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Yellowbeard is a 1983 comedy film by Graham Chapman, along with Peter Cook, Bernard McKenna and David Sherlock. It was directed by Mel Damski. The film included Marty Feldman in his last film appearance.


The pirate Yellowbeard (Chapman) was incarcerated for 20 years for tax evasion — apart from his years terrorizing the high seas ("Often forcing his victims to eat their own lips..."). He survives the sentence but has not disclosed the whereabouts of his vast treasure. The Royal Navy hatches a plot to increase his sentence by 140 years, knowing that he'll escape in a rage to set out for his treasure. This he does, recruiting a motley crew of companions. He had left a map of the treasure in the chimney of his wife's pub, but she burned the map. She then tells Yellowbeard that she had the map tattooed on their son's head. Things go wrong when his former shipmate-turned-traitor Bosun Moon's (Boyle) press gangs take over the ship. With the Head of the Secret Service (Idle) hot on their trail, they eventually find the island, where a group of AWOL Spanish Conquistadors (Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong) have taken residence with their ill-gotten gains, and the battle for the treasure commences. During the battle he is wandering the beach saying "Stagger, Stagger, Crawl, Crawl" in reference to the battle in which he hid the treasure.


The original concept for the film was funded by Graham's close friend Keith Moon, who wanted to play the lead role, but was dropped early on because of his obviously deteriorating health.

The film has a complicated development history, largely due to the amount of time it took to get funding. There are at least four versions of the script drafts. The one that's "truest to Graham and Bernard McKenna's original version" is published in the book Yellowbeard: High jinks on the high seas Major differences between Graham and McKenna's script and the one altered at Hollywood request are the original has less emphasis on minor characters, and more emphasis on the overall plot. (Peter Cook is given credit because in October 1980, Graham asked Cook to help with one of the rewrites.)

Among the bewildering number of changes was the change of the lead from Adam Ant to Sting to Martin Hewitt. Adam Ant was frustrated with production delays and quit. Sting wanted to play the role, but the Hollywood producers thought the film was becoming too British. Hewitt is quoted, "Sting should have had my part. For crying out loud, I would have hired Sting over me any day."

Graham's friend Harry Nilsson created a preliminary soundtrack, including one song specifically for the movie. This was not used, because the producers felt he could not be relied on to finish it.

Graham was not allowed to assist with the editing, and his editing comments on the first cut were ignored. His comments included shortening the credits so that audience expectation was not too far raised, and making the jokes less obvious.



Marty Feldman died of a heart attack while filming in Mexico Citymarker in 1982. As a result, his character is killed off during the film, in an insert that was filmed afterwards. Graham said about this, "I try to look at the positive side...I take pleasure knowing that Marty was back on form for his last role."

Three ships in the film were portrayed by MGM's Bounty II, built for the 1962 remake of Mutiny On The Bounty. The pirate ship was named the "Edith" after Graham Chapman's mother.

Critical reception

The film received a fair amount of praise, The Los Angeles Times wrote "There are many moments of hilarity here". However it was not a big box office success. Various reasons are suggested, such as the peculiar combination of British and American humor, and it being poorly timed given the movie climate with other kinds of comedy being popular. DVD Verdict gives it 75 out of 100, points out that if the film isn't a comedy classic, that it's still funny, at times hilarious.

Cleese played a part out of loyalty to Graham Chapman. He said he found the script to be one of the worst he'd read. (It is unclear which version he was referring to.) In a 2001 interview, Cleese described Yellowbeard as, "one of the six worst films made in the history of the world."

Although Eric Idle names other movies as the worst he's made, he includes Yellowbeard in that list. However, "sometimes, the best times can be on the worst movies and vice versa, e.g., Yellowbeard, which I wouldn't have missed for the world."


  1. Chapman, Graham Yellowbeard: High jinks on the high seas, Carroll & Graf 2005, p. 1
  2. Chapman, p. 37
  3. Chapman, p. 9
  4. Chapman, p. 22
  5. Chapman, pp. 24-5
  6. Chapman, p. 34
  7. Chapman, p. 32
  9. 2001 interview included as an extra on the DVD release of the John Cleese movie Clockwise.

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