Neil Innes appeared on Saturday Night Live three times in the late 70's with Eric Idle and/or George Harrison. This is their story.


pic from rutlmania.orgOn April 24, 1976, Lorne Michaels, producer of NBC's Saturday Night, made an on-air offer of $3000 to The Beatles if they would re-unite and perform on the show. The offer was a hilarious spoof on the absurdly high reunion offers that were regularly making the news at the time, in which The Beatles were offered as much as one hundred million dollars for a single concert.

Needless to say, The Beatles didn't take Michaels up on his offer, but it turned out to be precisely the entrée that was needed to get The Rutles onto American television. Lorne Michaels tells the story, in his introduction to the "I Must Be In Love" film.

Interestingly, the Rutles clip made its world premiere on NBC's Saturday Night, since the Rutland Weekend Television programme from which it was taken wouldn't air in the U.K. for six more weeks.

Air Date: October 2nd, 1976
Host: Eric Idle
Musical Guest: Joe Cocker, Stuff
Special Guest: Richard Belzer

SKETCHES [info and photos from

The New Chevy Chase: Impostor (Richard Belzer) attempts to replace hospitalized Chevy Chase.
Eric Idle's Monologue: Jane Curtin interrupts Eric's screaming version of "Here Comes The Sun".
Genetics: Doctor (Idle) offers expecting couple their choice of genetic traits.
KLOG DJ: AM/FM sister stations share the use of one disc jockey (Dan Aykroyd).
Killer Bees: Idle ruins a Killer Bees sketch with his British dialect.
Joe Cocker performs "You Are So Beautiful"
Baba Wawa: Before leaving NBC, Baba Wawa (Gilda Radner) explains why.
Weekend Update with Jane Curtin: Amateur drawings recount boxing match between Norton and Ali; Garrett Morris reports on prank circumcision of Michelangelo's David; Johnny Carson clip shows Ed Ames (John Belushi) attacking the silhouette.
Epifix: Druggist (Dan Aykroyd) uses product injection to relieve headache.
The Rutles: Lying Idle tricked Lorne Michaels out of money intended for The Beatles. Substitute video shows performance of British group The Rutles.
Nazi Hangout: A pair of spies (Idle) & (Dan Aykroyd) discuss plans.
. Joe Cocker & Joe Cocker (John Belushi) perform "Feelin' Alright"
Dragnet: Joe Friday (Dan Aykroyd) and companion (Idle) wear women's clothes. John Belushi explains to Idle that British drag humor doesn't work in America.
Drag Racing Today: Idle and Dan Aykroyd race on foot and in women's clothing.
Stuff performs "Foots"
The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau / Pets & Petting: Idle pours cheesecake, wine, coffee and more into a fish tank.
Ken Norton: Norton (Garrett Morris) insists he's a better boxer than Mohammad Ali.
Cufflinks Of The Gods: Erica Viedonagen (Laraine Newman) explores possibility of alien comic existence.
Pong:While playing Pong, Al Franken and Tom Davis relay answers to a tough Math problem.

From During the first season of "Saturday Night Live," (April, 1976) producer Lorne Michaels parodied the multimillion dollar offers for a Beatles reunion by publicly offering the "generous" sum of $3000 live on the air. Little did Michaels know that the offer nearly succeeded, with John and Paul going so far as to call a taxi to take them to the studios from the nearby Dakota. (Where the duo were watching the show together) As John relates in his "Playboy" interview, "We nearly got into a cab, but we were actually too tired." The program would milk the "offer" for all it was worth. These included: a second plea from Michaels (where he upped the offer to $3200), the launch of the Rutles on SNL (October, 1976), and joking asides from Michaels to both George Harrison (November, 1976) and Paul McCartney (February, 1993) when they appeared as musical guests.

"$750 is pretty chintzy." ~ George Harrison to Lorne Michaels on an SNL episode, upon finding out he'd only get 1/4 of the $3,000. Aired on November 20th, 1976,this episode also featured George's Crackerbox Palace and This Song videos... which leads us to the 2nd time Neil appeared on SNL...

Directed by Eric Idle, Neil appeared throughout George Harrison's "Crackerbox Palace" video: first as the pram-pushing nanny, then as one of the Church Police, then as the bathrobe guy with a duck on his head. Several other people in the video are wearing something out of the Neil Innes costume box; the guy who kinda looks like Graham Chapman is wearing Neil's Stoop Solo gorilla chest and that little Indian guy who looks really familiar is wearing his Union Jack pajamas!

Neil in George Harrison's "Crackerbox Palace"
click to see bigger pic without circles

Neil also appeared in George's "True Love" video as the guardian angel, and in 1979 he directed George Harrison's "Blow Away" video.


photo from

Eric Idle's hosting stint on Saturday Night went so well that he was invited back to host a second show later that season, on April 23, 1977. One of the musical guests on that show was Neil Innes.
    Great Britain had been going through enormous financial difficulties in the late seventies, and Eric Idle was determined to do something about it. This episode of Saturday Night is conducted as the "Save Great Britain Telethon." Idle makes an amusing apology as the show begins, and throughout the episode, viewers are asked to pledge money to help keep Great Britain afloat.This was sufficient cause to bring former Rutle Ron Nasty, now living in New York, out of seclusion. In support of the telethon, Nasty plays "Cheese and Onions" and Neil Innes performs Shangri-la.

"Overall, if you want my main impression, I felt, having read Catch-22 and the idea of trying to get out of doing your 30 bombing missions over Germany or whatever, I felt like one episode of Saturday Night Live was equivalent of doing 30 missions of bombing over enemy country. And all the sort of things that could go wrong. Such was the tension.

"When we came to doing Shangri-la, I'm saying, 'Well, I do this bit over with the band, and it'd be nice to go to a silly place. Can we make some cut-out flowers, it doesn't matter, just be naff, just it'd be nice to walk to one place to another.' The director was going, 'Oh, I don't know, yeah, oh, whatever…' and I remember at one point he was sort of clutching his hands to his head saying, 'We don't have a show, we don't have a show!' He was a bit of a baby, actually. It makes perfect sense to anyone else. You do the verses by the band and you walk over to a few cutout flowers and do something daft! Reality in the verses and then you go to Shangri-la in the chorus. Anyone who's got a book on Shangri-la with a map knows that that's exactly what happens!

"Jeanette Charles, being the queen look-alike, was flown over to be the queen. To do the kneeing the mountie in the groin and what have you. And she was on the same plane as me. But I was in business class, and she was in coach. But the thing is… that woman… I actually didn't realize until we got to New York that she was on the same plane. But the trouble is, you know she's very good at impersonating the queen, the only thing is, she doesn't know when to stop! And so she does it all the time! And I had to share a limo from Kennedy Airport into New York with her, and I wanted to chew my own foot off after the journey. Because she just wouldn't let it stop! I'd say, 'How do you find New York?' (with a queeny accent) 'Oh, it's most interesting.' I tried everything to make her drop it. I'll rephrase that.

"After dress rehearsals — the dress rehearsals was always an hour longer than you need — everyone goes back to their dressing rooms. Then about 20 minutes before you go on air, you have a look, and they've pinned up the running order, and you actually see then what is left in. And if you're left in, you get on with it. And if you're cut out, you just… you're cut out! And a very serious party afterwards. And then everyone goes to sleep until Wednesday again.

"A year or so later, because the Rutles would have been out, and the New Musical Express, better known as the NME, rang me up and said, 'We've got a bootleg Beatle record, and there's a Rutles song on it. What have you got to say?' And I said, 'I don't know. How does it go? Can you play it to me over the phone?' And they played it to me over the phone, and it turned out to be the Saturday Night Live recording of Cheese and Onions. And I said, 'You twits, it's me!' It's the people putting the bootleg Beatle album wrong. But they thought they'd really got me."

Air Date: April 23rd, 1977
Host: Eric Idle
Musical Guests: Neil Innes and Alan Price
Special Guest: Jeanette Charles

SKETCHES [info from]

Potato Torture: Only one way for British soldier (Eric Idle) to make Irishman (Bill Murray) talk.
Eric Idle's Monologue: Idle and Queen Elizabeth II (Jeanette Charles, who also plays the queen in All You Need Is Cash) host a Save Great Britain telethon.
The American Dope Growers Union: "Look for the union label..."
The Nixon Interviews: Richard Nixon (Dan Aykroyd) is a tiresome interview for David Frost (Idle).
The Telethon: $20 has been raised since the monologue.
Alan Price performs "Poor People"
"Body Language": Eric Idle narrates a Gary Weis film on the subject. (Eric appears as the man who's body language shows us that he needs to visit the bathroom. Neil appears first as a hapless man who buys insurance then promptly gets hit by a car, then as the man who's body language tells us "I am drunk.")
Weekend Update with Jane Curtin: Bill Murray delivers editorial on spanking, recalls bad memories; Emily Litella (Gilda Radner) sings "I Will Swallow Him" for Tom Snyder.
Heavy Wit Championship: Boxers (Eric Idle and John Belushi) seek laughs.
Rutle Ron Nasty (Neil Innes) performs "Cheese & Onions"
The Battle of Britain: Low-budget British war film.
Neil Innes performs "Shangri-La"
Plain Talk: Eric Idle and Dan Aykroyd perform "Gibberish", a sketch from Rutland Weekend Television.
Flight Precautions: Flight attendant Sherry (Laraine Newman) heeds gun-toting passengers.
Alan Price performs "In Times Like These"
The Telethon: Bill Murray buys grape juice with the telethon's money.

Cheese and Onions



Next: The 80's


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