George Harrison‘s wife, Olivia, thought her husband’s performance of “The Pirate Song” on Rutland Weekend Television was the bravest thing he ever did. The former Beatle proved he’d do anything for comedy.
The former Beatle fell in love with The Rutles
In 1975, Eric Idle and Neil Innes created a sketch that followed a fictional band based on The Beatles called The Rutles. The sketch appeared on Idle’s BBC television series Rutland Weekend Television later that year.
In 1976, Idle played clips of The Rutles on SNL. Producer Lorne Michaels liked the sketch and agreed to produce The Rutles‘ movie, All You Need Is Cash, with Idle. The Rutles line-up included Ron Nasty (Innes), Dirk McQuickly (Idle), Stig O’Hara (Ricky Fataar), and Barry Wom (John Halsey).
George was involved from the start. He immediately signed on to play a reporter. Director Gary Weis said (per The Rutles’ website), “George Harrison was involved almost from the beginning. He was around quite a lot, even when he didn’t need to be there.
“We were sitting around in Eric’s kitchen one day, planning a sequence that really ripped into the mythology and George looked up and said, ‘We were The Beatles, you know!’ Then he shook his head and said, ‘Aw, never mind.’ I think he was the only one of The Beatles who could see the irony of it all.”
In an interview with Yahoo!, Idle said that The Rutles did liberate George. “He would always refer to the Beatles as ‘The Rutles’ ever since,” he said. “When I’d talk to him, he’d say, ‘When I was in the Rutles…’”
The Rutles allowed George to joke about his time with The Beatles. Suddenly, all the pent-up anger and resentment about his former band dissipated. The parody made George come to terms with being a Beatle.
How George Harrison’s ‘The Pirate Song’ was born
In his 1980 memoir, I Me Mine, George wrote that he came up with “The Pirate Song” for the pirate sketch on the Rutland Weekend Television Christmas Show in 1975.
“It was co-written (words and music) by Eric Idle and myself,” George wrote. “… All my friends are pirates.”
In Idle’s biography, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography, he wrote, “George lurched on as a truculent and slightly unstable pirate and demanded to know where the Pirate sketch was. As the sleazy compere, I insisted he was only there to sing ‘My Sweet Lord,’ and there was no pirate sketch. But he was having none of that. ‘No pirate sketch? Well, up you then,’ and off he stormed…”
George’s wife said her husband’s performance of ‘The Pirate Song’ was the bravest thing he ever did
In his book, The Greedy Bastard Diary, Idle wrote that he got an e-mail from George’s wife, Olivia, that said she thought her husband’s performance of “The Pirate Song” was the bravest thing he’d ever done.
“I got an e-mail from Liv the other day saying she thought George performing ‘The Pirate Song’ on ‘Rutland Weekend Television’ was the bravest thing he ever did and that she wanted to be a pirate, too,” Idle wrote. “Well, his dark sweet lady was the love of his life, and I know how much he loved her; a braver, finer, lovelier companion no man could ever find…”
The Beatles’ press agent and one of George’s good friends, Derek Taylor, explained George perfectly. “I have had to find one word to say what the man is,” Taylor wrote in I Me Mine. “‘Brave’ comes near, but it has too close a relationship with suffering and I have therefore concluded that, pirate as he is, he deserves the word ‘bold,’ for he is, in truth, quite the boldest man I have ever met.”