John Cleese

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John Cleese as Q in Die Another Day.

John Marwood Cleese (born October 27, 1939) is a British comedian and actor best known for being one of the members of the comedy group Monty Python and for playing Basil Fawlty in the sitcom Fawlty Towers.



Cleese was born in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, England to Reginald Francis Cheese and Muriel Cross. His family's surname was previously "Cheese", but his father Reginald Francis Cheese, an insurance salesman, changed his surname to "Cleese" upon joining the army in 1915 [1] (

As a boy, Cleese was educated at Clifton College in Bristol, from which he was expelled for a humourous defacing of school grounds: he used painted footsteps to suggest that the school's statue of Field Marshal Douglas Haig had got down from his stand and gone to the toilet. His talent for comedy furthered as a member of the Cambridge Footlights Revue while he was studying for a law degree at Downing College, Cambridge. Here he met his future writing partner Graham Chapman. As Cleese's comic reputation flourished, he was soon offered a position as a writer with BBC Radio, working on among others, sketches for The Dick Emery Show and as a cast member of the highly successful BBC Radio show I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again, which ran 1965-1974. His fellow cast members were Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie, David Hatch and Jo Kendall. He rejoined the Cambridge Revue for a tour of New Zealand and New York, and decided to stay on in America performing on and off-Broadway. It was during this time he met future Python Terry Gilliam and his future wife, American actress Connie Booth whom he married on February 20 1968.

On his return to London in 1965, he and Chapman began writing on The Frost Report, an important landmark in satire and British Comedy in the 1960s. The writing staff chosen for The Frost Report were, in many ways, the finest comedic minds of the 1960s United Kingdom, consisting of many writers and performers who would go on to make names for themselves in comedy. They included future Goodies Bill Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor, Frank Muir, Barry Cryer, Marty Feldman, Ronnie Barker, Ronnie Corbett, Dick Vosburgh and future Python members Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. It was whilst working on The Frost Report, in fact, that the future Pythons developed their unique writing styles that would become so significant later. Cleese and Chapman's sketches often involved authority figures (some of which were performed by Cleese). Terry Jones and Michael Palin were both infatuated with filmed scenes that open with idyllic countryside panoramas. Eric Idle was one of those charged with writing David Frost's monologue. It was during this period that Cleese met and befriended influential British comedian Peter Cook.

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John Cleese on The Muppet Show

Such was the popularity of the series that, in 1966, Cleese and Chapman were invited to work as writers and performers with Brooke-Taylor and Feldman on At Last the 1948 Show. He and Chapman also wrote episodes of Doctor in the House. These series were successful and, in 1969, Cleese and Chapman were offered their very own series. However, due to Chapman's nature, Cleese found himself bearing an increasing workload in the partnership and was therefore unenthusiastic about doing a series with just the two of them. He had found working with Michael Palin on The Frost Report an enjoyable experience, and invited him to join the series. Palin had previously been working on Do Not Adjust Your Set, with Eric Idle and Terry Jones, with Terry Gilliam doing animations. The four of them had, on the back of the success of Do Not Adjust Your Set, been offered a series for ITV, which they were waiting to begin when Cleese's offer arrived. Palin agreed to work with Cleese and Chapman in the mean time, bringing with him Gilliam, Jones and Idle. This union led to the creation of Monty Python. Many have suggested that this important landmark in comedy was brought about by Cleese's desire to work with Palin, who Cleese has maintained is his favorite Python to work with. Monty Python's Flying Circus ran for four series from 1969-1974 on BBC. Cleese is particularly remembered for the "Cheese Shop", "The Ministry of Silly Walks", and "Dead Parrot" sketches. Though the programme lasted four series, by the start of series 3, Cleese - who was probably the most experienced and well known member of the group, and who was beginning to find working with the alcoholic Chapman an unfair strain - began to become agitated, wanting to move on. Though he stayed for the third series, he did not appear in the fourth series, and received only a minor writing credit. This did not stop him, however, from writing for and starring in the Monty Python films Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian and Meaning of Life.

In 1971, Booth gave birth to Cynthia Cleese, their only child.

Having left Python, Cleese went on to achieve possibly greater success in the United Kingdom, as the awful hotel manager Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers, which he cowrote with Connie Booth. The series won mass critical acclaim and is still considered one of the finest examples of British comedy. The series also famously starred Andrew Sachs as the much abused Spanish waiter Manuel, Prunella Scales as Basil's fire-breathing dragon of a wife Sybil, and Booth as waitress Polly. Cleese based Basil Fawlty on a real character, Donald Sinclare, who he encountered when he and the rest of the Monty Python team were staying at a hotel in Torquay called the Gleneagles whilst filming Monty Python's Flying Circus. During the Pythons stay, Sinclare threw Eric Idle's briefcase out of the hotel "in case it contained a bomb", complained about Terry Gilliam's "American" table manners, and threw a bus timetable at another guest after they dared to ask the time of the next bus to town. The series encapsulated such elements as the British psyche towards sex, death and complaining, violence towards employees, unhappy marriages and Cleese's madcap physical performances. The first series began on 19 September 1975, and whilst not an instant hit, soon gained momentum. However, the second series did not appear until 1979, during which time Cleese's marriage to Booth broke down. Despite this the two both reprised their writing and performing roles in the second series. Fawlty Towers famously only comprised of twelve episodes. Cleese and Booth both maintain that this was to prevent a gradual decline in the quality of the series.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Cleese focused on film work, though he did work with Peter Cook in his one off TV special Peter Cook and Co. in 1980. He also re-united with the Pythons for Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl (1982), and starred in The Secret Policeman's Ball for Amnesty International. He married Barbara Trentham on 15 February 1981. Their daughter Camilla was born 1984. In 1988 he wrote A Fish Called Wanda and starred in it, along with Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline and fellow python Michael Palin. The film became the most successful British film ever. Cynthia Cleese starred as John's daughter. However, his marriage had hit trouble and in 1990 he and Trentham divorced. He was remarried on 28 December 1992 to Alice Faye Eichelberger, his third blonde American actress wife.

Cleese becam the first person to say 'Fuck' at a British memorial service given for Graham Chapman, and delivered a comic speech bringing the whole audience to laughter, considered by some to be the perfect tribute.

Cleese also produced and acted in a number of successful business training films, including Meetings, Bloody Meetings and More Bloody Meetings about how to set up and run successful meetings.

With Robin Skynner, Cleese wrote two books on relationships: Families and how to survive them, and Life and how to survive it. The books are presented as a dialogue between Skynner and Cleese.

In 1996 Cleese declined the British honour of Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).

In 1999, Cleese appeared in the James Bond movie, The World Is Not Enough as Q's assistant, referred to as R. In 2002, when Cleese reprised his role in Die Another Day, the character was promoted, making Cleese the new quartermaster (Q) of MI6.

He is currently an Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University, his term having been extended until 2006. Although he makes occasional, well-received appearances on the Cornell campus, he lives in the town of Montecito, California. From 1973-1975 Cleese was rector of St Andrews University, a position which he left to make Fawlty Towers.

In a 2005 poll of comedians and comedy insiders The Comedian's Comedian, Cleese's peers showed their appreciation of his talent when he was voted second only to Peter Cook.

Radio credits

Television credits



External links


Monty Python Missing image

Members Graham ChapmanJohn CleeseTerry GilliamEric IdleTerry JonesMichael Palin
Other Contributors Carol ClevelandNeil InnesConnie Booth
Films & TV Series Monty Python's Flying CircusAnd Now For Something Completely DifferentMonty Python and the Holy GrailMonty Python's Life of BrianMonty Python Live at the Hollywood BowlThe Meaning of Life
pt:John Cleese

da:John Cleese de:John Cleese es:John Cleese fr:John Cleese nl:John Cleese ja:ジョン・クリーズ no:John Cleese pl:John Cleese sv:John Cleese


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