The lowest-rated show of the week when it premiered on tv in 1978, Eric Idle and Gary Weis’s mockumentry about popular (fictional) British band The Rutles has gained a cult following. This is due in part to the stellar reputations of pretty much everyone involved, but also to the song-writing gifts of Neil Innes, sadly in no longer with us. It’s also a rare chance to see a little talking head action from the late, great Barry Cryer, who died earlier this week. Cryer took this particular aspiring writer under his wing at a BBC writers party in London circa 1999 for some well-heeded advice, and this is the best of the random collection of films he appreared in.
All You Need is Cash is a satirical variety show in which members of the Beatles, Monty Python and Saturday Night Live combine to poke fun at the way the Fab Four’s exploits were reported. Innes contributed 20 songs to the soundtrack, charting the rise of Ron, Dirk, Stig and Barry, the Pre-Fab Four. It’s impossible to write about them without hearing the voice of avuncular narrator and presenter Eric Idle, who contributes a peerless set of gags here, from the rat-cellar the band played in (‘”Rat Keller” means, literally in German, “Cellar of rats”. That’s not “Seller of rats”, a seller of rats, a person who sells rats for a living to another man as it were, of course not.’) to the band’s huge concert at Che Stadium (‘named after the Cuban guerrilla leader Che Stadium’). Idle also surfaces as such august experts as Stanley J. Krammerhead III, Jr., occasional visiting professor of applied narcotics at the University of Please Yourself, California.
Mockumentaries usually have a higher number of celebrity cameos than jokes, but this early entry has tonnes of both, with comic talents like Dan Aykroyd, Michael Palin, Bill Murray and Cryer all contributing brief but amusing scenes, and there’s also a hesitant Paul Simon and a strident Mick Jagger, who seems to find it remarkably in-his-wheelhouse to lie convincingly about his rivalry with the Rutles. George Harrison exec-produces and even turns up, investigating the theft of pretty much everything that’s not nailed down from the band’s business address. Paul and Ringo reputedly weren’t amused by the film, but seem to have come round to it; it’s a loving tribute to the Beatles, even if it doesn’t pull many punches in making fun of them.
Best of all are Innes’s pitch-perfect parody songs, so good they’re fun to listen to in their own right. Ouch perfectly mimics Help’s simplicity, Get Up and Go sends-up Get Back, and Cheese and Onions perfectly nails the languid epiphanies of the Yellow Submarine/Magical Mystery Tour period. Before Spinal Tap, All You Need Is Cash is the original mockumentry, a funny, feature-length comedy that features both subject and parodists in perfect harmony. Innes’ reward was a massive law-suit from ATV Music, but our improved laws on parody should ensure that his music will last for a lunchtime and beyond.