Graham Chapman


Graham Chapman : biography

df=y August 1 – 4 October 1989

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:

Palin later spoke after Cleese, saying that he liked to think that Chapman was there with them all that day—"or rather, he will be in about 25 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 friends and family in a rendition of "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." On 31 December 1999, Chapman’s ashes were rumoured to have been "blasted into the skies in a rocket". In reality, Sherlock scattered Chapman’s ashes on Snowdon, North Wales, on 18 June 2005.

Early life and education

Chapman was born at the Stoneygate Nursing Home, Stoneygate, Leicester. He was educated at Melton Mowbray Grammar School and studied medicine at St Bartholomew’s Medical College and later at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He was an avid fan of radio comedy from an early age, becoming especially drawn to that of The Goon Show. In the introduction to Chapman’s (2005/2006) posthumous anthology, Jim Yoakum notes that "the radio shows didn’t necessarily make him laugh. Only a select few got chuckles from young Chapman including 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. ‘I especially liked Robert Moreton, although no one else seemed to like him very much. He would do things like tell jokes the wrong way around and switch punch lines. He was obviously a very good comedian and was ahead of his time. The appearance of incompetence was wonderful. He was one of my heroes.’ But the show that truly astounded Graham, and was a major influence on his comedy was The Goon Show" (p.xvii). Chapman states "from about the age of seven or eight I used to be an avid listener of a radio programme called The Goon Show. In fact, at that stage I wanted to be a Goon" (p. 23). 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.

Personal life

Chapman was a tall (6’2"/1.88 m), craggy pipe-smoker who enjoyed mountaineering and playing rugby. He was an alcoholic from his time in medical school. His fellow Pythons noted he felt he needed a drink or two to "face the world" and at times would forget in the afternoon material that had been written the same day. His drinking also affected his performance on the TV recording set as well as on the set of Holy Grail, where he suffered from withdrawal symptoms including delirium tremens. He stopped drinking on Boxing Day 1977, having just annoyed the other Pythons with an outspoken (and drunken) interview with the New Musical Express. Before going sober, Chapman jokingly referred to himself as the British actress Betty Marsden, possibly because of Marsden’s oft-quoted desire to die with a glass of gin in her hand. John Cleese used Marsden’s name in his eulogy at Chapman’s memorial service.

Chapman kept his sexuality a secret until 1967, although he did allude to it in some Monty Python sketches. He came out as homosexual on a chat show hosted by British jazz musician George Melly, becoming one of the first celebrities to come out publicly. Several days later, he came out 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 fellow Pythons already aware of his sexual orientation, Eric Idle replied, "We’ve found out who it was and we’ve taken him out and had him killed." 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 LGBT 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 teenager was a runaway 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. BBC,, 29 January 2003

Among Chapman’s closest friends were Keith Moon of The Who, singer Harry Nilsson, Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden, and The Beatles’ Ringo Starr.