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Fresh Air Comedy Week: Musical Satirist Neil Innes.

Record producer and songwriter Neil Innes. He is a founding member of the comedy-rock group "The Bonzo Dog Band." He's also a member of "Rutles" the band which he and Eric Idle of Monty Python, created as a spoof of the Beatles. The band recently reunited and recorded a new collection "The Rutles Archaeology" (Virgin Records). Innes is also considered the "seventh Python" player (as in the Monty Python) because he provided and performed comedy music for the troupe. The Rutles first came to the attention of the public in 1978 when their spoof documentary "All You Need is Cash" aired. Many of the original stars of Saturday Night Live appeared in the film. (The film is on video by Rhino). (REBROADCAST from 1/15/97.)


Other segments from the episode on August 28, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 28, 1997: Interview with Neil Innes; Interview with John Leguizamo; Interview with Lea DeLaria; Obituary for Brandon Tartikoff.


Date: AUGUST 28, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 082801np.217
Head: Neil Innes
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

FRESH AIR's Comedy Week continues with some great musical satire. "The Rutles" is a band that was created in the '70s to spoof the Beatles. This year, the Rutles released a reunion album.

Earlier this year, I spoke with Neil Innes. He co-founded the Rutles with Eric Idle of Monty Python fame. Innes wrote and produced the Rutles' music. Idol wrote and co-produced a spoof documentary film called "The Rutles" which is now out on video. George Harrison, a genuine Beatle and a long-time friend of Innes, appeared in the Rutles documentary as a TV interviewer.

Neil Innes also wrote a lot of music for Monty Python and co-founded the cult music comedy group "The Bonzo Dog Band." The Rutles started after Eric Idle asked Neil Innes to help write a parody of "A Hard Day's Night" for a British comedy series called "Rutland Weekly TV."

NEIL INNES, MUSICIAN AND COMEDIAN: That's all it was, initially. And then there was a whole sequence of excitement and disappointment about the Beatles getting together again in New York, and I think somebody was offering $3 million or something for the Beatles to get back together again.

And on "Saturday Night Live," Lorne Michaels came up with the idea to offer $3,000 for...


... and actually got George Harrison to turn up and accept it, only to be told he had to share it with the other three, although he needn't tell Ringo -- this sort of banter, you know.

And then, we got Eric Idle to host the show 'cause he said he could get the Beatles together for $300. And so in fact he couldn't, but in fact, he -- what he got was the Rutles, and so they showed the Rutles instead on Saturday Night Live. And the mailbag response was such that, you know, that one was able to go to NBC and get the money to make the whole story.

GROSS: Oh, so that's how the whole...

INNES: Yeah.

GROSS: ... the Rutles movie got started.

INNES: That's right. And it was because of the chance to make the movie, they turned around to me and said: "look, can we have 20 more Rutles songs by next Thursday lunchtime?" And that's how I became a parodist.



GROSS: So what did you do? Go back and listen to all the Beatles songs and really study them...

INNES: No, well.

GROSS: ... and deconstruct them?

INNES: No, I didn't. I knew if I'd listened to the Beatles songs, it would just be -- you know, I'd be over-awed. You know, I just couldn't have got an idea. So I thought back to the various sort of milestones or signposts of their career, and I thought about how I'd heard it because, I mean, I'm a contemporary. I'd been around. And I thought about what I was doing. And I started writing songs from that perspective.

Sort of my own songs. I mean, I knew they'd have to have different tunes and different lyrics, you know. So I had to write my own songs. And then once the songs were written, I sort of like listened to Beatles records very hard, to listen to the production techniques and things like that. And then we had to put on these silly Rutland accents and talk like that.

And that's how, you know, Rutle music was born. But...

GROSS: Let me play -- let me play one of the songs that I particularly like. This is "Hold My Hand." This is a kind of a summary, almost, of the Beatles early songs. Lyrically, it has "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and "Please Please Me." And musically, it also has "All My Lovin'" in it.

INNES: No it doesn't. You're just saying that.

GROSS: Yes it does.


INNES: Well, I can't hear it.



GROSS: Really?

INNES: It's a different tune and a different lyric.

GROSS: Well.

INNES: Anyway. Well, let the people decide, you know?

GROSS: My producer says I'm right.


INNES: Oh. Well in that case, I'm leaving. I'm leaving. I'm leaving in a huff. If that's not quick enough, I'm leaving you in a minute and a huff. Your producer's miming the same line. We obviously -- your producer and I like the Marx Brothers. We obviously get on.


GROSS: Well, let's let the listeners be the judge. This is Neal Innes' song Hold My Hand sung by the Rutles.


SINGERS: I'm not the kind of guy who likes to play
Big Brother
But I just seen your date outside
He's with another
I saw you both come in
Clearly, you're not meant for him, so

Please, please hold my hand
Hold my hand, yeah, yeah
Hold my hand, yeah, yeah
Hold my hand and I'll see you home

GROSS: OK, Neil Innes, who was right?


INNES: I don't know. Well, you have to remind me what the original Beatles were. In fact, just hearing it then, I think the bongos are too loud. The -- you know, that we were amazed to hear those bongos and things going on, and so I think we just put in, you know, these various sounds and mixed them up in our own way.

GROSS: What else did you want to capture from the early sound of the Beatles?

INNES: Well, also that it was done on a lot less sophisticated equipment than we were working on. You know, I think it wasn't until "Sgt. Pepper" that, you know, then they strung four track machines or even more together to get, you know, all the multi-tracking going. And we were working on 24-track, and it all rather super duper, and so we had to actually, you know, squash the sound a bit to make it sound as though it had been recorded on less sophisticated equipment.

GROSS: Now...

INNES: We haven't done that this time around. Haven't been quite so anal about it, you know, accuracy and whatever.

GROSS: I wonder what you were doing when the Beatles first became popular? Were you out playing music yet? How old were you? Were you...

INNES: I'm only a couple of years younger than them.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

INNES: Maybe, maybe four. I don't know. I was at art school, I think, when I first heard them. I was about 16 or 17. I think it was "She Loves You" or something like that came on. And I wasn't, you know, really aware of the Beatles much because we were mucking about at art school. I was quite a serious art student.

GROSS: So you weren't very aware of the Beatles. When did you become very aware of the Beatles?

INNES: Oh, well I think I really started to admire them when "Penny Lane" came out. I thought that was such a good song. You had sort of lots of images and such an interesting construction.

GROSS: Did you follow them into the psychedelia period? Did you play their records backwards?

INNES: No, I mean, I enjoyed them. I mean because by then, I think we'd had our own -- got our own band called "The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band." It started off as "The Bonzo Dog Dada Band," but we got rather tired of, you know, trying to explain to tedious, you know, people who wanted to know what "dada" meant and to explain what a turn of the century anti-art movement was in a, you know, a few brief sentences proved rather difficult.

And so we changed "dada" to "doo-dah." So that's what we were doing. We were art students. We were playing in pubs and whatnot. And in fact, we started looking more like the Beatles looked before they did. We were going around with sort of silly mustaches and we had jackets and trousers. And lo and behold, you know, out comes "Strawberry Fields" and they've got me started in my own glasses. We felt they were trying to steal our act, you see.

GROSS: Well, the Bonzo Dog Band was -- I'm glad you told the story about how the name came about. I had no idea that you started off as the Dada band. But the Bonzos were such a great band -- really funny. And you did a lot of -- well, I mean all the songs there were absurd or funny or parodies of a certain style. How did that come about?

INNES: Yeah, well, we started off, you know. We just enjoyed making this kind of terrible row, really. Nobody was very good on the instruments, but we -- we used to go down to some street markets and find old windup 78 gramophone records which you could buy for a few pennies. And this is, you know, sort of normal student fun, you know -- the least money on the most fun, is why you have to, you know, try and budget for.

And we'd take these things back and not know what they were until we got them home and we put them on the windup gramophone. And there'd be a title, sort of like "I'm Going To Bring a Watermelon To My Girl Tonight." You see? You sort of -- you sniff that one out. You think: aha! There might be something here.

And sometimes, there was a give away on the label, saying "novelty fox trot." So you'd take that home, and then you'd find this silly song with this silly tune, and a lyric like: "I brought my love an apple, she let me hold her hand. I brought my love a banana, we kissed beneath the band. I brought my love an orange, she let me squeeze her tight. I'm going to bring a watermelon to my girl tonight -- ba, da, dump, dum, da.


And stuff like: "he kissed Her. Who did? He did. Where? On her doorstep last night." And we just learned this stuff and played it in licensed establishments, and it could be very good drinking music. And we got, you know, pocket money for doing it.

And one of the things was, you know, we had a manager at the time who was quite, let's say, frugal. You know, if we'd spent two hours on the track, you know, he said: write next one. And it went to -- "but we haven't finished, please sir." You know. And he said: "well, you can't take longer than two hours. Three hours at the most." You know.

And we had this song "The Urban Spaceman" that we wanted to do, and Viv Stancell (ph) was down I think it was in the Speakeasy club in London, and bumped into Paul, as he often did. And he's moaning about the fact that this bloke, you know, wouldn't let us finish what we were doing. And Paul said: "well, I'll come down and produce it." And so, he did.

So Paul came along and produced "Urban Spaceman" and...

GROSS: This is Paul McCartney?

INNES: Yeah, sorry yes. Paul McCartney. Who else? This is The Rutles Show, isn't it?


Not any old Paul. I mean, Paul Revere? I mean. Nevermind. No, yeah, he came down and he produced "Urban Spaceman" for us and it was -- it was the only way we could get this guy off the control knobs. And it was really funny, actually, because he came in -- 'cause we'd all, you know, met over (Unintelligible) before, from "The Magical Mystery Tour."

But he said I'd just written this, you know. And all of us -- well, you've got to remember, all of us were high atop to the fact we had to work quickly in the studio and do all this. And he sort of very relaxed and he sort of waddles over the piano and starts playing, you know. And starts in "Hey, Jude, don't let" -- it hadn't been released. It was the first time, you know, probably anybody outside his close circle had heard it, you know.

And I thought this is -- this will not -- because he's great voice, it's a nice melody -- but very slow and it does go on a bit. Hasn't he got any idea of how much studio time costs? You know.


Well, eventually, you know, we made the record and it was a very good, sporting thing of him to do. And he -- we didn't -- we said immediately, you know, said we can't put your name on it. It will be a bloody hit immediately, you know. So he said: "well, what do you want to put, then?" We said well how about "Apollo C. Vermouth" as the producer. And he said, yeah, all right.

And so it went out as "The Bonzo Dog Band" -- we dropped the "doo-dah" because of the change of style -- but The Bonzo Dog Band, Urban Spaceman, produced by Apollo C. Vermouth.

GROSS: And it's your song. You wrote the song.

INNES: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

INNES: And the thing was, it struggled up the hit parade and got to about 17 or thereabouts. And then management couldn't stand it anymore, and told everyone that in fact Apollo C. Vermouth was Paul McCartney and it shot up to number five.


INNES: That was the only hit the Bonzos had, and we certainly didn't intend to have another one. It was a quite rigorous experience.

GROSS: Why don't we hear "I'm the Urban Spaceman?"


GROSS: Here it is.


INNES SINGING: I'm the urban spaceman
I'm intelligent and clean
Know what I mean?

I'm the urban spaceman
As a lover, second to none
It's a lot of fun

I never let my friends down
I've never made a boo
I'm a glossy magazine
An effort in the tube

I'm the urban spaceman baby
Here comes the twist:
I don't exist

GROSS: That's The Bonzo Dog Band -- a song written by my guest, Neil Innes. And you're singing lead on it? Yes?

INNES: Yes, I'm -- you know, I'm doing the vocal on it. Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah.

INNES: In fact, that funny noise on the end -- sort of whirring noise -- is Viv Stancell with a garden hose and a trumpet mouthpiece putting money into the plastic funnel on the other end. And he's whirling it 'round his head. And in fact, the engineer said "we can't record that," but Paul McCartney said: "yes, of course you can. You know, just put a microphone in each corner of the room."

It was a very good, fun session, but it took eight hours.

GROSS: My guest is Neil Innes, co-founder of the Bonzo Dog Band and the Rutles, the band that spoofed the Beatles. More after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

My guest is Neil Innes, co-founder of the Rutles, a band he created to parody the Beatles. He also wrote music for Monty Python and co-founded the music-comedy group The Bonzo Dog Band.

There's something I need to play from the Bonzos, and this is "The Intro and the Outro," (ph) which I think is one of the great absurdist pieces of music ever committed to vinyl.

INNES: Yes, it's a minor classic, isn't it?

GROSS: It's wonderful. And this was written by Viv Stancell, one of the members of the band. What -- tell us a little bit about what it was like to record this.

INNES: Well, you've got to realize that Viv was an extraordinary character. When I first met him, he was slightly overweight and wearing checked trousers like Billy Bunter (ph) and a Victorian frock coat. He had oval, mauve, pince-nez glasses -- you know, the ones with out side bits that just perch on your nose, carrying a euphonium under his arm.

And large, pink, rubber ears -- false ears. And I thought, well, here's an interesting character. It was his ideas to do The Intro and the Outro, and it's such a silly, simple idea. But, when we did it on four-track, we almost gave up because we had to sort of bounce everything down to another one track and then do more and more.

But if you play it, you'll see that it's -- these days, it -- people may not believe that it was actually done on four tracks, but it was. But it was a lot of fun. We -- we had a politician called Quentin Hogg (ph), who he became Lord Chancellor and we'd thought it'd be fun to have him on "Pig Grunt." But he was very litigious in the '60s, and so we thought we'd write a letter saying that, you know, we wanted to include him on Pig Grunt. Did he have any problems?

And his secretary wrote back and said: "Lord Hogg hasn't had the chance to listen to the record, but we'd perhaps better remove it to be on the safe side."

So you hear this rather wild "snffft" noise every now and again.

GROSS: Well, let's hear The Intro and the Outro, The Bonzo Dog Band.


SINGER: Hi there. Nice to be with you
Happy you could stick around
Like to introduce Legs Larry Smith
And Sam Spoon
Rhythm pole (ph)
And Vern Dudley Boheyno (ph)
Bass guitar
And Neil Innes
Come in, Rodney Slater
On the saxophone
With Roger Ruskinspeare (ph)
On tenor sax
Hi, Vivian Stancell
Big hello to Big John Wayne
And Robert Morley
Billy Buffin
And looking very relaxed
Adolf Hitler on vibes
Princess Anne
On sousaphone
Introducing Liberace
With Donna...

GROSS: My guest is Neil Innes, one of the founders of The Bonzo Dog Band and one of the founders of the Rutles, the band that parodied the Beatles. And not only is there a re-release on video of the documentary about the Rutles, but the Rutles have a new record -- new songs by the Rutles. The album is called "Archaeology," and I think it's time to hear something from the new Rutles.

And I'm going to ask you to choose a song that you'd particularly like to hear from it, and to tell us about writing it and what you were thinking of when you wrote it.

INNES: Well, why don't we start off with the one that kicks off the album? I mean, the whole point -- all this time has gone by since we did the first one, and I think we need to remind people of what the Rutles were, and this is a kind of curtain raiser, and it has a kind of very obvious, you know, parallel with Sgt. Pepper. And it's called "Major Happy's Up and Coming Once Upon A Good Time Band."

But it -- this album is much more of an autobiographical album about the Rutles. And whereas the first album was more or less a semi-official biography of the Beatles, in a silly way.

But this is "Major Happy" -- and if you say "major happy," you see, "made you happy"...

GROSS: Oh, right.

INNES: It could be "made you" happy. Hee, hee.

GROSS: Or, as in "Major" -- saluting the Major -- happy.

INNES: Absolutely.

GROSS: My favorite part of the song is the way there's a count off after the song has begun.


INNES: Yeah. Well, anything goes.

GROSS: That's right. OK, this is from the new Rutles album, Archaeology.


INNES SINGING: One, one, two,

Once upon a good time, on this very day
Somewhere in another universe
A band got in a van
And drove for miles on end
This just this minute got here
With no time to rehearse

They've not never had a sound check
But don't worry folks, it's true
Whatever Major Happy
We pretend they'll do for you

Here we are once again...

GROSS: Neil Innes, what was it like for you to get back in the Rutles spirit, after having left it for so many years?

INNES: Well, good question, because I was a little -- little reluctant, actually. The whole thing about the first one was in 1978. You know, a much happier time. Then along comes 1980 and the appalling assassinating of John Lennon. And in fact, I remember Eric and I talking very earnestly about maybe filming a special, you know, new ending for the video.

But we decided against it in the end because we knew we'd done it in good faith at that time, and that's what it had to be. And the Rutles were separate anyway and, for heaven sake, you know, you can't do any good by doing things like that.

But you see, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, and what I don't want to do now, you know, 'cause if I can explain, you know, what we -- why we've done it, it's because people suggested that we do it.

GROSS: Mm-hmm.

INNES: So it -- when it was pointed out to me, you know, well, the Beatles have got their anthology and they're emptying their cupboards, as it were, you know, surely the Rutles have got to do something. So I asked the others, and I asked George Harrison, and he said of course you should. You know, and it's all part of the soup which was, I think was a nice way of putting it.

GROSS: Neil Innes, co-founder of the Rutles and The Bonzo Dog Band. our interview was recorded earlier this year.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Neil Innes
High: Record producer and songwriter Neil Innes. He is a founding member of the comedy/rock group "The Bonzo Dog Band." He's also a member of "Rutles," the band which he and Eric Idle of Monty Python created as a spoof of the Beatles. The band recently reunited and recorded a new collection, "The Rutles Archaeology." Innes is also considered the "seventh Python" player -- as in the Monty Python -- because he provided and performed comedy music for the troupe. The Rutles first came to the attention of the public in 1978 when their spoof documentary "All You Need is Cash" aired. Many of the original stars of Saturday Night Live appeared in the film.
Spec: Music Industry; Rutles; Media; Television; Monty Python; Movie Industry; All You Need Is Cash
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Neil Innes
Date: AUGUST 28, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 082802NP.217
Head: Tartikoff Obit
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:55

TERRY GROSS, HOST: We are changing the tone from our comedy week mirth to remember Brandon Tartikoff, one of the people who most shaped television in the '80s. He was also, by the way, the only network executive to host Saturday Night Live.

Tartikoff died yesterday at the age of 48 of Hodgkin's disease. He spent 12 years heading NBC's entertainment division. He was the first network programming head who actually grew up watching TV. He got the job in 1980 at the age of 31.

In his years at NBC, he moved the network out of last place into first place. For his very first prime time season, he premiered such new hit shows as "Cheers," "Family Ties," "St. Elsewhere," and "The A-Team." Tartikoff later signed a deal with Jerry Seinfeld which eventually led to the hit sitcom landing on NBC. In his years at NBC, he was perhaps most proud of his Thursday night schedule, which included "Cosby," "Cheers," and "Hill Street Blues."

In 1992, I asked Tartikoff how he developed the lineup.

BRANDON TARTIKOFF, FORMER PRESIDENT OF NBC: Well, Thursday night like a lot of great nights of programming, is not a night that sort of just spring full born all at once. You know, they were all members of the same class, you know, the entering class of 19, you know, '84 or something like that.

Family Ties had been nurtured on Wednesday night for a couple of years. Cheers had been struggling for a couple of seasons on Thursday night. And Hill Street had been the lone show that had been successful as a fixture on Thursday night at 10.

What happened was that with the -- you know, with the power of the Cosby Show, we put it on Thursday night at eight, because "Magnum PI," which was a top-10 show at the time we placed Cosby there, was starting to lose some steam. Its ratings were down from the previous season, and it's a dramatic show and usually the way to bring down a program that has been a powerhouse and has been successful is to do it -- we would say -- is cross the forms. If you're against a drama, go with a comedy. If you're going up against a comedy, go with a drama.

And Cosby was placed there to really try to get the full value for Family Ties and Cheers and "Night Court" was also a transplant from Wednesday night from the season before.

So what Cosby was, it was sort of like the breath of fresh air that went into the balloon and blew up the whole night to maximum kind of ratings.

GROSS: One of the programs that you put on the air was "Highway to Heaven." Michael Landon had already been under contract to NBC. He pitched you the idea and you decided to go for it. I found that story really amusing, 'cause here is -- here's these kind of like two Jewish guys, you and Michael Landon...


GROSS: ... coming up with this show about angels coming down to Earth -- not -- it's just, like, not a very Jewish concept.

TARTIKOFF: Well, when Michael pitched me the show, I said to him: "now let me get this straight. You're gonna play an angel of God. Each and every week, you're going to be the instrument of God and you're gonna help people with their lives. And you're gonna write this; you're gonna direct it; and you're gonna star in it."

I said: "the critics are going to crucify you. I mean, you're gonna be known as Jesus of Malibu."

And he said: "I'm Jewish, Brandon, so make it Moses of Malibu."

And it's the kind of program where, you know, like, the great shows? The most successful shows are great from the start? In the case of Highway to Heaven, it was like here was this sort of very, you know, egotistical kind of idea on the part of Landon to be all these things. But he had a great belief in his talents to move an audience.

He shot the pi -- he actually, he wrote the pilot script in under two weeks. He shot it in time for pilot season. And when we originally screened the pilot episode, there were many members in the NBC programming department that didn't even want to play it the week when we all gathered to screen the pilots to decide the schedule 'cause they felt that, in the words of one executive, "the only thing that was wrong with it was that it wasn't in black and white." That's how old-fashioned it was.

We did send it down to testing. We did send it out to be researched and played for some sample audiences in five different cities. And it came back with the highest scores of any dramatic pilot in NBC history. And because we owed Michael a 13-week series commitment, we just sort of slapped it onto, again, an impossible time period -- Wednesday at eight, where "Fall Guy" was killing us in the ratings. And it -- from the day it landed on the schedule, it won its time period.

GROSS: You know what interests me. I can't -- with all due respect to the late Michael Landon -- I can't imagine you really enjoying a series like Highway to Heaven. So, what was it like for you to sign a series knowing that you probably wouldn't like it yourself?

TARTIKOFF: Well, Terry, you know, when you're the head of programming, you're not just putting on a 22-hour prime time schedule of what you would watch, because, you know, everybody has their own particulars in terms of education, background, interests, and everything else. And there were many programs, not just Highway to Heaven, that in a million years, I wouldn't be canceling dinner appointments 'cause I would want to be by my set when that particular show came on the air.

That's not to say that you couldn't work on the shows. It's not to say that as sort of an impartial programmer, you couldn't be helpful in the show's story developments, as well as its promotion and scheduling. But I don't want to give the mis-impression that programmers only put on the shows that they like.

First of all, I don't like a whole lot, so we probably would have been dark for about three nights out of the seven.

GROSS: Brandon Tartikoff, recorded in 1992. He died yesterday at the age of 48 of Hodgkin's disease.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
High: The former president of NBC Entertainment Brandon Tartikoff died yesterday at the age of 48 from complications from treatment for Hodgkin's disease. We remember him with a 1992 interview excerpt. While at NBC, he was responsible for such hit series as "The Cosby Show," "Cheers," "Miami Vice," and "Hill Street Blues." He went on to become chairman at Paramount Pictures. He wrote a book about his NBC years, "The Last Great Ride."
Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1997 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1997 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Tartikoff Obit
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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