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Holy grail of Eric Idle story

Wolverhampton | | Published:

At the age of just nine, he was already a master of words, scoring 80 per cent in his end-of-year exam in English Language.

In acknowledgement, Monty Python comedian Eric Idle's report from The Royal Wolverhampton School in 1959 bears the enthusiastic postcript: 'Congratulations on a very good result!!!'

Report from the Royal Wolverhampton School, 1959

The pristine document is part of a collection of never-before-published photographs and memorabilia put together by the comic's mother, which is up for auction later this month.

The Spamalot writer sold Nora Idle's Warwickshire home and contents when she passed away at his house in Los Angeles in 1996.

Eric's parents Nora and Earnest Idle pictured in 1942 – Ernest died in 1945

An anonymous buyer snapped up an old box of belongings and was over the moon to discover it contained more than 150 unpublished family photos of the young Eric.

The archive also has early pictures of the Python crew, both at work and play, as well as postcards sent home from one of their worldwide tours.

Even as a baby, he had a beaming smile and growing up, it is clear that Nora did her best to see he did not miss out.

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A very happy Eric as a baby

There are several snaps of days out on the beach. In one, pictured beside a pier, he is dressed immaculately in a short-trousered suit with shirt and tie.

A young, smartly-dressed Eric on a beach in the 1940s

In another, he wears an elaborate red indian costume with feathered headdress and shield, while in another he is showing off a new scooter.

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A young Eric playing at dressing up in the late 1940s

Ernest Idle, who served in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, died in a car crash on Christmas Eve in 1945, having survived the conflict.

Baby pictures of Idle junior bear the inscription: 'To Daddy, with lots of love, Eric xxx', indicating that they were posted to the pilot at his wartime airfield base. One, which shows a two-year-old Eric in the garden looking skywards, bears the caption: 'Eric looking for his dad's plane, 1945.'

Her husband's untimely death was the reason behind Nora's decision to send her son to board at Wolverhampton from his home in South Shields, then in the county of Durham.

She was having difficulty coping with a full-time job and bringing up a child so, when Eric was seven, she enrolled him in The Royal School as a boarder, at the time an orphanage dedicated to the education of children who had lost one or both parents.

Moving to post-war Wolverhampton was not easy one for the youngster.

As a result he threw himself into his studies.

His work with the Pythons has often been characterised by an obsession with language.

Many of his characters had verbal peculiarities, such as the man who spoke in anagrams and the man who says words in the wrong order.

His 80 per cent mark in his English language paper in 1959, at the age of 16, was a signal perhaps of where his career interests would lie.

According to the report, he also showed talent in geography(70 per cent) and maths(65 per cent), as well as history and French(both 60 per cent), while his physics with chemistry effort was awarded a respectable 55 per cent.

Oddly, his worst mark was for English literature – 45 per cent – indicating he probably hadn't read the set books.

Although it is a period of his life he does not look back on with many fond memories, the comic has credited the tough regime for providing ideal training for his life in comedy.

In The Pythons Autobiography by The Pythons, he said: "I got used to dealing with groups of boys and getting on with life in unpleasant circumstances and being smart and funny and subversive at the expense of authority. Perfect training for Python."

A letter to his mother from his time at the school

A newsy letter home on headed school notepaper early on in his time at Wolverhampton is among the collection going under the hammer.

It reads: 'Dear Mummy, how are you today? I had a lovely time at the circus. We have not had so much sun this week. I am writing this letter on my own. I have been playing on the rough patch a lot. We have got lots of flowers about and the form room looks very gay. There is a new Aquarium. Thank you for your letters. I hope you are well and happy. Lots of love from Eric.'

He adds a flurry of kisses and the comical postscript, suggesting his mother was about to visit: 'Don't bring any salad, only strawberries to share with the table, or else fruit, old Mar Cartney told Mrs Evans.'

Nora is pictured during one visit to Wolverhampton – for the school sports day in 1951 – when Eric was eight, which was probably the visit he was referring to in his letter.

Sports day in Wolverhampton, with mother in 1951

Idle, who went on to become head boy, said that the two things that made his life bearable at this time were listening to Radio Luxembourg under the bedclothes and watching the Wolves.

Although he hated taking part in sports, he was a regular at Molineux during his time in the city.

He also loved going to the cinema and would sneak out of school every Thursday afternoon to the local picture house.

He was eventually caught by the headteacher watching the X-rated film BUtterfield 8 at The Savoy Cinema on Bilston Street.

As a result he was stripped of his prefect's badge and left the school shortly after. He went on to land a place at Cambridge University.

The close bond between mother and son is evident from the photographs. In one he is pictured with an arm around her shoulders as she clasps his hand and puts her other arm around his waist.

Both are smiling unselfconsciously for the camera.

With accommodation chalets in the background, it is thought the was taken at a Butlin's holiday camp.

Eric Idle and his mum Nora from around early 1965's

Another picture definitely taken at Butlin's shows a broadly grinning Eric in the middle of a group of young boys and girls in front of a table-tennis table.

The revealing collection is expected to sell for up to £7,000 when it goes back up for sale at Dominic Winter auctioneers in Gloucestershire next month.

Auctioneer Chris Albury said: "When Eric Idle's mum Nora passed away in 1996, from what we understand he remotely organised the sale of the house.

"This material was among that collection of effects.

"It was just in a huge box, and it has taken till now to sort through it and discover its significance.

"Python material doesn't turn up very frequently.

"It is a very candid and personal – not in a negative way, just in that it is Eric Idle being himself.

"There is a school report which shows that perhaps unsurprisingly he got his highest marks in English

"There are signed books from the other Pythons also.

Eric with Michael Palin, top right, and Terry Jones, bottom left

"It seems Nora was well-liked by them, and in books from Michael Palin the two appear to share inside jokes."

Treasured postcards from Idle to his mum will go under the hammer, including one from Berlin in the 1960s when he talks about the divided city.

Writing in blue fountain pen, he said: "We went on a tour of the East this afternoon. Very good.

"Berlin is a wonderful city but the situation is very complex. We have seen the wall."

In a postcard from Canada around the same time, he told his mother of the great reception from fans.

"Show going very well – fired up and excellent audiences," he wrote.

His schoolboy stamp collection, a signed poster of the Monty Python's First Farewell Tour, and personal snaps of the team relaxing between shows are also included.

During the filming of The Meaning of Life film in 1982

Experts think it could be snapped up by a publisher hoping to make a new book for fans.

Chris said: "It could go to a fan or possibly to a publisher.

"It would make a good fan tribute book if the legalities can be sorted out with Eric Idle himself."

The collection goes up for sale as one lot on October 8.

With his mum on the Nuns on the Run set, 1989

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