"Nudge, nudge, wink,
wink, say no more!"
- W.J. Flywheel, Webporium
Python's reign of terror began in 1166, when William the Conker
invaded Baldock, England. Conker quickly laid waste to much of
Bulgaria, planting horse chestnut trees here, there, and everywhere.
Conker had a pet python called Monty. But Monty was too compassionate
for Conker's liking, so ended up in the Crusades in 1756, where he
was used as a portable bridge. One day, Monty caught sight of
Mathilda Python, deserted his post, and 100,000 souls drowned (Monty
was quite big). Python was court-martialled, but, luckily, six bakers
took pity on him and adopted him.
The bakers decided to name
their pub, Monty le Python, but the 'le' was soon dropped for reasons
of etiquette. The bakers were nasty bastards, in truth, and they all
wanted to have Monty to themselves. Thus, they would have contests
whereby the man who punched the most holes in the most doughnuts,
without using his hands, would win Python. The girls loved all this,
and all six bakers were soon wed, but as they all scored 1,603 the
ownership of Monty was still to be settled.
Thus, they formed a
wrestling troupe called Monty Python, and they consisted of the six
men who were to be immortal: John 'Cleaver' Cleese, Graham 'Chopper'
Chapman, Eric 'Innocent' Idle, Terry 'Garotter' Gilliam, Michael
'Poker' Palin, and Terry 'Jabber' Jones.
They were to fight to the
death. The winner gaining Monty. On the road to their first venue at
Scrotum Grab - a treacherous 362 mile walk in camel slurry - the
group kept their spirits up telling jokes, and performing sketches,
including those which were to be famous evermore: 'The Dead Parsnip
Sketch', 'Upper Class Twig In The Rear', and 'The Ministry of Sunny Forts'.
They didn't fancy wrestling
anymore, went home, wrote a history of Belgium before bedtime, and
were signed up in 1869 by the Bermuda Broadcasting Company, and then
they made some films. Monty became their manager.
- Paul Rance.
Mr. Rance began his
career as a writer some time ago, and wrote novels such as 'David
Copperfield' and '1984'. He then became a successful singer with The
Beatles, played football (soccer to you Americans), cricket, rugby,
and water polo for England. He was the first man on Mars in 1934.
Python, or The Pythons, is the collective name of the creators of
Monty Python's Flying Circus, a British television comedy sketch show
that first aired on the BBC on October 5, 1969. A total of 45
episodes were made over four series. However, the Python phenomenon
was much greater, spawning stage tours, a musical, four films,
numerous albums, and several books, as well as launching the members
to individual stardom.
television series, broadcast by the BBC from 1969 to 1974, was
conceived, written and performed by Graham Chapman, John Cleese,
Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. Loosely
structured as a sketch show, but with
a highly innovative stream-of-consciousness approach (aided by Terry
Gilliam's animations), it pushed the boundaries of what was then
considered acceptable, both in terms of style and content. The
group's influence upon comedy has been compared to that which The
Beatles had on music (George Harrison regarded them as taking over
where The Beatles left off and in fact became friendly with the
cast). Their influence on the British comedic spectrum has been
apparent for years, while in America it is especially evident in more
recent absurdist trends in television comedy. The six members of the
team had got to know each other gradually in the preceding years,
firstly through university - Chapman, Cleese and Idle were at
Cambridge together, while Jones and Palin were at Oxford - and later
through their work on various television comedy programmes, most
notably The Frost Report.
1967, John Cleese and Graham Chapman co-wrote and starred in At Last,
the 1948 Show, which also starred Marty Feldman, Tim Brooke-Taylor
and Aimi MacDonald, with occasional appearances by Eric Idle. The
following year, Idle, Michael Palin and Jones Terry wrote and starred
in the children's show, Do Not Adjust Your Set (DNAYS), which also
featured animations by Terry Gilliam.
early 1969, Michael Palin and Terry Jones wrote and starred in a
short-lived series called The Complete and Utter History of Britain,
in which they presented various periods in British history as though
television cameras had been there. The series was seen by John
Cleese, who decided that he would like to work with Palin. A similar
thought was had by Barry Took, a producer at the BBC, and he arranged
a meeting between the two. Cleese brought writing partner Chapman
along, and Palin brought DNAYS colleagues Jones, Idle and Gilliam.
The six of them hit it off, sharing a love of The Goons and Spike
Milligan's Q5 television show. With no questions asked, the BBC
gave them a budget to produce 13 television shows.
The first episode of Monty
Python's Flying Circus was broadcast on October 5, 1969. The show was
buried late at night and was moved round the schedules to make way
for other programmes. Occasionally it was dropped altogether4, while
certain regions of the UK never got to see it at all. Despite all
this, the show developed a significant word-of-mouth following;
enough for the BBC to commission a second series in 1970.
Just before the second
series, the Pythons branched out into the world of film, with the
release of And Now For Something Completely Different. Envisaged as a
way of breaking Monty Python into the American market, it wasn't as
successful as they'd hoped and the team returned to television. The
third series of Flying Circus was shown in 1972-73, at the end of
which, Cleese decided that he'd been with the circus long enough. The
fourth series, renamed simply Monty Python was shown in 1974. Having
only six episodes, it is generally considered to be the weakest of
the four series, with John's departure unbalancing the group.
Fortunately, John wasn't gone for good...
Monty Python and the
Holy Grail (1974)
group (including Cleese) reformed in 1974 to write and star in their
first feature film of new material (a feature film And Now For
Something Completely Different was produced in 1971 but was comprised
entirely of old material, which was re-shot, often shortened, and
sometimes slightly changed for the film. The group did not consider
this film a success, but it enjoys a cult following today). The film,
Monty Python and the Holy Grail, was based around Arthurian Legend
and directed by Jones and Gilliam, who also drew the film's linking
animations and opening credits. Along with the rest of the Pythons,
Jones and Gilliam performed several roles in the film, but it was
Chapman who took the lead as King Arthur. Holy Grail was filmed on a
budget of only about £150,000, which is roughly £1,000,000
in 2005 when adjusted for inflation. This money was raised in part
with donations from rock groups such as Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin.
film was shot on location in Scotland, particularly around Doune
Castle, Glen Coe, and the privately-owned Castle Stalker. Because of
the small budget, the film had to make do without horses. This led to
one of the film's most memorable gags, as every time the script calls
for the knights to be majestically riding their steeds, they are
actually play-riding along on foot while their squires behind them
(also play-riding) carry coconut shells to bang together to imitate
the sound of horses' hooves (once a radio sound effect now actually
shown on screen for comic
effect). The chain mail armour worn by the various knights was
actually silver-painted wool, whilst the many castles seen throughout
the film were either Doune Castle shot from different angles, or
cardboard models held up against the horizon. The filming was
apparently unpleasant. The weather was poor and the "chain
mail" soaked up water, the budget only allowed for low-quality
hotels, Gilliam and Jones argued with each other and with the other
Pythons, and the extent of Chapman's alcoholism became apparent when
he began to suffer from delerium tremens during the filming. The
Pythons recall that the filming of Holy Grail is the only time any of
them can remember the usually amiable Palin losing his temper. This
occurred when Jones and Gilliam insisted on consistently re-shooting
a scene in which Palin played a character called "the mud
eater". The scene was ultimately cut from the movie. The film
proved a success and in 2000, readers of Total Film magazine voted
Monty Python and the Holy Grail the 5th greatest comedy film of all time.
Monty Python's Life of
the success of Holy Grail, a reporter asked Idle what the title of
the next Python film would be. It is reported Idle replied "Jesus
Christ - Lust for Glory", which soon became the group's stock
answer as they realised that it shut reporters up. Though the rest of
the group originally laughed the joke off, they soon began to
seriously consider a film lampooning the life of Christ in the same
way Holy Grail had lampooned King Arthur. However, after some
research the group decided they could not do this as they felt Jesus
was a good person with a solid message. However, they agreed that his
followers would be easy to poke fun at, and so Monty Python's Life of
Brian was made. The focus therefore shifted to a separate individual
born at a similar time, and a legend was born. When Jesus does appear
in the film (as he does on two occasions in the stable and
speaking the Beatitudes (Matt 5:1-48)), he is portrayed according to
Christian beliefs. The comedy only begins when members of the crowd
mishear his statement 'Blessed are the Peacemakers...' ('I think he
said, "blessed are the cheesemakers"'; also, later, there
is some debate on whether the 'Greek' should inherit the Earth). With
regards to funding, Python again had help from a rock star in the
person of George Harrison, who set up Handmade Films purely to
finance the film. He claims he did so because he simply wanted to see
another Python film. The Pythons often joke that it is still the most
anyone has ever paid for a cinema ticket.
Learning their lesson from
Holy Grail's unpleasant setting, the team chose to write the film in
the Caribbean (where they were visited by Keith Moon and Mick Jagger)
and film in Tunisia. In contrast to Holy Grail, many of the Pythons
remember this as their most enjoyable experience working together as
The experiment with
co-direction on Holy Grail proved to be a one-off, as it led to
creative friction. Instead, Jones was left to direct by himself.
Though Cleese had originally wanted to play Brian, the rest of the
group favoured Chapman, whom they considered as the best actor
amongst them. Though Chapman only plays Brian and Biggus Dickus, the
rest of the cast, between them, play over 40 characters. It also
featured cameos from Harrison and Milligan (who just happened to be
on holiday in Tunisia at the time). Moon was also set to appear but
sadly died before he could film his part.
Upon its release, protests
against the film were organised based on its perceived blasphemy, not
the least of which because the film ends with a comical song sung by
the victims of a mass crucifixion (Idle's "Always Look on the
Bright Side of Life"). On its initial release in the UK, the
film was banned by several town councils (some of which had no
cinemas within their boundaries). The film was also banned for eight
years in the Republic of Ireland and for a year in Norway
(it was marketed in Sweden as 'the movie that is so funny, it was
banned in Norway!'). The film was not released in Italy until 1990,
eleven years after it was made. The film was not shown in Jersey
until 2001. The Bailiff of Jersey, Frank Ereaut's government, wanted
it to be watched only by adults, even though the BBFC rated it
suitable for those aged 14 or over.
Mary Whitehouse and other
campaigners launched waves of leaflets and picketing at and around
cinemas that showed the film, ironically boosting the publicity.
Shortly after the film was released, Cleese and Palin engaged in a
debate over it on the BBC2 discussion programme Friday Night,
Saturday Morning, in which Malcolm Muggeridge and the Bishop of
Southwark put the case against the film. Cleese has frequently said
that he enjoyed the debate, since he felt that the film was
'completely intellectually defensible'. Palin, however, was visibly
angry. This discussion was later parodied by Not the Nine O'Clock
News with a debate about The General Synod's Life of Christ, in which
a guy named Jesus Christ is mistaken for the Comic Messiah John
Cleese. For their part, the Pythons contend on the DVD commentary
that the film is heretical because it lampoons the practices of
modern organised religion, but does not blasphemously lampoon the God
that Christians worship.
Monty Python's The
Meaning of Life (1983)
final film was more like the style of Flying Circus. A series of
sketches loosely followed the ages of man from conception to death.
Directed again by Jones, The Meaning of Life is embellished with some
of Python's most bizarre moments, and various elaborate musical
numbers. At the time of its release the Python's confessed their aim
was to offend "absolutely everyone". The film begins with a
short film by Gilliam - The Crimson Permanent Assurance - that was
originally planned as a sketch within the film but eventually grew so
ambitious that the Pythons felt it needed to be separate from the
main film (although the characters from the short do make a brief
return to "invade" the main film).
Though a commercial and
critical success, The Meaning of Life is generally not regarded as
being of the same quality of its predecessors. Many feel it lacks the
structure of Holy Grail and Life of Brian. Idle claims it was just
"one re-write away from being perfect". The Pythons had
originally wanted to do one final re-write introducing one lead
character (such as Arthur or Brian) who could be followed through the
ages of man. However, Cleese refused as he had grown tired of the
already protracted writing process for the film. Crucially, this was
the last project that all six Pythons would collaborate on, except
for the 1989 compilation Parrot Sketch Not Included where we see the
Python cast sitting in a closet for 4 seconds, which would be the
last time Chapman was filmed on screen with the rest of the Pythons.
Michael Palin, 4 is the
Python superstar. A brilliant humourist, Michael is the vital
creative influence without whom Python could not have survived. With
an I.Q. of several thousand, Michael still finds time to look up
people who owe him money. Michael drives a scarlet and gold
Lamborghini or else hitchhikes.
on May 5, 1943, the youngest Python by a matter of weeks, Palin is
often lovingly referred to as "the nice one." He attended
Oxford, where he met his Python writing partner Jones. The two also
wrote the series Ripping Yarns together. Palin and Jones originally
wrote together, but soon found it was more productive to write apart
and then come together and review what the other had written.
Therefore, Jones and Palin's sketches tended to be more focused than
that of the other four, taking one bizarre, hilarious situation,
sticking to it, and building on it. Examples include "The
Spanish Inquisition" sketch and the "fish-slapper" in
the Fish-Slapping Dance.
sketches take everyday situations (talking in the sitting room,
dining out) but then introduce an unexpected, impossible to predict,
rogue element (the Spanish Inquisition, a grotesquely
overweight man). From here, Palin and Jones could play around with
the newly created environment, taking it to impossible, unbelievably
stupid extremes, for example, attempting to torture old ladies with
cushions and comfy chairs, or having waiter Cleese feed Mr. Creosote
until he actually explodes, showering the other diners in viscera.
recent years, Palin has starred in a number of documentary travel
series for the BBC in which he visits various usually remote
locales, often along some predetermined route; for example his
series Pole to Pole and the BBC-sponsored Around the World in Eighty
Days, where he followed the route of the fictional journey of Phileas
Fogg in Jules Verne's novel of the same name. He also starred in
Gilliams Brazil and Time Bandits, and hosted Saturday Night
Live several times. Palin is one of the most popular personalities in
Eric Idle, 13 is even
younger than Graham Chapman and John Cleese. Eric is the real genius
of the group. Much taller than a midget, Eric is, as he puts it,
"little short of brilliant." Eric has brought to Python
much of the anarchic humour and brilliantly surrealist performance
which would have been so sadly lacking without him. Eric was born
under Derry and Toms.
was born on March 29, 1943 in South Shields, England. When with
Monty Python, two writing partnerships were formed Cleese and
Chapman, Jones and Palin. That left Gilliam in his own corner,
considered to be a sensible position in view of the arcane nature of
his work, and Idle.
Idle was content to be cast
as the group loner, preferring to write by himself, at his own pace,
although he sometimes found it difficult in having to present
material to the others and make it seem funny without the back-up
support of a partner. Cleese claimed that, though he often felt his
position was unfair, Idle was an independent person and worked best
on his own. Idle claimed, "It was easier in a show where there
were thirteen in a series than with a film, where stuff was read out
all the time, and you had to convince five others. And they were not
the most un-egotistical of writers either."
studied at Cambridge, a year behind Cleese and Chapman. He is
perhaps best remembered for composing Always Look on the Bright Side
of Life, which closes Life of Brian and which has become something of
the group's signature tune.
Since Python, Idle has
starred in movies ranging from South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
to National Lampoon's European Vacation to 102 Dalmatians to
television shows such as The Simpsons, MADtv and Saturday Night Live
and even starred in the 1996 "point-and-click" computer
game Discworld, in which he voiced the game's protagonist Rincewind.
Idle also directs and stars in the mockumentary, The Rutles and the
Ruttles 2. Originally hatched in 1978 as a short film parody for
Saturday Night Live, the mockumentary bloomed into one of Eric Idle's
better projects outside Monty Python. Taking the career (and
hagiography) of the Beatles and inverting them quite nicely, Idle
conjures up four doppelgangers who offer the familiar mannerisms but
practically none of the intelligence of their models. If that sounds
like the same gag that powered This Is Spinal Tap (which emerged six
years later), it is, with the crucial difference that Idle's lampoon
is precise where Tap was consciously generic.
Curently Idle is the writer
of the three time Tony award-winning Broadway musical, Spamalot based
on the Holy Grail movie. He also collaborated with John Du Prez on
Terry Jones, 12 is
unbelievably young, and yet his mature judgement and fine singing
voice have earned him the accolade of "the biggest thing since
Virginia Woolf." Terry has constantly refused offers for him to
leave Python, preferring instead to devote his considerable talents
to helping "the other, less privileged members of the cast."
Terry likes steak au poivre and his ambition is to have a road named
was born on February 1, 1942 in North Wales. All the Pythons have an
eclectic range of talents, but Jones is particularly hard to
compartmentalise. George Perry has commented that should you
"speak to him on subjects as diverse as fossil fuels, or Rupert
Bear, or mercenaries in the Middle Ages or Modern China and in a
moment you will find yourself hopelessly out of your depth, floored
by his knowledge."
However, not everyone
considers Jones a "show-off", merely that he has a
good-natured enthusiasm. It is this same cheery devotion that has led
to his unflagging loyalty to the preservation of the group. As long
as there is Jones, there will be, in some way, a Monty Python. Jones'
dedication to Python is not a recent occurrence however. As well as
writing with Palin, he committed himself to directing the Python
films Monty Python and the Holy Grail, The Life of Brian, and Monty
Python's Meaning of Life, when it was felt that a member of the group
should be in charge. One of Jones' major concerns was devising a
fresh format for the Python TV shows, devising a
stream-of-consciousness style which abandoned punchlines and instead
encouraged the fluid movement of one sketch to another and the
cross-referencing of jokes. This allowed the team's conceptual humour
and one-line ideas room to realise their full potential which
conventional formulas would arguably compromise. Jones also objected
to TV directors use of sped-up film, over-emphatic music, and
static camera style. As a film director, Jones finally gained fuller
control of the projects and devised a visual style that complemented
the humour, and, once again, concentrated on allowing the performers
room to breathe; for instance, in the use of wide shots for long
exchanges of dialogue, and more economical use of music. His methods
encouraged many future television comedians to break away from
conventional slapstick or studio-bound shooting styles, as
demonstrated by Green Wing, Little Britain and The League of Gentlemen.
Of Jones' innumerable
contributions to the show, his parodic, screechy-voiced depictions of
middle-aged women are among the most memorable. His humour, in
collaboration with Palin, tends to be conceptual rather than
situational; the central joke in a typical Palin/Jones sketch tends
to be an illustrated idea taken to extremes. Examples of this include
the "Mouse Organ" sketch, in which a tuxedoed man (Jones)
bashes mice who have been trained to squeak at a select pitch and
are then played in the appropriate order to render the "Bells
of St. Mary"; cunningly, no laughs are wrung from the violence
of the situation but rather from the madness of the idea itself. The
crime-fighting bishop sketch also contains many typical conceits,
such as a crook that doubles as an emergency telephone.
In 2004, Jones was the
presenter and actor for the BBC's miniseries, Terry Jones' Medieval
Lives. He has also directed and starred in Erik the Viking, and in
2006 presented a series on BBC2 entitled Barbarians.
Jones is arguably the most
underrated member of the group, even by diehard fans. His major
contributions were largely behind the scenes (direction, writing) and
he often deferred to the other members of the group as an actor.
However, recent Python literature has gone some way in reclaiming him
as a vital factor in maintaining the group's independence and unity.
Graham Chapman, 19 is the
youngest member of the group. A modest, soft-spoken loud mouth,
Graham feels that without him the show would have been a complete
disaster. A brilliant and prolific writer, Graham wrote many of the
I.T.M.A. Shows as well as most of E.M.Forster. Graham's favourite
colour is off-white and his favourite heavy gas is Helium. Most often
seen with a pipe in his mouth, Graham is said to have liked nothing
better than a rough shag after filming.
in Leicester, England on January 8, 1941, Chapman was originally a
medical student, but changed to theatre when he joined Footlights at
Cambridge. Chapman was perhaps best remembered for taking on the lead
roles in The Holy Grail, as King Arthur, and Life of Brian, as Brian Cohen.
movie roles were fairly straight, the comedy deriving from the
stereotypical lead in bizarre situations, encountering eccentric
characters, still being played as serious, and unflinching. These
roles, however, were unusual for the Graham Chapman the public had
come to know on the Flying Circus, where he figured as the tall,
craggy pipe smoker who gave the impression of calmness, disguising a
manic unpredictability as real in his characters as they were in
reality. For behind the pipe-smoking, rugby-playing exterior lay an
alcoholic with whom the rest of the Pythons often had trouble
dealing. This was one of the reasons that Cleese left the television
show after series three.
particularly had trouble filming Holy Grail in Scotland, where he
got a case of delirium tremens, often called DTs. During his worst
alcoholism, he was reportedly consuming two quarts of gin every day.
However, by the time his definitive role of Brian arose, he was sober
and continued to produce some of his best work with the Pythons.
starring in Monty Python features, Chapman starred in movies such as
The Odd Job (he was also the producer) and Yellowbeard (which he also
directed), also making several appearances on Saturday Night Live.
Chapman died of spinal and throat cancer on October 4, 1989. Thanks
to the nature of the other Pythons, he is now lovingly referred to as
"the dead one." Cleese also made a point to be the first
person to say 'fuck' in a British eulogy, but only because the
deceased (Chapman) was the first person to say 'shit' on British television.
Terry Gilliam, 10 1/2 is
the real baby of the group. He is so young and talented that it is
almost presumption to mention his name along with the others. "I
think I can safely say that without me there would have been no Monty
Python, no United Nations and quite possibly no end to the Second
World War," says Terry disarmingly. Terry has written over 40
symphonies and his greatest likes are his own cartoons and having his
inside leg measured.
born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 22, 1940, is the only
non-British member of the troupe. He started off as an animator and
strip cartoonist for Harvey Kurtzman's Help! magazine, one issue of
which featured Cleese. Moving from the USA to England, he animated
features for Do Not Adjust Your Set and then joined Monty Python's
Flying Circus when it was created.
He was the principal
artist-animator of the distinctive, surreal cartoons, which
frequently linked the show's sketches together, and defined the
group's visual language in other mediums. He mixed his own art,
characterised by soft gradients and odd bulbous shapes, with
backgrounds and moving cutouts from antique photographs, mostly from
the Victorian era. The style has been mimicked repeatedly throughout
the years: in the children's television cartoon Angela Anaconda, a
series of television commercials for Guinness, the JibJab cartoons
featured on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, the online comic strip
The New Adventures Of Queen Victoria, and the television history
series Terry Jones' Medieval Lives. The title sequence for Desperate
Housewives and the visits to the land of the living in Grim Fandango
are also highly Gilliamesque. The style of animation used for South
Park was inspired by Gilliam's paper cut-out cartoons for Monty
Python's Flying Circus.
doing the animations for the Flying Circus, he also appeared in
several sketches, usually playing parts that no one else wanted to
play (generally because they required a lot of make-up or
uncomfortable costumes, such as a recurring knight in armour who
would end sketches by walking on and hitting one of the other
characters over the head with a plucked chicken) and played side
parts in the films.
He co-directed Monty Python
and The Holy Grail and directed short segments of other Python films
(for instance "The Crimson Permanent Assurance", the short
film that appears before The Meaning of Life). Gilliam has gone on to
become a celebrated and imaginative film director of such notable
titles as Time Bandits, Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen,
The Fisher King, Twelve Monkeys, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The
Brothers Grimm and Tideland.
John Cleese, 18 is even
younger than Graham, the youngest of the group. John refers to
himself as a comic genius, a manic wild-eyed wizard of wit, and one
of the most popular men since Ghandhi. His special role in Python, he
feels, has been the complete integration of writing and performing
into a viable and successful whole. John's favourite colour is fish,
and his pet hate is insincerity.
on October 27, 1939 in Weston-super-Mare, England, Cleeses
surname had originally been Cheese. His father, however, had the name
changed to Cleese when he joined the army during World War II.
Perhaps the best known of the Pythons, Cleese attended Clifton
College, Bristol where he developed a taste for performing by
appearing in the house plays. He moved on to Cambridge, where he met
his future Python writing partner, Chapman.
His work with Chapman was,
aside from Gilliam's animations, perhaps the most surreal of the
Pythons' work and almost certainly the most intentionally satirical.
Unlike Palin and Jones, Cleese and Chapman actually wrote together,
in the same room. Cleese claims that their writing partnership
involved him sitting with pen and paper, and Chapman sitting back,
not speaking for lengths at a time, but when he did speak, it was
often brilliant. Without Chapman's input, the "dead parrot"
sketch would have been about the duller subject of a car (it is much
harder to imagine Cleese throwing about a car in the same way he
threw about the parrot).
Their work often involved
ordinary people in ordinary situations, doing incredibly strange and
surreal things. For example, Cleese and Chapman transformed the
ordinary sight "a civil servant in black suit and bowler hat
makes his way to work" into a bizarrely unforgettable scene; the straight-faced
Cleese used his physical potential to its full force as the
crane-legged civil servant performing an athletic, grotesque, utterly
unique walk to his office at the "Ministry of Silly Walks".
This sketch was in fact
written by Palin and Jones, but Cleese made it his own, showcasing
his talent for physical comedy (also famously used in Fawlty Towers)
and playing characters who could remain serious, even impassive,
while doing something utterly ludicrous. His role as Sir Lancelot in
Monty Python and the Holy Grail also showcases this, as he fights his
way through a castle to save a damsel in distress, much like, say,
Kevin Costner in films such as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,
although completely oblivious to the fact that he is actually
savaging wedding guests.
Another popular device used
by the two was highly articulate arguments over completely arbitrary
subjects, such as in the "cheese shop", the "dead
parrot" sketch or the "argument clinic". All of these
roles were opposite Palin, who Cleese often claims is his favourite
Python to work with.
Towers was a British sitcom created by Cleese and first broadcast on
BBC2 in 1975. Only twelve episodes were produced, but the series has
had a lasting and powerful influence on later shows. The show is set
in a fictional hotel named Fawlty Towers in the Devon town of Torquay
on "The English Riviera". The series was written by Cleese
and (then wife) Connie Booth, who also played two of the main
characters, and was broadcast in two series: The first, in 1975, and
the second, in 1979.
Fawlty Towers was inspired
by the Monty Python team's stay in the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay.
Cleese and Booth stayed on at the hotel after filming for the Python
show had finished. The owner, Mr. Donald Sinclair, was very rude,
throwing a bus timetable at a guest who asked when the next bus to
town would arrive and placing Eric Idle's suitcase behind a wall in
the garden in case it contained a bomb (actually it contained a
ticking alarm clock). He also criticised the American-born Terry
Gilliam's table manners for being too American (he had the fork in
the wrong hand while eating), possibly inspiring Basil's treatment of
an American visitor in the episode "Waldorf Salad".
Sinclair died in England in 1981 despite rumours that he had
emigrated to Canada, he never left Torquay. Interestingly, Basil
Fawlty displayed an affinity for Canada on a couple of occasions in
the series, once joking that he would move there to escape his wife.
Mr. Sinclair and some of his relatives have not appreciated the way
he has been portrayed, although former staff and visitors have
remembered actual events there that were allegedly as ludicrous as
those depicted in the programmes. Also, the two daughters of Donald
Sinclair confirm that it is an accurate rendition of their father. In
fact, his eldest daughter Beatrice (Ann)
left England for the United States at age 17 to escape her
controlling parents, who had pulled her out of schooling at age 12 in
order to work full-time at the hotel.
In 1988 Cleese wrote and
starred in A Fish Named Wanda with fellow Python Michael Palin. The
movie was a major critical and commercial success when it was
released and has remained a popular favourite since. Kline received
wide acclaim and won an Academy
Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work. The principal cast
reunited in 1997 playing different roles for Fierce Creatures.
Cleese played Q's assistant
("R") and finally the new Q himself in the James Bond
movies. He also has done work for Shrek 2, and appeared in the first
two Harry Potter movies, Rat Race, and several Saturday Night Live
episodes. Cleese has recently had a species of lemur named after him,
Avahi cleesei (or "Cleese's Woolly Lemur"). This was in
recognition of his promotion of conservation issues after the release
of his film Fierce Creatures, which featured such an animal, and
Operation Lemur with John Cleese, which highlighted their plight on
the island of Madagascar their natural habitat.