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John Cleese (1939)

John Marwood Cleese

Type :  

  Summary  

John Marwood Cleese is an English actor, comedian, writer, and film producer. He achieved success at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and as a scriptwriter and performer on The Frost Report. In the late 1960s he became a member of Monty Python, the comedy troupe responsible for the sketch show Monty Python's Flying Circus and the four Monty Python films: And Now for Something Completely Different, The Holy Grail, Life of Brian, and The Meaning of Life.

In the mid 1970s, Cleese and his first wife, Connie Booth, co-wrote and starred in the British sitcom Fawlty Towers. Later, he co-starred with Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis, and former Python colleague Michael Palin in A Fish Called Wanda and Fierce Creatures. He also starred in Clockwise, and has appeared in many other films, including two James Bond films, two Harry Potter films, and three Shrek films.

With Yes Minister writer Antony Jay he co-founded Video Arts, a production company making entertaining training films.

  Biography  

 early life
Cleese was born in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, the only child of Muriel Evelyn (née Cross) , and Reginald Francis Cleese , who worked in insurance sales. His family's surname was previously "Cheese", but his father changed it to "Cleese" in 1915 upon joining the Army.

Cleese was educated at St Peter's Preparatory School, where he was a star pupil, receiving a prize for English studies and doing well at sports, including cricket and boxing. At 13 he received an exhibition to Clifton College, an English public school in Bristol. He was tall as a child and was well over 6 ft when he arrived there. While at the school he is said to have defaced the school grounds for a prank by painting footprints to suggest that the school's statue of Field Marshal Earl Haig had got down from his plinth and gone to the toilet. Cleese played cricket for the first team, and after initial indifference he did well academically, passing 8 O-Levels and 3 A-Levels in mathematics, physics and chemistry.

After leaving school, he went back to his prep school to teach science, English, geography, history, and Latin (he drew on his Latin teaching experience later for a scene in Life of Brian in which he corrects Brian's badly written Latin graffiti) before taking up a place he had won at Downing College, Cambridge, where he studied Law and joined the Cambridge Footlights. There he met his future writing partner Graham Chapman. Cleese wrote extra material for the 1961 Footlights Revue I Thought I Saw It Move, and was Registrar for the Footlights Club during 1962, as well as being one of the cast members for the 1962 Footlights Revue Double Take! He graduated from Cambridge in 1963 with a 2:1 classification in his degree.
Despite his successes on The Frost Report, his father would send him cuttings from the Daily Telegraph offering management jobs in places like Marks and Spencer.

 career
 Pre-Python
Cleese was one of the script writers, as well as being a member of the cast, for the 1963 Footlights Revue A Clump of Plinths, which was so successful during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe that it was renamed Cambridge Circus and taken to the West End in London and then on a tour of New Zealand and Broadway, with the cast also appearing in some of the revue's sketches on The Ed Sullivan Show in September 1964.

After Cambridge Circus, Cleese briefly stayed in America, performing on and Off-Broadway. While performing in the musical Half a Sixpence, Cleese met future Python Terry Gilliam, as well as American actress Connie Booth, whom he married on 20 February 1968.

He was soon offered work as a writer with BBC Radio, where he worked on several programmes, most notably as a sketch writer for The Dick Emery Show. The success of the Footlights Revue led to the recording of a short series of half-hour radio programmes, called I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again, that were so popular that the BBC commissioned a regular series with the same title that ran from 1965 to 1974. Cleese returned to England and joined the cast. In many episodes, he is credited as "John Otto Cleese".

Also in 1965, Cleese and Chapman began writing on The Frost Report. The writing staff chosen for The Frost Report consisted of a number of writers and performers who would go on to make names for themselves in comedy. They included co-performers from I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again and future Goodies Bill Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor, and also 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 while working on The Frost Report, in fact, that the future Pythons developed the writing styles that would make their collaboration significant. Cleese and Chapman's sketches often involved authority figures, some of which were performed by Cleese, while Jones and Palin were both infatuated with filmed scenes that open with idyllic countryside panoramas. 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.

It was as an actual performer on the Frost Report that Cleese achieved his breakthrough on British television as a comedy actor, appearing as the tall, patrician figure on the classic class sketch, contrasting comically in a line-up with the shorter, middle-class Ronnie Barker and the even-shorter, working-class Ronnie Corbett. 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, during which time the Four Yorkshiremen sketch was written by all four writers/performers . Cleese and Chapman also wrote episodes for the first series of Doctor in the House . These series were successful, and in 1969 Cleese and Chapman were offered their very own series. However, owing to Chapman's alcoholism, 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 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 Idle and Jones, with Terry Gilliam creating the animations. The four of them had, on the back of the success of Do Not Adjust Your Set, been offered a series for Thames Television, which they were waiting to begin when Cleese's offer arrived. Palin agreed to work with Cleese and Chapman in the meantime, bringing with him Gilliam, Jones, and Idle.

 Monty Python
Monty Python's Flying Circus ran for four seasons from October 1969 to December 1974 on BBC Television, though with only limited participation of Cleese in the last six shows. Cleese's two primary characterisations were as a sophisticate and a stressed-out loony. He portrayed the former as a series of announcers, TV show hosts, and government officials (for example, "The Ministry of Silly Walks"). The latter is perhaps best represented in the "Cheese Shop" and by Cleese's Mr Praline character, the man with a dead Norwegian Blue parrot and a menagerie of other animals all named "Eric". He was also known for his working-class "Sergeant Major" character, who worked as a Police Sergeant, Roman Centurion, etc. He is also seen as the opening announcer with the now famous line "And now for something completely different", although in its premiere in the sketch "Man with Three Buttocks", the phrase was spoken by Eric Idle.

Partnership with Graham Chapman


Along with Gilliam's animations, Cleese's work with Graham Chapman provided Python with its darkest and angriest moments, and many of his characters display the seething suppressed rage that later characterised his portrayal of Basil Fawlty.

Unlike Palin and Jones, Cleese and Chapman actually wrote together—in the same room; Cleese claims that their writing partnership involved his sitting with pen and paper, doing most of the work, while Chapman sat back, not speaking for long periods, then suddenly coming out with an idea that often elevated the sketch to a different level. A classic example of this is the "Dead Parrot" sketch, envisaged by Cleese as a satire on poor customer service, which was originally to have involved a broken toaster and later a broken car (this version was actually performed and broadcast on the pre-Python special How To Irritate People). It was Chapman's suggestion to change the faulty item into a dead parrot, and he also suggested that the parrot be specifically a Norwegian Blue, giving the sketch a surreal air which made it far more memorable.

Their humour often involved ordinary people in ordinary situations behaving absurdly for no obvious reason. Like Chapman, Cleese's poker face, clipped middle-class accent, and imposing height allowed him to appear convincingly as a variety of authority figures, such as policemen, detectives, Nazi officers, or government officials—which he would then proceed to undermine. Most famously, in the "Ministry of Silly Walks" sketch , Cleese exploits his stature as the crane-legged civil servant performing a grotesquely elaborate walk to his office.

Chapman and Cleese also specialised in sketches where two characters would conduct highly articulate arguments over completely arbitrary subjects, such as in the "cheese shop", the "dead parrot" sketch and "The Argument Sketch", where Cleese plays a stone-faced bureaucrat employed to sit behind a desk and engage people in pointless, trivial bickering. All of these roles were opposite Palin —the comic contrast between the towering Cleese's crazed aggression and the shorter Palin's shuffling inoffensiveness is a common feature in the series. Occasionally, the typical Cleese-Palin dynamic is reversed, as in "Fish Licence", wherein Palin plays the bureaucrat with whom Cleese is trying to work.

Though the programme lasted four series, by the start of series 3, Cleese was growing tired of dealing with Chapman's alcoholism. He felt, too, that the show's scripts had declined in quality. For these reasons, he became restless and decided to move on. Though he stayed for the third series, he officially left the group before the fourth season. Despite this, he remained friendly with the group, and all six began writing Monty Python and the Holy Grail; Cleese received a credit on episodes of the fourth series which used material from these sessions, and even makes a brief appearance in one episode as the voice of a cartoon in the "Hamlet" episode, though he was officially unconnected with the fourth series. Cleese returned to the troupe to co-write and co-star in the Monty Python films Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Monty Python's Life of Brian and Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, and participated in various live performances over the years.

 Post-Python
From 1970 to 1973, Cleese served as rector of the University of St Andrews. His election proved a milestone for the University, revolutionising and modernising the post. For instance, the Rector was traditionally entitled to appoint an "Assessor", a deputy to sit in his place at important meetings in his absence. Cleese changed this into a position for a student, elected across campus by the student body, resulting in direct access and representation for the student body.

Around this time, Cleese worked with comedian Les Dawson on his sketch/stand-up show Sez Les. The differences between the two physically and socially (the public school,Oxbridge-educated Cleese and the working class,self-educated Mancunian Dawson) were marked, but both worked well together from series 8 onwards until the series ended in 1976.

Cleese achieved greater prominence in the United Kingdom as the neurotic hotel manager Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers, which he co-wrote with his wife Connie Booth. The series won three BAFTA awards when produced and in 2000, it topped the British Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes. The series also featured Prunella Scales as Basil's acerbic wife Sybil, Andrew Sachs as the much abused Spanish waiter Manuel ("...he's from Barcelona"), and Booth as waitress Polly, the series' voice of sanity. Cleese based Basil Fawlty on a real person, Donald Sinclair, whom he had encountered in 1970 while the Monty Python team were staying at the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay while filming inserts for their television series. Reportedly, Cleese was inspired by Sinclair's mantra, "I could run this hotel just fine, if it weren't for the guests." He later described Sinclair as "the most wonderfully rude man I have ever met," although Sinclair's widow has said her husband was totally misrepresented in the series. During the Pythons' stay, Sinclair allegedly threw Idle's briefcase out of the hotel "in case it contained a bomb," complained about 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 first series was screened from 19 September 1975 on BBC 2, initially to poor reviews, but gained momentum when repeated on BBC 1 the following year. Despite this, a second series did not air until 1979, by which time Cleese's marriage to Booth had ended, but they revived their collaboration for the second series. Fawlty Towers consisted of only twelve episodes; Cleese and Booth both maintain that this was to avoid compromising the quality of the series.

Muppet Show


In December 1977, Cleese appeared as a guest star on The Muppet Show. Cleese was a fan of the show, and co-wrote much of the episode. He appears in a "Pigs in Space" segment as a pirate trying to hijack the spaceship Swinetrek, and also helps Gonzo restore his arms to "normal" size after Gonzo's cannonball catching act goes wrong. During the show's closing number, Cleese refuses to sing the famous show tune from Man of La Mancha, "The Impossible Dream". Kermit The Frog apologises and the curtain re-opens with Cleese now costumed as a Viking trying some Wagnerian opera as part of a duet with Sweetums. Once again, Cleese protests to Kermit, and gives the frog one more chance. This time, he is costumed as a Mexican maraca soloist. He has finally had enough and protests that he is leaving the show, saying "You were supposed to be my host. How can you do this to me? Kermit – I am your guest!". The cast joins in with their parody of "The Impossible Dream", singing "This is your guest, to follow that star...". During the crowd's applause that follows the song, he pretends to strangle Kermit until he realises the crowd loves him and accepts the accolades. During the show's finale, as Kermit thanks him, he shows up with a fictional album, his own new vocal record John Cleese: A Man & His Music, and encourages everyone to buy a copy.

This would not be Cleese's final appearance with The Muppets. In their 1981 movie The Great Muppet Caper, Cleese does a cameo appearance as Neville, a local homeowner. As part of the appearance, Miss Piggy borrows his house as a way to impress Kermit The Frog.

Awards
Cleese won the TV Times award for Funniest Man On TV – 1978 / 1979.

 1980s and 1990s
During the 1980s and 1990s, Cleese focused on film, though he did work with Peter Cook in his one-off TV special Peter Cook and Co. in 1980. In the same year Cleese played Petruchio, in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew in the BBC Television Shakespeare series. In 1981 he starred with Sean Connery and Michael Palin in the Terry Gilliam-directed Time Bandits as Robin Hood. He also participated in Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl , and starred in The Secret Policeman's Ball for Amnesty International. In 1985, Cleese had a small dramatic role as a sheriff in Silverado, which had an all-star cast that included Kevin Kline, with whom he would star with in A Fish Called Wanda three years later. In 1986, he starred in Clockwise as an uptight school headmaster obsessed with punctuality and constantly getting in to trouble during a journey to a headmaster's conference.

Timed with the 1987 UK elections, he appeared in a video promoting proportional representation.

In 1988, he wrote and starred in A Fish Called Wanda, as the lead, Archie Leach, along with Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline and Michael Palin. Wanda was a commercial and critical success, and Cleese was nominated for an Academy Award for his script. Cynthia Cleese starred as Leach's daughter.

Graham Chapman was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1989; Cleese, Michael Palin, Peter Cook and Chapman's partner David Sherlock, witnessed Chapman's death. Chapman's death occurred a day before the 20th anniversary of the first broadcast of Flying Circus, with Jones commenting, "the worst case of party-pooping in all history." Cleese's eulogy at Chapman's memorial service—in which he "became the first person ever at a British memorial service to say 'fuck'"—has since become legendary.

Cleese would later play a supporting role in Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein alongside Branagh himself and Robert De Niro. He also produced and acted in a number of successful business training films, including Meetings, Bloody Meetings and More Bloody Meetings. These were produced by his company Video Arts.

With Robin Skynner, the group analyst and family therapist, 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 . The follow-up to A Fish Called Wanda, Fierce Creatures—which again starred Cleese alongside Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Palin—was also released that year, but was greeted with mixed reception by critics and audiences. Cleese has since often stated that making the second movie had been a mistake. When asked by his friend, director and restaurant critic Michael Winner, what he would do differently if he could live his life again, Cleese responded, "I wouldn’t have married Alyce Faye Eichelberger and I wouldn’t have made Fierce Creatures."

In 1999, Cleese appeared in the James Bond movie, The World Is Not Enough as Q's assistant, referred to by Bond as "R". In 2002, when Cleese reprised his role in Die Another Day, the character was promoted, making Cleese the new quartermaster of MI6. In 2004, Cleese was featured as Q in the video game James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing, featuring his likeness and voice. Cleese did not appear in the subsequent Bond films, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

 2000 to present
Cleese is Provost's Visiting Professor at Cornell University, after having been Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large from 1999–2006. He makes occasional, well-received appearances on the Cornell campus. He sold his home in the town of Montecito, California in 2008 and planned on moving to Bath in the UK where he has a home on the Royal Crescent. In 2011 Cleese was quoted as saying that for tax purposes he might have to live in Switzerland or Monaco.

In 2001, Cleese was cast in the comedy Rat Race as the eccentric hotel owner Donald P. Sinclair, the name of the Torquay hotel owner on who he had based the character of Basil Fawlty. In 2002, Cleese made a cameo appearance in the movie The Adventures of Pluto Nash in which he played "James", a computerised chauffeur of a hover car stolen by the title character . The vehicle is subsequently destroyed in a chase, leaving the chauffeur stranded in a remote place on the moon. In 2003, Cleese appeared as Lyle Finster on the US sitcom Will & Grace. His character's daughter, Lorraine, was played by Minnie Driver. In the series, Lyle Finster briefly marries Karen Walker . In 2004, Cleese was credited as co-writer of a DC Comics graphic novel entitled Superman: True Brit. Part of DC's "Elseworlds" line of imaginary stories, True Brit, mostly written by Kim Howard Johnson, suggests what might have happened had Superman's rocket ship landed in Britain, not America.

From 10 November to 9 December 2005, Cleese toured New Zealand with his stage show, John Cleese—His Life, Times and Current Medical Problems. Cleese described it as "a one-man show with several people in it, which pushes the envelope of acceptable behaviour in new and disgusting ways." The show was developed in New York with William Goldman and includes Cleese's daughter Camilla as a writer and actor . His assistant of many years, Garry Scott-Irvine, also appeared, and was listed as a co-producer. It then played in universities in California and Arizona from 10 January to 25 March 2006 under the title "Seven Ways to Skin an Ocelot". His voice can be downloaded for directional guidance purposes as a downloadable option on some personal GPS-navigation device models by company TomTom.

In a 2005 poll of comedians and comedy insiders, The Comedian's Comedian, Cleese was voted second only to Peter Cook. Also in 2005, a long-standing piece of Internet humour, "The Revocation of Independence of the United States", was wrongly attributed to Cleese. In 2006, Cleese hosted a television special of football’s greatest kicks, goals, saves, bloopers, plays and penalties, as well as football’s influence on culture (including the famous Monty Python sketch “Philosophy Football”), featuring interviews with pop culture icons Dave Stewart, Dennis Hopper and Henry Kissinger, as well as football greats including Pelé, Mia Hamm and Thierry Henry. The Art of Soccer with John Cleese was released in North America on DVD in January 2009 by BFS Entertainment & Multimedia.

Cleese lent his voice to the BioWare video game Jade Empire. His role was that of an "outlander" named Sir Roderick Ponce von Fontlebottom the Magnificent Bastard, stranded in the Imperial City of the Jade Empire. His character is essentially a British colonialist stereotype who refers to the people of the Jade Empire as "savages in need of enlightenment". His armour has the design of a fork stuck in a piece of cheese. He also had a cameo appearance in the computer game Starship Titanic as "The Bomb" (credited as "Kim Bread"), designed by Douglas Adams.

In June 2006, while promoting a football song in which he was featured, entitled Don't Mention the World Cup, Cleese appears to have claimed that he decided to retire from performing in sitcoms, instead opting to writing a book on the history of comedy and to tutor young comedians.
This was an erroneous story, the result of an interview with The Times of London .

In 2007, Cleese appeared in ads for Titleist as a golf course designer named "Ian MacCallister", who represents "Golf Designers Against Distance". Also in 2007, he started filming the sequel to The Pink Panther, titled The Pink Panther 2, with Steve Martin and Aishwarya Rai. On 27 September 2007, The Podcast Network announced it had signed a deal with Cleese to produce a series of video podcasts called HEADCAST to be published on TPN's website. Cleese released the first episode of this series in April 2008 on his own website, headcast.co.uk

Cleese collaborated with Los Angeles Guitar Quartet member William Kanengiser in 2008, on the text to the performance piece "The Ingenious Gentleman of La Mancha". Cleese, as narrator, and the LAGQ premiered the work in Santa Barbara. 2008 also saw reports of Cleese working on a musical version of A Fish Called Wanda with his daughter Camilla. He also said that he is working on a new film screenplay for the first time since 1996's Fierce Creatures. Cleese collaborates on it with writer Lisa Hogan, under the current working title "A Taxing Time". According to him, it is "about the lengths to which people will go to avoid tax. It's based on what happened to me when I cashed in my UK pension and moved to Santa Barbara."

At the end of March 2009, Cleese published his first article as 'Contributing Editor' to The Spectator: "The real reason I had to join The Spectator". On 6 May 2009, he appeared on The Paul O'Grady Show. Cleese has also hosted comedy galas at the Montreal Just for Laughs comedy festival in 2006, and again in 2009. He had to cancel the 2009 appearance due to prostatitis, but hosted it a few days later. Towards the end of 2009 and into 2010, Cleese appeared in a series of television adverts for the Norwegian electric goods shop chain, Elkjøp. In March 2010 it was announced that Cleese would be playing Jasper in the video game "Fable III".

In 2009 and 2010, Cleese toured Scandinavia and the US with his Alimony Tour Year One and Year Two. In May 2010, it was announced that this tour would extend to the UK , set for May 2011 – The show is dubbed the "Alimony Tour" in reference to the financial implications of Cleese's divorce. The UK tour started in Cambridge on 3 May, visiting Birmingham, Salford, Liverpool, Oxford, Leeds, Edinburgh and finishing in Palmerston North, New Zealand.

In October 2010, Cleese was featured in the launch of an advertising campaign by The Automobile Association for a new home emergency response product. He appeared as a man who believed the AA could not help him during a series of disasters, including water pouring through his ceiling, with the line "The AA? For faulty showers?" During 2010, Cleese appeared in a series of radio advertisements for the Canadian insurance company Pacific Blue Cross, in which he plays a character called "Dr. Nigel Bilkington, Chief of Medicine for General American Hospital".

 personal life
 1960s to 1980s
Cleese met Connie Booth in the US during the late 1960s and the couple married in 1968. In 1971, Booth gave birth to Cynthia Cleese, their only child. With Booth, Cleese wrote the scripts for and co-starred in both series of the TV series Fawlty Towers, even though the two were actually divorced before the second series was finished and aired. Cleese and Booth are said to have remained close friends since.

Cleese married American actress Barbara Trentham in 1981. Their daughter Camilla, Cleese's second child, was born in 1984. He and Trentham divorced in 1990. During this time, Cleese moved from the United Kingdom to California.

 1990s on
On 28 December 1992 he married American psychotherapist Alyce Faye Eichelberger. In January 2008 the couple announced they had split. The divorce was settled in December 2008. The divorce settlement left Eichelberger with £12 million in finance and assets, including £600,000 a year for seven years. Cleese stated that "What I find so unfair is that if we both died today, her children would get much more than mine".

In April 2010, Cleese revealed on The Graham Norton Show on BBC One that he had started a new relationship with a woman 31 years his junior, Jennifer Wade.

During the disruption caused by the Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010 Cleese became stranded in Oslo and decided to take a taxi to Brussels. The 1500 km journey cost £3,300 and was completed with the help of three drivers who took shifts in driving Cleese to his destination where he planned to take a Eurostar passenger train to the UK.

Cleese has a passion for lemurs. Following the 1997 comedy film Fierce Creatures, in which the ring-tailed lemur played a key role, he hosted the 1998 BBC documentary In the Wild: Operation Lemur with John Cleese, which tracked the progress of a reintroduction of Black-and-white Ruffed Lemurs back into the Betampona Reserve in Madagascar. The project had been partly funded by Cleese's donation of the proceeds from the London premier of Fierce Creatures. Cleese is quoted as saying, "I adore lemurs. They're extremely gentle, well-mannered, pretty and yet great fun... I should have married one."

In November 2011, in an interview on The Chris Moyles Show, Cleese claimed he "isn't a vegetarian and never was."

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Whole or part of the information contained in this card come from the Wikipedia article "John Cleese", licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.