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John Cleese Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (4) | Mini Bio (1) | Spouse (4) | Trade Mark (6) | Trivia (63) | Personal Quotes (95)

Overview (4)

Born in Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset, England, UK
Birth NameJohn Marwood Cleese
Nickname Cleesey
Height 6' 5" (1.96 m)

Mini Bio (1)

John Cleese was born on October 27, 1939, in Weston-Super-Mare, England, to Muriel Evelyn (Cross) and Reginald Francis Cleese. He was born into a family of modest means, his father being an insurance salesman; but he was nonetheless sent off to private schools to obtain a good education. Here he was often tormented for his height, having reached a height of six feet by the age of twelve, and eventually discovered that being humorous could deflect aggressive behavior in others. He loved humor in and of itself, collected jokes, and, like many young Britons who would grow up to be comedians, was devoted to the radio comedy show, "The Goon Show," starring the legendary Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, and Harry Secombe.

Cleese did well in both sports and academics, but his real love was comedy. He attended Cambridge to read (study) Law, but devoted a great deal of time to the university's legendary Footlights group, writing and performing in comedy reviews, often in collaboration with future fellow Python Graham Chapman. Several of these comedy reviews met with great success, including one in particular which toured under the name "Cambridge Circus." When Cleese graduated, he went on to write for the BBC, then rejoined Cambridge Circus in 1964, which toured New Zealand and America. He remained in America after leaving Cambridge Circus, performing and doing a little journalism, and here met Terry Gilliam, another future Python.

Returning to England, he began appearing in a BBC radio series, "I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again", based on Cambridge Circus. It ran for several years and also starred future Goodies Tim Brooke-Taylor, Bill Oddie and Graeme Garden. He also appeared, briefly, with Brooke-Taylor, Graham Chapman and Marty Feldman in At Last the 1948 Show (1967), for television, and a series of collaborations with some of the finest comedy-writing talent in England at the time, some of whom - Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Chapman - eventually joined him in Monty Python. These programs included The Frost Report (1966) and Marty Feldman's program Marty (1968). Eventually, however, the writers were themselves collected to be the talent for their own program, Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969), which displayed a strange and completely absorbing blend of low farce and high-concept absurdist humor, and remains influential to this day.

After three seasons of the intensity of Monty Python, Cleese left the show, though he collaborated with one or more of the other Pythons for decades to come, including the Python movies released in the mid-70s to early 80s - Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Life of Brian (1979), Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl (1982), and The Meaning of Life (1983). Cleese and then-wife Connie Booth collaborated in the legendary television series Fawlty Towers (1975), as the sharp-tongued, rude, bumbling yet somehow lovable proprietor of an English seaside hotel. Cleese based this character on a proprietor he had met while staying with the other Pythons at a hotel in Torquay, England. Only a dozen episodes were made, but each is truly hilarious, and he is still closely associated with the program to this day.

Meanwhile Cleese had established a production company, Video Arts, for clever business training videos in which he generally starred, which were and continue to be enormously successful in the English-speaking world. He continues to act prolifically in movies, including in the hit comedy A Fish Called Wanda (1988), in the Harry Potter series, and in the James Bond series as the new Q, starting with The World Is Not Enough (1999), in which he began as R before graduating to Q. Cleese also supplies his voice to numerous animated and video projects, and frequently does commercials.

Besides the infamous Basil Fawlty character, Cleese's other well-known trademark is his rendition of an English upper-class toff. He has a daughter with Connie Booth and a daughter with his second wife, Barbara Trentham.

Education and learning are important elements of his life - he was Rector of the University of Saint Andrews from 1973 until 1976, and continues to be a professor-at-large of Cornell University in New York. Cleese lives in Santa Barbara, California.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Larry-115

Spouse (4)

Jennifer Wade (2 August 2012 - present)
Alyce Faye Eichelberger (28 December 1992 - 2008) (divorced)
Barbara Trentham (15 February 1981 - 10 October 1990) (divorced) (1 child)
Connie Booth (20 February 1968 - 1 August 1978) (divorced) (1 child)

Trade Mark (6)

Usually plays uptight or overbearing comic characters.
Mustache
His height
When on Monty Python's flying circus, he would introduce sketches with the famous line "And now for something completely different"
Received pronunciation
Playing characters with neurotic behaviour

Trivia (63)

He was a member of the comedy group Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969) along with Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam.
He is the father of two daughters: Cynthia Cleese (born 1971) with Connie Booth and Camilla Cleese (born 1984) with Barbara Trentham.
He holds a law degree from Cambridge University. He went on to play a lawyer in A Fish Called Wanda (1988) and Splitting Heirs (1993).
He co-wrote several episodes of Doctor in the House (1969) and its sequels with Graham Chapman, and also wrote some later episodes as sole author.
He was a cast member of the highly successful radio show "I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again". His fellow cast members were Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graeme Garden, Bill Oddie, David Hatch and Jo Kendall. It was during this radio show that Cleese's famous 'Ferret Song' (later sung on the television series At Last the 1948 Show (1967)) was first heard.
He was a member of the prestigious Cambridge University Footlights Club.
He went to the United States with the Footlights stage show "Cambridge Circus" in 1964, and appeared on Ed Sullivan's The Ed Sullivan Show (1948).
When he had to join the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in 1989, for his third appearance on American TV, none of the staff at the AFTRA office recognized him or had any idea who he was.
Ever since one of his most famous Monty Python sketches, The Ministry of Silly Walks, he has found himself continually pestered by admirers to do silly walks for them. He has stated that the sketch was born during a moment of silly improvisation, and he himself doesn't particularly care for it.
Who's Who lists his recreations as "gluttony, sloth."
He was the rector of the University of St Andrews from 1970 to 1973.
According to Brian Henson, when Cleese guest-starred on The Muppet Show (1976), he enjoyed the show very much and became very close with the writers because he wanted to get involved in the writing. When he did get involved with the writing, he and the other writers came up with a concept whereby Cleese was being held against his will on the show and would try to get off the show while the Muppets were trying to get him to do his scheduled bits. Of course, in this case, life did not imitate art, as, a few years later, Cleese appeared again with the Muppets in the film The Great Muppet Caper (1981).
He is an Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University.
He co-owns the Christine Schell Fine Objects antique shop in Montecito, CA.
Cleese's father's name was Reg Cleese but his grandfather was named John Edwin Cheese. His grandfather changed his name when he joined the British army in 1915.
He reached adult height of 6'5" by the age of 13. He was already six feet at age 12.
He claims he was to be the first person to say the F-word at a memorial service when he spoke at Graham Chapman's.
His mother, Muriel Cleese (b. Cross, 5 October 1899 - 5 October 2000) died on her 101st birthday.
The inspiration for Fawlty Towers (1975) came from a hotel stay he had with the other Pythons in the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay, England. The hotel manager was called Donald Sinclair, someone Cleese considered to be the rudest man he had ever encountered. He later played a character by the name of Donald P. Sinclair in Rat Race (2001).
When he left the Monty Python team, he was approached by the BBC to do something else and, together with Booth, created "Fawlty Towers (1975)" based on their experiences in a Torquay hotel.
In the late 1990s he appeared in German TV commercials for a lottery service. He actually spoke German in some of these spots (while some had no dialogue and others were dubbed later on).
When the Globe Theatre was rebuilt in London, a service was offered whereby you could have your name on a tile in the courtyard, for a donation to the project. Cleese and fellow python Michael Palin both signed up for tiles, but Palin's was spelled wrong. Cleese paid extra to ensure it would be spelled "Pallin."
He was the tallest member of Monty Python, having been about two inches taller than Graham Chapman.
He is the father-in-law of Ed Solomon.
He was offered the title of C.B.E. (Knight-Commander of the British Empire) in 1996. He turned it down because, in his own words, "The title doesn't get the same admiration and respect from the general public that it does from those who actually bestow it - you don't get to be addressed as 'Commander Cleese,' in my case - which somewhat nullifies the point of it all." Similarly, Cleese was offered inauguration to the House of Lords but turned that down as well; according to him, "It would have had a very nice ring - 'Lord John of Cleese', I mean - but on the other hand, I would have been obligated to stay in London all through the winter... because that's when they meet in Parliament to vote on whatever-have-you. And *nobody* in their right mind lives in London during the bloody winter!".
Biography in: "Who's Who in Comedy" by Ronald L. Smith. Pg. 108-109. New York: Facts on File, 1992. ISBN 0816023387
He appeared in a series of educational short subjects produced by the British company Video Arts designed to teach management and trainees how to handle stress and unusual situations. Cleese took advantage of his comic talents and portrayed events as absurd situations so that audiences would better remember their training.
In 2002, he appeared in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002) with Maggie Smith and in Die Another Day (2002) opposite her son, Toby Stephens.
Terry Gilliam noted among his Monty Python co-stars that there seemed to be a division between the taller, more "aggressive" Cambridge men (Cleese, Graham Chapman, & Eric Idle) and the shorter, lighter-humored Oxford men (Michael Palin & Terry Jones), the latter of which the American Gilliam found himself closer to. Gilliam considered Cleese the most "Cambridge" of the group, being the tallest and most "aggressive" member of Monty Python.
He voiced Jean-Bob, a frog who believes he's a prince, in The Swan Princess (1994), then went on to voice a king who used to be a frog in Shrek 2 (2004).
He has played the father of two of the Charlie's Angels. First he played Lucy Liu's father in Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle (2003). The next year he played Cameron Diaz's father in Shrek 2 (2004).
He has resided for many years in the prestigious Chicago North Shore suburb of Lake Forest, Illinois.
He was a supporter of the British Labour Party until the formation of the SDP (Social Democratic Party) in 1981, which he openly supported in the 1980s. When the SDP merged with the Liberal Party, he supported the newly formed Liberal Democrats.
He has said that Cornell University is set in one of the most beautiful locations on earth.
In 2005, he offered a part of his colon, removed due to diverticulitis, for sale on his official website. The proceeds are reportedly to be divided between Cleese himself and his surgeon.
His father, Reg Cleese, was an insurance salesman.
As a child he loved the radio comedy show "The Goon Show", which made stars of Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Michael Bentine and Harry Secombe.
A newly discovered species of lemur, avahi cleesei, was named after him in honor of his love of the endangered primates, which figure prominently in his movie, Fierce Creatures (1997).
He and Terry Gilliam are the only members of Monty Python to be nominated for Oscars. Coincidentally, they were both for Best Original Screenplay, Gilliam for Brazil (1985) and Cleese for A Fish Called Wanda (1988). Both screenplays did not win their Oscars, and both films featured Michael Palin.
He campaigned long and hard, but unsuccessfully, to win the role of Brian in Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979) because he wanted to expand his range in his first substantial film role, but the rest of the group favored the late Graham Chapman, and eventually the group persuaded Cleese that Chapman was better suited to the part of Brian and Cleese stepped aside.
Just to see if anyone would notice, during the early 1970s Cleese added one obviously fake film per year to his annual filmography listing in Who's Who. For the record, these fake films were "The Bonar Law Story" (1971), "Abbott & Costello Meet Sir Michael Swann" (1972), "The Young Anthony Barber" (1973) and "Confessions of a Programme Planner" (1974). Although Cleese confessed to the gag in the 1980s, mentions of these bogus films still appear from time to time in scholarly works on Cleese, including the entry in the Encyclopedia of Television, 1st ed. (1996) edited by Horace Newcomb.
Before becoming an actor, Cleese studied to be a lawyer. He went on to play a lawyer in A Fish Called Wanda (1988) and Splitting Heirs (1993).
He was invited to the party Steve Martin was throwing that turned out to be his wedding.
When he first started acting his original goal was to be a classically trained Shakespearean actor.
The role of Cogsworth in Beauty and the Beast (1991) was written with him in mind, and no other actor was considered for the role. But he still turned it down.
Member of Monty Python along with Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam.
During a 2014 interview in a Dutch talk show, he debunked the story that he had offered to write speeches for Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2008. He had merely said that he liked many of the Democratic plans for the American people and would love to assist in any way. A local newspaper had interpreted this as an offer to help Obama writing his speeches, but Cleese considered Obama more than capable enough to write his own speeches.
He helped his daughter Camilla Cleese to kick her drug habit (which started when she was 11) by sending her to a psychiatric ward and then a rehab clinic. After more stints in rehab, she finally kicked her drug and alcohol habit in 2007 and praised her father for helping turn her life around [December 21, 2008).
He provided the voice of God in Spamalot.
During the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland, air travel across northern Europe was severely disrupted. Cleese, in Oslo on April 17 but needing to get to London by April 19, paid £3,300 for a cab ride to Brussels to catch a ferry ride.
He supports Bristol City Football Club.
He suffered from depression between 1973 and 1976.
He didn't learn to drive a car until 1976.
He is a cat lover, particularly of the Siamese breed, and once named 5 of them after types of cheese. Incidently, he was fond of cheese until he discovered he is lactose intolerant.
He lives in Montecito, California. [June 2006]
Currently touring New Zealand with his new stage show "John Cleese, His Life and His Current Medical Conditions" (or something very similar) [November 2005]
He was interviewed for Goodbye Television Centre (2013), a tribute show which marked the closure of BBC Television Centre, which was the home of his classic comedies Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969) and Fawlty Towers (1975).
He has said in interviews that he loves 'really rude questions' because they are original and force him to think about an appropriate answer. The best question he ever got was: "If you were a part of a plane, which part would you be?' His answer was 'the joystick'.
Cleese first worked with Eric Idle and Grahan Chapman after he joined the Footlights Revue as a Cambridge student. He later wrote for David Frost, who had been a Revue member before Cleese joined.
Cleese made many popular commercials for American TV, including Kronenbourg beer, Sony, Compaq computers, Magnavox TV, and Schweppes.
Cleese won libel damages in a January 1989 decision by the High Court in Lzondon.against a Simon Gallant, who had written that in real life Cleese resembled his characterization of the obnoxiously rude Basil Fawlty.
He is a fan of the singer Neil Diamond and has seen him in concert.
After moving to Monterey, California, he joked about going back to his old family surname of 'Cheese'; because 'Jack' is a nickname for 'John' (like 'Hank' is for 'Henry'), he thought it would be fun to be known as 'Monterey Jack Cheese.'.

Personal Quotes (95)

[in 2001] I think there's much more fear now than there used to be, much more fear of failure.
[in 2001] You go in and meet the head of BBC One and get an assurance about not dumbing down. And then, of course a few months later, he's been replaced by someone you haven't met.
It's lovely that Harry Potter and the Bond movies are still shot in England - that's a great pleasure, but it's true that most of the well-paid work is in America.
I never enjoyed The Meaning of Life (1983). I always regarded that entire film as a bit of a cockup.
In Britain, girls seem to be either bright or attractive. In America, that's not the case. They're both.
[about his move from England to California] At my age, I want to wake up and see sunshine pouring in through the windows every day.
I'm probably the worst singer in Europe. I won't compete for North America.
When I was a child and I was upset about something, my mother was not capable of containing that emotion, of letting me be upset but reassuring me, of just being with me in a calming way. She always got in a flap, so I not only had my own baby panics, fears and terrors to deal with, but I had to cope with hers, too. Eventually I taught myself to remain calm when I was panicked, in order not to upset her. In a way, she had managed to put me in charge of her. At 18 months old, I was doing the parenting.
My mum died about three years ago at the age of 101, and just towards the end, as she began to run out of energy, she did actually stop trying to tell me what to do most of the time.
I don't think anyone should be educated sexually. There's far too many people on the planet. If we could hush it up for a few years, that would help.
If you wish to kill yourself but lack the courage to, I think a visit to Palmerston North will do the trick.
You don't have to be the Dalai Lama to tell people that life's about change.
I find it rather easy to portray a businessman. Being bland, rather cruel and incompetent comes naturally to me.
When people say "I'm not a prude, but..." what they mean is "I am a prude, and..."
[from the eulogy he gave at Graham Chapman's memorial service] And I guess that we're all thinking how sad it is that a man of such talent, a man of such capability and kindness, of such unusual intelligence, should now, so suddenly, be spirited away at the age of only 48, before he'd achieved many of the things which he was capable and before he'd enough fun. Well, I feel that I should say "Nonsense!" Good riddance to him, the freeloading bastard, I hope he fries.
Filming is like a long air journey: there's so much hanging around and boredom that they keep giving you food.
When (third wife) Alyce Faye Eichelberger had her hip replacement I realised that there was a chance for a little humour and I sent a bunch of flowers to her lawyer's office saying, 'Would you please inspect these flowers and see whether they are acceptable and would you please vet the greetings card that comes with these and see whether that is also legitimate. And if you are satisfied that both of them are not harmful, would you be good enough to send them on to my wife as soon as possible?'

To which the lawyer replied: 'As the trade papers say, he's not as funny as he was.' The sort of leaden, nasty - what's the word? - black-hearted response to a little conceit.
I think marriage should be like dog licences. I think you should have to renew marriage licences every five years, unless you have children. And I think before you have children you should have to go and pass various tests and get a licence to have a child. Because it's the most transformative and difficult thing of your life. Far more important [than work]. People don't understand this, and some people who are highly motivated by work, but when I worked I was always motivated, funnily enough, by the fear of being bad. Because it is so humiliating to make a joke and have no one laugh.
I don't want to have to start being unselfish again. The great thing about being on your own is you do what you damn well like.
I had a very, very difficult relationship with my mother, who was supremely self-centred. She was hilariously self-centred. She did not really take interest in anything that didn't immediately affect her."
[on his divorce from Alyce Faye Eichelberger] This is the happiest I have ever been and I feel that at 68 now I want as many years as I can get.
It's very important for me that my friends have a sense of humour. To me it's the kind of touchstone of communication. Alyce Faye Eichelberger's sense of humour was not very European, because she was from Oklahoma and I used to joke that the Oklahoma Sense of Irony is one of the world's short books.
[on his divorce from Alyce Faye Eichelberger]: I feel angry sometimes. But my anger is not so much about sharing the property but having to go on working hard to provide alimony for someone who's already going to have at least $10 million worth of property, and who's getting £1 million this year. At some point you say, 'Well, what did I do wrong? You know, I was the breadwinner.' The system is insane.
We broke up in the marital therapist's office. We'd been seeing them for a couple of years. And we agreed to break up and three weeks later I heard about the lawyer that she was using and I rang her up and said, 'Do you know this lawyer's reputation?' And she said, 'I hear that yours can be pretty nasty, too.' And I said, 'OK, here's an offer. You get rid of yours. I'll get rid of mine. I'll appoint someone you're comfortable with, you appoint someone I'm comfortable with and it could be fairly easy.' And she said, 'No, I'm not interested. I would like to stay with the present situation.'
When I got divorced from Connie Booth, with whom I had dinner on Sunday, and when I got divorced from Barbara Trentham, I didn't need lawyers on either occasion, because I just sort of said, 'Why don't I give you this?' And they said, 'That's very fair, very generous. Thank you.' End of story. This woman [Alyce Faye Eichelberger] now was asking my old St John's Wood accountants for 60 boxes of documents, so many documents that they had to send people out from California to go through them.
[on BBC presenter Jonathan Ross's obscene phone calls to his Fawlty Towers (1975) co-star Andrew Sachs in 2008] I'm uneasy about censorship so I think that it's important to hire people who have good enough taste to censor themselves. I've always thought that Jonathan Ross would have fallen into this category.
[on making commercials to support himself and then-wife Connie Booth while writing Fawlty Towers (1975)] I have to thank the advertising industry for making this possible. Connie and I used to spend six weeks writing each episode and we didn't make a lot of money out of it. If it hadn't been for the commercials I wouldn't have been able to afford to spend so much time on the script.
Why anyone who has not committed a punishable offense would listen to country and western music is beyond me.
I think that phone call was astoundingly tasteless. Apparently Russell Brand had actually slept with the girl, who works in a slightly raunchy club. Oh yes, a burlesque club. Anyway ... I can't imagine why they would ring Andrew (Andrew Sachs) up. It was, as I say, very tasteless. I thought that was extraordinary, especially as I've met Jonathan Ross and liked him; it's very hard to see why he would have done it.
In the early days of my career, I'd have these moments of utter delight: at the age of 21, I discovered Buster Keaton; at 24 it was Harold Lloyd; then W.C. Fields. Just occasionally, one discovers someone new for oneself. I thought Bill Hicks was a genius, Eddie Izzard too. I don't want to be mean but there are several highly regarded shows around right now - and I'm not talking about Ricky Gervais, because I think he's excellent - that I don't much care for. So basically I keep my mouth shut. At this stage of my life I have to accept that I'm not likely to come across anything as startlingly good as Buster Keaton.
Most of the bad taste I've been accused of has been generic bad taste; it's been making fun of an idea as opposed to a person. Oddly enough, the one or two jokes I really regret on Python are the more personal ones. We did have this thing about David Hemmings ... something about him being played by a piece of wood. At the end there was a voice-over saying: "David Hemmings appeared by permission of the Forestry Commission." Afterwards, I felt just a little bit guilty.
I think that money spoils most things, once it becomes the primary motivating force.
I don't miss London much. I find it crowded, vast and difficult to get around. Cabs are incredibly expensive.
England changed much more than I did. We used to have some sort of middle class culture with an adequate amount of respect for education. It was a bit racist - not in a mean way though, but still racist. Some things have changed for the better. But it's not a middle class culture anymore, but a yob culture, a rowdy culture.
I always felt attracted by Austrian and German culture in a certain way. I've always liked Vienna. I never saw so much theatre and music and so many museums anywhere else. I like the city's velocity and the food. It doesn't have the tackiness of other big cities. I considered renting a small flat in Switzerland. I love being in Lyon, Strasbourg, Munich and Milan in four hours from there.
If I can get you to laugh with me, you like me better, which makes you more open to my ideas. And if I can persuade you to laugh at the particular point I make, by laughing at it you acknowledge its truth.
The divorce settlement absolutely affects every decision I make professionally. I have to earn $1 million a year before I even get to keep a penny and I have to build my professional choices around that fact. It annoys me that in my seventies I am having to live in a way I don't choose to live. Imagine how much I'd have had to pay Alyce if she had contributed anything to the relationship - such as children or a conversation.
[on British television] When I was growing up, we had the best television in the world. Now it's as bad as it is everywhere else, and I don't particularly want to participate in that. I don't really watch TV these days, except live sport. There's nothing much that appeals to me and I would rather read a book.
I was asked to do a reality show a few months ago. I forget which one it was, it might have been the jungle one or perhaps Celebrity Root Canal. I just laughed, then asked how much they were offering out of curiosity. It was £200,000, but I would never agree to one of those shows. That would mean the collapse of western civilization. There is always a filter when it comes to accepting work. I call it the EQ - the embarrassment quota. I will only do embarrassing things if there is a lot of money involved and people won't really know about it.
Some people ask me to do ads and I think, I don't really want to sell potato crisps.
Although my inclinations are slightly left-of-center, I was terribly disappointed with the last Labour government. Gordon Brown lacked emotional intelligence and was never a leader.
[in the book "To Wit: Skin and Bones of Comedy"] It's the people who try desperately to put a measured surface over secret anger seething away underneath who give you the sense of most violence.
Someone telephonically knowledgeable and I had a bit of an argument about that. He said that telephone booths didn't work because they were vandalized. I said they were vandalized because they didn't work.
[on why he has to avoid living in London during the 2012 Summer Olympics] I'm in a very strange situation. Because of the tax situation in the UK and because I have to pay this enormous alimony every year of one million dollars, I discovered that if I live in London, which I was intending to do, I have to make two million dollars before I keep a penny. That's quite a lot. So I'm not going to be living in London. The result of that for at least a year, I'm hardly allowed to go back there at all.
[on British television] I don't think the writers work as hard as they used to, and I think they may lack experience because I don't think the writing is as good as it used to be. But I do proudly say that in the 60s, 70s and 80s we did have the least bad television in the world, and that's quite a claim. I think the main problem now is it's run on the basis of money.
[on Fawlty Towers (1975)] There is a famous note which I have a copy of, I think it's framed. What happened was, Connie and I wrote that first episode and we sent it in to Jimmy Gilbert (James Gilbert). And first of all the fellow whose job it was to assess the quality of the writing said, and I can quote it fairly accurately, 'This is full of clichéd situations and stereotypical characters and I cannot see it as being anything other than a disaster'. And Jimmy himself said 'You're going to have to get them out of the hotel, John, you can't do the whole thing in the hotel'. Whereas, of course, it's in the hotel that the whole pressure cooker builds up.
[on the BBC in 2013] The people who became executives [in the Sixties and Seventies] had produced or directed a great deal of comedy. Now there seems to be an executive class and they have never written and never directed.
Movie executives have almost no idea what they're doing. In fact, I would say that's an incorrect statement. I would say the executives don't have ANY idea what they're doing. But they don't have any idea that they have no idea, so they're blundering around. They're trying to control everything without having a clue what's really going on. And that's very sad because if somebody put me in charge of BBC comedy, I could resurrect it in six months. At the moment, the people there are just very poor.
I don't know what's going on in London because London is no longer an English city. That's how they got the Olympics, they said "We're the most cosmopolitan city in the world". But it doesn't feel English. I had a Californian friend come over two months ago, walked down the King's Road and said to me "Where are all the English people?" I mean, I love having different cultures around but when the parent culture kind of dissipates, you're left thinking "What's going on?"
The thing you have to remember about critics is that they can't do it themselves.
[on the Daniel Craig Bond films] I did two James Bond movies and then I believe that they decided that the tone they needed was that of the Bourne action movies, which are very gritty and humorless. Also, the big money was coming from Asia, from the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, where the audiences go to watch the action sequences, and that's why in my opinion the action sequences go on for too long, and it's a fundamental flaw. The audiences in Asia are not going for the subtle British humor or the class jokes.
[improvising during the Parrot Sketch for Monty Python's "One down, five to go" at the O2] I'm rather worried about David Beckham. You see him around all the time, but he never talks.
The thing about shock is not that it upsets some people, I think; I think that it gives others a momentary joy of liberation, as we realized in that instant that the social rules that constrict our lives so terribly are not actually very important.
[on a knighthood] I'll only have one if Python get one. We always thought it would be nice to actually have Sir Monty Python but not actually have knighthoods ourselves.
The sad thing about comedy is that if you spend fifty years doing it, you do finish up knowing most of the jokes. And if you don't know the exact joke, you know something pretty close to it. There isn't the sense of discovery that you got when you were younger.
Political correctness started out as a very good idea. But it got latched onto by people who hang onto a small number of truths. In my stand-up , I'll make jokes about Germans, Canadians, the English and the French - which Americans particularly enjoy. And then I say, 'There's this Mexican joke'. And the place freezes. Why is everyone uncomfortable? Is that because Mexicans need particular protection? Are they not capable of looking after themselves?
I don't think that you can edit humor because it may be misunderstood by idiots.
[on his surprise cameo in Doctor Who (1963) in 1979] It was lovely to do. It just took an hour and a half, so I enjoyed it. Douglas Adams suggested to the director that we should do it.
Piers Morgan writes that I didn't recognize him in a restaurant in New York. I did. I just didn't want to speak to someone I truly detest.
I think we're all born with a sense of humour. Creativity is another thing . . . The thing that mainly kills creativity and humour is anxiety. You need to be able to play. I think a lot of us lose this ability.
[about his home town] Childhood was very low key. Extremely little happened. Weston used to have a field-hockey festival, but that was stopped, as people were becoming too excited.
[on his years of depression] Life seemed almost pointless... The feeling was a kind of deadness... And the sense of humor was an early casualty. In fact, when I began to be able to laugh at all, it began to clear.
[on seeing himself acting on film for the first time] I looked like a giraffe on a hovercraft.
Now most people do not want an ordinary life in which they do a job well, earn the respect of their collaborators and competitors, bring up a family and have friends. That's not enough any more, and I think that is absolutely tragic - and I'm not exaggerating - that people feel like a decent, ordinary, fun life is no longer enough.
[on Rupert Murdoch, the person he said he most despises] He did irreparable damage to English culture.
[on how to reform the European Union] Give up the Euro, introduce accountability, and hang Jean-Claude Juncker.
If I thought there was any chance of major reform in the EU, I'd vote to stay in. But there isn't. Sad.
I'm more relaxed now but if I look at the world, I don't think it's ever been in a worse situation. I look at what's going on and there isn't much to be cheerful about. I look at Trump [Donald J. Trump], and I see a narcissist, with no attention span, who doesn't have clear ideas about anything and makes it all up as he goes along.
[on Theresa May] Margaret Thatcher with a sense of humour.
A lot of Americans do lack irony. Their fundamentalist attitude to words - the fact that words are true and can't be said with any detachment or with any ironic intent means that a lot of humour I do doesn't go down very well over there.
I think we [Monty Python] cared too much about the scripts really and that's why the arguments got so heated. Sorry! Got so passionate. When this happened the dynamic of the group became very predictable. Michael, who hated confrontation, would retire to a safe distance; Graham would say even less than usual; Eric would try to be reasonable and constructive; Terry Gilliam would side with anyone else called Terry; and Terry Jones and I would lock horns and . . . not behave well. I would become very precise and cold and tight-lipped, with suppressed impatience and irritation seeping out of my ears. Jonesy's voice would get higher and higher and more and more insistent, and he would never, never shut up, or concede a point, or admit to a scintilla of doubt.
One of my ex-wives died, you know, that was really sad, 'cause it was the wrong one.
[on a YouTube comment below a Monty Python-related video] I think the problem with people like this is that they're so stupid that they have no idea how stupid they are.
[on Eric Idle's marriage] 40 years, that's a lack of imagination.
My parents had me very late in their marriage, and I was overprotected by them as a result. I never had a bike as a child! When I was teaching I noticed a pattern that parents who were older tended to produce children who were physically more careful, didn't throw themselves into the hurly-burly and often watched what was going on much more thoughtfully. But I enjoyed sports, provided it was never anything too physical. I hated rugby, which seemed to be a nasty, rough game; I couldn't see the point of it.
I think I've always had an orderly mind in the sense that logical thought comes very easily to me, although I'm not good at mechanical things. I've also always had a lot of trouble with poetry in the sense that I don't know what it's about; I don't know what they're trying to say. I didn't come from an educated family. It was not an illiterate family; it was literate, but not educated. By that I mean they spoke and wrote very correct English, but they wouldn't have had any idea who Henry VIII was, they would know he had six wives and that was it. If you had asked them which century he ruled in, they wouldn't have known. So when I went to St Peter's, at the age of eight, I had no academic framework in my head. But I discovered that each fortnight, you were ranked in your class first to fifteenth or so. And I noticed that there were more points given for maths and Latin than there were for French and English, so, not having any particular sense of these things, I realised that maths and Latin must be important if they were given the most points. Luckily I found them relatively easy, whereas French seemed to me tremendously difficult, because it wasn't pronounced anything like how it was spelt, which I found bewildering. So because I was reasonably good at maths and Latin, I did OK, although I was bad or pretty bad at everything else. My essays were never ever picked out as having any talent at all, I hated history and I hated the Old Testament, but my maths and Latin got me through.
When I first turned up at prep school, the first term, it all felt very strange and unfamiliar. Suddenly you were in a big, big school with dozens of boys, all of whom were looking at you because you were one of the new kids and you didn't know how anything worked or how you were supposed to behave. Also, being an only child didn't help. But I think I adapted OK, if a bit slowly. It probably took me two years and by then my social skills were quite average and I had some good friends. But I was 6 foot tall by the time I was twelve, which felt awkward at times, and that feeling went on for years and years. I still notice sometimes when I walk into a room, I have a desire not to be noticed - ironic that I should go into television. I have very specific memories of making the classroom laugh soon after I'd got to prep school, and gaining popularity and acceptance by being funny. I learnt that when you make people laugh it's a nice feeling. People only laugh if they basically like you and accept you. I think that was my way of becoming more popular, given that, as an only child of older parents, my social skills were poor to begin with.
He [my father] and mother always moved home a lot and it wasn't connected to his job. They simply kept moving and it became a family joke. They were in Weston-super-Mare when I was born. They moved eight more times before they moved back in 1948 so that I could go to St Peter's Preparatory School, and they then moved to Bristol so I could go to Clifton and not have to board there, which they couldn't afford. Then eventually they moved back to Weston because it was my mother's home and my father had spent so much time there. When he used to live in Bristol as a young man, he'd come down to Weston with his friends because it was the nearest seaside resort.
The odd thing is I don't have a first memory of Michael [Palin], by which I mean the first time I was really aware of him was when he was sitting round a table at the script meetings we used to have for The Frost Report. There were two things about Michael: one, he and Terry [Jones] most weeks used to produce a sketch that would need to be filmed. We would usually have a read-through on the Saturday and we would usually be filming the film sketch on the Tuesday. It would be cut together, and then the show was recorded on a Thursday. So that was what they were contributing. And two, my other main memory of Mike was that he had to leave the script meeting early one Saturday in 1966 because he was going off to marry Helen. Isn't that strange? He came to the meeting first and had to leave early. I can't have really known him at that stage because obviously I would have been invited to the wedding. I didn't know either him or Terry that well; they were part of a group around the table.
[Terry] Gilliam hunted me down in New York. He saw me in Cambridge Circus when it was on Broadway. We were there for three weeks, and he had this story that his magazine, Help, did in the style that the Italians called fumetti, and he wanted me to do the story because he liked the faces that I pulled. High compliment for an aspiring actor.
[Graham] Chapman I met at an audition for the Footlights my first year at Cambridge. To my astonishment I had been asked to sing, which I was incapable of doing, and also to do a little dance thing. I was kind of bewildered and I knew that I wasn't any good and met Chapman there. We started talking before we auditioned and we went off afterwards to a café and had something to eat. It's very strange but I remember that my reaction to Chapman then was quite a strong feeling of disliking him. It was an absolute gut feeling that I was not able to identify at all. Just a feeling of really not liking him. Then I don't think I saw Chapman again until the beginning of the next academic year, which was my second year and his third. And for reasons that I cannot remember we immediately fell into writing together, the sense of dislike just evaporated and we spent a lot of time that year sitting together, usually in my room, writing stuff, a fair amount of which made it into the Footlights Revue of that year.
[2017; as Cleese explains why people should have cats instead of children, Eric Idle adds that "they are also the only ones you can really pussy-grab"] I've known him 53 years and there is no hope at all.
Pembroke was my first choice of college at Cambridge but I didn't get in there. I got into Downing and I didn't particularly like Downing. Pembroke was smaller, older and cosier. It was full of nooks and crannies, little staircases and friendly little rooms. You'd walk down one flight of stairs and you'd come out and there'd be a lovely lawn there with a croquet match set up. And it was quite warm and cosy, which was saying quite a lot in Cambridge. Whereas Downing was built much later and consisted of these buildings on three sides of a rectangle of grass which was absolutely flat. There was a tremendous bleakness about it. The buildings were vaguely Georgian but very spare, and the thing about Cambridge was this raw wind that came in from the east. You spent an awful lot of time wrapping up with sweaters and scarves and walking round with your head down. I never felt particularly welcome in Downing. In the three years I was there, I met the College Master just twice - once for sherry on my first day and once for sherry on my last day, in the two and a half years in between I never set eyes on him. Whereas I knew some of the teachers at Pembroke and I knew and liked people who lived there, like Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie, and we spent a lot of time together. I used to have dinner there all the time and the porters thought I was a member of the College, so I was never challenged. It was also much closer to the centre of town and my digs, so I could get to Pembroke in about five minutes whereas Downing was quite a way.
Initially in the Footlights I was writing more than I was performing. I was rather shy and I only got involved because a great friend of mine, Alan Hutchison, who is really my oldest friend, knew someone who said, 'Alan, do you want to come and do something?' And he said, 'Well I've got a friend, maybe we could do something together.' So he and I went along and in one evening I did three pieces. I stole them all.
Probably the reason I've been successful at my kind of acting is that I'm almost entirely self-taught. Everyone in America assumes that the Pythons were all at drama school or studying theatre at university, whereas not a single one of us has ever had a lesson.
When I was at Cambridge I had a number of people that I got on with very well, but I don't think I had any idea of how to open up in such a way that any of my friendships were based on anything that was all that real. In other words they were social relationships rather than anything deeper.
The first memory I have of Terry [Jones] is when I was working for BBC Light Entertainment. I remember having lunch with him in the canteen at the Aeolian Hall in New Bond Street. I had taken the job at the BBC after the ending of Cambridge Circus and before we went off to New Zealand. I have no idea why we were having lunch! I just remember sitting in the canteen. I have one of those mental photos and a vague sense of not quite knowing what he was talking about but nevertheless disagreeing with what he was saying! I have no idea what the content was. I had been in the Footlights show and he had been in the Oxford Revue, although I don't recall ever seeing him perform until Do Not Adjust Your Set.
When I decided to apply for Cambridge, dad had no notion I might go there. It was a complete surprise when I mentioned it to him. He assumed that I would go to Clifton until I was sixteen and then go into accounting. No one in my family had ever been to university. But dad was really kind, he let me stay on for A Levels, and I got accepted to study science. But because of the recent abolition of National Service, Cambridge couldn't take me for two years. This news somehow got back to Geoffrey Tolson, who ran St Peter's, my old prep school, and Geoffrey said, 'Well if you have a gap, why don't you come and teach?' So I left Clifton in the summer of '58 and by the middle of September I was back at St Peter's in Weston-super-Mare, this time teaching boys of eight to thirteen. When I look back on it, it was remarkably unadventurous. Although my father had been quite a traveller, that option didn't occur to me. And I had an enormous affection for St Peter's. I also must have thought I could teach quite well. Also I guess that at an unconscious level, I knew it would keep me in all the circumstances that were familiar to me. In retrospect, I should have gone somewhere and learned a language, particularly in the second year. But in the first year the teaching was quite interesting, and I was having to learn so I could keep one page ahead of the kids, because I was teaching subjects I knew nothing about, like history, geography and English. To be perfectly honest, it was a time when I educated myself a little. And I enjoyed all the other teachers, who were bright and rather learned and very kind. So I finished teaching in summer 1960, knowing what a semi-colon was, and the difference between a phrase and a clause, which I didn't have a clue about when I'd finished at Clifton at the age of eighteen; liking history, which I'd hated before; and knowing where countries were, and how big their populations were. Useful stuff, which almost repaired my Clifton education.
I hadn't the slightest intention of leaving the law. It never occurred to me for a moment that I would go into show business. That's one of those things, like the importance of money or the old culture of deference, that has changed so much. Now it's very hard for anyone to realise what it was like before the British became so interested in money. They were always competitive with status symbols, but not money itself. To go out and get money was considered slightly vulgar. It really was. It's utterly changed. No one had ever thought you even could go into show business as a possible career until our year. The people who'd done it before, Richard Murdock, Jimmy Edwards, Peter Cook, were absolute exceptions and it never occurred to me to go into show business until I was approached by the BBC and suddenly thought, 'Why not?' It was the BBC, and there was a pension plan, so my parents were much less worried by it.
I don't think education was very important [in Monty Python], but I think intelligence played an enormous part. For example, two of the brightest people I ever met were Frank Muir and Denis Norden. I don't think they had vast formal education. They were hugely intelligent. On the whole, in those days, I think you could say that the most intelligent people had been to university, but I think intelligence was very important and education was secondary. After all, if you're intelligent, you can always educate yourself later on. It was 90 per cent intelligence, 10 per cent education.
I do have mild regrets about the name change. I think it would have been much better to have been Cheese. Before I became well known, people could never make out what my surname was and I always had to spell it.
I can't remember my first ever cigarette, but I know I had a rather odd attitude to smoking when I was at school in the late 50's. Some of my friends smoked surreptitiously. They used to go to the cinema in the afternoon in Bristol, primarily to smoke cigarettes and I remember thinking, 'That's really pathetic!' I was a bit of a late-starter when it came to smoking because of my attitude towards my school-friends. I didn't start until I was 25 and rehearsing a show in New York at the end of 1964. We were working in a theatre club and there was a big cigarette machine there. I started off smoking menthols, then after a bit I moved onto Larks and Parliaments. Most of the time that I was doing Monty Python (and certainly Fawlty Towers) I was smoking quite a lot and I got into a cycle, as many writers do, of making myself a cup of coffee, then having a cigarette with it.
Americans tend to idolize celebrities much more than the British. When I'm over there they fawn all over me like some kind of God and they're all very formal and polite but in Britain, people just talk to me like a friend down the pub and ask me some rude questions. I much prefer that.
I genuinely think Monty Python was underrated in Britain and overrated in America.
Donald Trump [Donald J. Trump] still seems quite popular among many people but his supporters are some of the stupidest people you'll ever meet in your life.

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