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The Rutles (also known as the Prefab Four) are a band that are known for their visual and aural pastiches and parodies of The Beatles. Originally created by Eric Idle and Neil Innes as a fictional band to be featured as part of various 1970s television programming, the group (remaining a parody of The Beatles) recorded, toured, and released two UK chart hits in reality.
Initially created for a short sketch in Idle's UK television comedy series Rutland Weekend Television, The Rutles gained international fame after being the focus of the 1978 mockumentary television film, All You Need Is Cash (often referred to as just The Rutles). Having been encouraged by the reaction to the sketch, featuring Beatles' music pastiches by Neil Innes, the film was written by Idle, who co-directed it with Gary Weis. It featured 20 songs written by Innes, which he performed with three musicians as "The Rutles". A successful soundtrack album in 1978 was, much later, followed in 1996 by Archaeology, which spoofed the Beatles' Anthology series which had recently been released. The Rutles pre-date the American parody Spinal Tap by about a year.
A second film, The Rutles 2: Can't Buy Me Lunch — modelled on the 2000 TV special The Beatles Revolution — was made in 2002 and released in the US on DVD in 2003, but it did not prove as popular as the original film.
Rutland Weekend Television version (1975-76)Edit
The Rutles members in the original 1975 skit on Rutland Weekend Television, which subsequently aired on Saturday Night Live, were:
- "Nasty" — Neil Innes;
- "Stig" — David Battley;
- "Dirk" — Eric Idle;
- "Barry" — John Halsey.
In the original skit "Stig" is the Paul McCartney character and was portrayed by Battley, with Idle portraying the George Harrison character as "Dirk". The John Lennon character is named "Nasty". The Ringo Starr character was originally named Barry, although in the series spin-off book "The Rutland Weekend Songbook", this character is mistakenly identified as "Kevin" -- the only appearance of this name in the entire Rutles canon. In the original sketch, the characters are given only the singular names Stig, Dirk, Barry, and Nasty.
However, as would happen frequently during the Rutles existence, some of the actors lip-synching The Rutles music on-screen were not musicians, and did not participate in the recording process. Rutles music for Rutland Weekend Television and the spin-off album The Rutland Weekend Songbook was recorded by Neil's Innes' own band Fatso, which consisted of:
- Neil Innes - piano, vocal
- John Halsey - drums
- Roger Rettig - guitar
- Billy Bremner - guitar
- Brian Hodgson - bass
All You Need Is Cash version (1978)Edit
In adapting the characters for a full-length TV feature, several changes were made. Idle continued to play "Dirk", but Dirk was now modelled after Paul McCartney, not George Harrison. Battley was replaced as Stig by Rikki Fataar, and Stig became the George Harrison-inspired character. Additionally, the characters now all had first and last names.
The Rutles members in All You Need Is Cash were:
- Ron Nasty (styled after John Lennon) — played by Neil Innes
- Dirk McQuickly (styled after Paul McCartney) — played by Eric Idle
- Stig O'Hara (styled after George Harrison) — played by Rikki Fataar
- Barry Wom, ne Barrington Womble (styled after Ringo Starr) — played by John Halsey. The character's truncated name was a play on how Ringo had changed his name from 'Richard Starkey' to 'Ringo Starr'.
Also, in tracing the fictional history of the band, one other member was mentioned:
- Leppo, The Fifth Rutle (styled after Stuart Sutcliffe) — seen only in a still photograph. The photo showed Ollie Halsall, who played and sang on the soundtrack. This name parodies that of the fifth Marx Brothers' member, Gummo Marx as well as Zeppo's.
Once again, the band that recorded the actual music was slightly different to the band that appeared on camera, as Idle did not take part in the recording process. On the soundtrack release of the music from All You Need Is Cash, The Rutles were officially:
- Neil Innes: guitar, keyboards, vocals. Innes sang the John Lennon-inspired songs.
- Ollie Halsall: guitar, keyboards, vocals. Halsall sang the Paul McCartney-inspired songs.
- Rikki Fataar: guitar, bass, sitar, tabla, vocals. Fataar sang the George Harrison-inspired songs.
- John Halsey: percussion, vocals. Halsey sang the Ringo Starr- inspired songs.
- Andy Brown: bass
While the Rutles are often thought of as a four-piece band, the credits of the original LP release of their first album makes it quite clear they were a five piece band. Brown, however, did not appear in any role in All You Need Is Cash, and was not part of any Rutles reunion.
Archaeology version (1996)Edit
After an 18-year hiatus, The Rutles (Innes, Halsey and Fataar) reconvened to record the 1996 album Archaeology (parody of the Beatles Anthology). Halsall had died in 1992, but appears on several tracks that were outtakes from the original 1978 album, and is credited as a band member (similar to the Beatles' "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love").
On record the band was augmented by keyboardist Mickey Simmonds, who would go on to play with the band live. Also appearing on the record was bassist Malcolm Foster, (ex-Pretenders), as The Rutles had no bass player. Guitarists Dougie Boyle and Bernie Holland were also featured.
Subsequent touring versions (1997–present)Edit
Innes and Halsey toured as The Rutles in the UK, augmented by other musicians. The touring group performs songs from the Rutles repertoire and from Innes's own solo career.
The touring version:
- Neil Inne — piano, guitar and vocals;
- John Halsey — drums;
- Mark Griffiths — bass guitar and vocals;
- Mickey Simmonds — keyboards and vocals;
- Ken Thornton — lead guitar;(nicknamed "Rutling" by Neil Innes)
- J.J. Jones — percussion.
Fataar played with this touring version of The Rutles on certain dates.
Rutland Weekend Television (1975-76)Edit
The Rutles began in 1975 as a sketch on Idle's BBC television series Rutland Weekend Television. The sketch presented Neil Innes (ex-Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band) fronting The Rutles singing "I Must Be In Love", a pastiche of a 1964 Lennon-McCartney tune. The band name was a continuation of the regional premise of the TV show.
The show was presented as a programme by a fictional TV network in Rutland, the smallest county in England. One running joke was that it was run on a shoestring. If the show parodied a topic, it would use names derivative of "Rutland". When Idle and Innes created a parody of the Beatles, Idle suggested "Rutles".
Innes was the musician/composer for the series and created songs with ideas on how they could be presented.
Innes came up with parodying A Hard Day's Night. He had written "I Must Be In Love" which he realised sounded very "Beatley" and thought of the Rutles skit. He passed the idea to Idle, who had a separate idea about a boring TV documentary maker. They merged the ideas into one extended film shot for the TV show.
The Rutles had connections with The Beatles, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Monty Python. The Beatles were fans of the Bonzos: they featured them in the 1967 film Magical Mystery Tour and Paul McCartney (working with Gus Dudgeon under the alias Apollo C. Vermouth) had produced their 1968 hit single "I'm the Urban Spaceman". The Bonzos and members of the Python team worked together in the late 1960s on the TV comedy show Do Not Adjust Your Set. George Harrison was a Python fan as well as being involved in The Rutles film (see below), his company Handmade Films later took over production of Python film Life Of Brian after the original backers pulled out, fearing its subject was too controversial, as well as financing the two first solo films of ex-Python Terry Gilliam, Jabberwocky and Time Bandits.
In merchandising for the TV series, references were made to a Rutles album (Finchley Road) and a single ("Ticket To Rut"). In 1976, BBC Records produced The Rutland Weekend Songbook, an album containing 23 tracks including the Rutles songs "I Must Be In Love" and "The Children Of Rock And Roll" (later reworked as "Good Times Roll").
Saturday Night Live (1976)Edit
Two years later, on 2 October 1976 , when Idle appeared on the American NBC show Saturday Night (later Saturday Night Live), he took videotape extracts from Rutland Weekend Television — including the Rutles clip. That led to a suggestion by SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels to extend the skit into a one-hour mock documentary. This proposal led to the 1978 mockumentary All You Need Is Cash, directed by SNL film director Gary Weis (responsible for the programme's short films), though Idle was credited as co-director.
Saturday Night Live (1977)Edit
On 23 April 1977, Idle made another appearance on Saturday Night Live, bringing along Neil Innes as a musical guest. A running theme for this episode is the "Save Great Britain Telethon," and at one point there is an appearance by "The Rutle who lives in New York, Nasty". Innes appeared as Nasty with a lone white piano, singing a short version of "Cheese & Onions". Later in the episode, as Neil Innes, he performed a pre-Rutles version of "Shangri-La".
The real Beatles' reactionsEdit
Actual Beatle George Harrison was involved in the project from the beginning. Producer Gary Weis said, "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 really could see the irony of it all." George plays the interviewer who has his microphone stolen at Rutle Corp.
Harrison said that "the Rutles sort of liberated me from the Beatles in a way. It was the only thing I saw of those Beatles television shows they made. It was actually the best, funniest and most scathing. But at the same time, it was done with the most love." Harrison showed Innes and Idle the Beatles unreleased official documentary The Long and Winding Road, made by Neil Aspinall. (Aspinall's documentary would be resurrected as The Beatles Anthology.) Ringo Starr liked the happier scenes in the film, but felt the scenes that mimicked sadder times hit too close. John Lennon loved the film and refused to return the videotape and soundtrack he was given for approval. He told Innes, however, that "Get Up and Go" was too close to the Beatles' "Get Back" and to be careful not to be sued by ATV Music, owners of the Beatles catalogue's copyright at the time. The song was consequently omitted from the 1978 vinyl LP soundtrack. Paul McCartney, who had just released his own album, London Town, always answered, "No comment." According to Innes: "He had a dinner at some awards thing at the same table as Eric one night and Eric said it was a little frosty." Idle claimed McCartney changed his mind because his wife Linda thought it was funny.
All the group members, and Apple Corps, consented to use of the Beatles's Shea Stadium concert footage, along with other "real" footage cut in with Rutle footage.
Idle claims on the All You Need Is Cash DVD commentary track that Harrison and Starr at one point discussed starting a band with Innes and Idle, based on the Beatles' and Rutles's shared and imaginary histories. But if he was correct, then this never came to pass. Harrison and Starr also surprised him and Innes one day by singing a version of "Ouch;" two of the Beatles singing a Rutles song to two of The Rutles.