TNB Night Owl – The Rutles

The Rutles dvd, signed by Neil Innes. Photo by AlienMotives

The Rutles. The Pre-fab Four. A band whose legacy would last a lunchtime.

The group started out as a joke on a BBC sketch comedy series by Eric Idle, after Monty Python’s Flying Circus had ended. It almost ended there, with Neil Innes (the songwriter for the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, which might be covered in a future Owl) performing a song designed to be very reminiscent of the Beatles.

It could have ended there, but it didn’t. Eric Idle guest-hosted Saturday Night Live the next year, and Lorne Michaels saw the clip of The Rutles. He offered to produce a mockumentary on the group.

The idea of doing a full special on the group kicked around in the minds of Idle and Innes. The pair were friendly with all of the Beatles, particularly George Harrison, and Harrison decided to help. He brought the pair over and showed them film from an as-yet-unfinished documentary about the Beatles’ development, which they used as the basis for their parody.

Having an outline of the film, they were able to use Lorne Michaels’ pull and their own influence to get guest stars. Most of the original cast of Saturday Night Live have small parts, as does George Harrison. There are interviews with SNL regular musical guest star Paul Simon and Innes’ friend Mick Jagger.

The result was a mockumentary like no other, with actual greats within the field playing with obvious fiction as if it were real. Also, all of the songs for the movie were written by Innes, designed to mimic the development of the various Beatles styles.

Harrison loved it. Lennon loved it. McCartney was reportedly originally displeased by it, but came around because his wife Linda loved it. Ringo was up-and-down on it.

And that was the end of it… until it wasn’t. As a lark, Innes and some of the others occasionally stepped in to play as the Rutles for recordings or charity appearances. But that was the end of it…

…until it wasn’t. In 2002, Idle returned to the Rutles, giving fans of the original film a chance to become a part of the underground hit. David Bowie, Carrie Fisher, Conan O’Brien, Steve Martin, James Taylor, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Hanks and many more took their opportunities to be part of the show.

For a band that never existed, they’ve had a fairly solid career.

Question of the night: What’s your favorite SNL skit?

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.