube. Retrieved 20 January 2007.  (transcript)
  22. ^ The Life of Python (2006) George Perry, Pavilion publishing, p200 ISBN 978-1-86205-762-3
  23. ^ "Video:Graham Chapman's Funeral". 19 April 2006. Retrieved 1 June 2011. 
  24. ^ "Python star Chapman's flying ashes". BBC News. 4 January 2000. Retrieved 1 July 2007. 
  25. ^ BBC Comedy Map of Great Britain, 15 September 2006, retrieved 15 September 2006 
  26. ^ "And now for something completely different (and plenty that isn't)". BBC News. 9 March 1998. Retrieved 1 July 2007. 
  27. ^ "Daily Llama – NEWS 2004_02_06 – Worldwide Open Auditions Being Held to Play Young Monty Pythons in Graham Chapman Biography Film:". Retrieved 18 September 2010. 
  28. ^ Cieply, Michael (26 June 2011). "This May Be Something Completely Different". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 June 2011. 
  29. ^ "The search for the biggest Monty Python fan". British Film Institute. September 2012. Retrieved 5 October 2012. 
  30. ^ [1]
  31. ^ Mark Brown. "Monty Python's Graham Chapman honoured with (unofficial) blue plaque". the Guardian. 
  32. ^ "Plaque for Monty Python star Graham Chapman's former home", BBC, 10 December 2014. Retrieved 12 December 2014


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