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English comedian and actor, Eric Idle (b. 1943), was in kinship care as a small child. 

Eric Idle’s father, Ernest, served in the Royal Air Force (RAF) during WWII. He was killed in a road accident on 24 December 1945 while hitchhiking home to join his family in time for Christmas. Eric was just two years old.  

Idle’s mother, Nora, did not cope well with Ernest’s death, and she “disappeared for a while” (Idle). She was depressed. Abandonment by his mother was fundamental to Eric Idle becoming a comedian; he says he was always looking for approval and acceptance.  

Idle “was brought up” by his grandmother who lived in Swinton, Lancashire and her husband, a dentist Eric called Pop. Pop regularly took the young Eric to the Belle Vue Circus in Manchester; Eric’s great-grandfather was Henry Bertrand, a ringmaster in the 1880s with Sanger’s Circus.  

Pop also took me to see various variety shows at the Manchester Hippodrome, where I saw the best of British Music Hall comedians: Morecambe and Wise, Robb Wilton, Jimmy Edwards, Arthur Askey, Norman Evans, Mrs Shufflewick, Norman Wisdom and the Crazy Gang (Idle 6). 

When Idle was five, his grandmother took him to see three movies in one day. “I was hooked right away,” he writes. 

At the age of seven, Idle’s mother took up an offer from the RAF Benevolent Fund providing scholarships for children whose fathers had been killed in the war. This funded his education at the Royal School Wolverhampton 

The school had started life in 1850 as the Wolverhampton Orphan Asylum in response to a cholera epidemic which had left many children without parents. In 1891, a name change to the Royal Orphanage of Wolverhampton came with the permission of Queen Victoria. 

The need for the orphan facility declined over the years as the state took responsibility for orphan and destitute children. Fee-paying pupils were added to the mix and now make up the largest proportion of children in the school. 

In Idle’s time, most of his fellow students were there because their fathers had been killed in the war. 

My first night at the school I found myself in a dormitory with a lot of crying boys. I decided not to join them. What was the point? Earlier that day, when my mother dumped me there, she simply left and disappeared. She didn’t say goodbye, she just took off… 

It was very grim at the time, and is terrifying in retrospect. I was there from seven years old until I managed to escape at nineteen. The terms were an interminable fourteen weeks. At the age of seven they seemed everlasting. Twelve years? You get less for murder (Idle 8). 

From Wolverhampton Royal School, Idle went on to Cambridge University to earn a BA in English Literature. After this, he writes, his “entire life changed”. At Cambridge he met fellow entertainers John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, and Terry Jones.  

In the 1960s and 1970s, Idle and his former Cambridge University classmates performed as the highly successful comedy troupe, Monty Python. Since then, Idle has written television shows, books, plays and performed on stage

Idle is best known for the song, ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’, which he wrote and performed in the Monty Python film, Life of Brian. His “sorta-autobiography,” published in 2018, bears the same title. 

Idle is a survivor of pancreatic cancer. He campaigns to bring hope to others battling the disease.  

 “That’s why I came out about it. I wanted to say: ‘Look, I was very lucky and I survived. And so can you.’ I’ve heard from so many people how much that meant to them. And that chokes me up” (Galvin).

Idle recently launched the Bright Side Fund as part of the UK charity, Stand Up to Cancer. The fundraising efforts will support early detection and research into ground-breaking treatments for pancreatic cancer. 


Galvin, Nick. “Monty Python’s Eric Idle: ‘I’ve survived cancer and crucifixion.’” Sydney Morning Herald, 9 Nov 2022. 

Idle, Eric. Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2018. 

“My Life”. Eric Idle. 

Hattenstone, Simon. ‘I didn’t cry until I knew I was going to live’: Monty Python’s Eric Idle on surviving pancreatic cancer.” The Guardian, 3 Oct 2022. 

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