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"Look, matey, I know a dead parrot when I see one,
and I'm looking at one right now."

- as a customer in a Pet Shop, Monty Python

JOHN CLEESE

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."

John Cleese (born 27 October 1939) 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 co-founded 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, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life.

Cleese was born in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, England, the only child of Reginald Francis Cleese (left), an insurance salesman, and his wife Muriel Evelyn (née Cross). His family's surname was originally Cheese, but his father had thought it was embarrassing and changed it when he enlisted in the Army during World War I.

Cleese was educated at St Peter's Preparatory School, where he received a prize for English studies and did well at cricket and boxing. When he was 13, he was awarded an exhibition at Clifton College, an English public school in Bristol. He was already more than 6 feet (1.83 m) tall by then. He allegedly defaced the school grounds, as a prank, by painting footprints to suggest that the statue of Field Marshal Earl Haig had got down from his plinth and gone to the toilet. Cleese played cricket in the First XI and did well academically, passing 8 O-Levels and 3 A-Levels in mathematics, physics, and chemistry.

He could not go straight to Cambridge University as the ending of conscription in the United Kingdom meant there were twice the usual number of applicants for places, so he returned to his prep school for two years 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). He then took up a place he had won at Downing College, Cambridge to read Law. He also joined the Cambridge Footlights. He recalled that he went to the Cambridge Guildhall, where each university society had a stall, and went up to the Footlights stall where he was asked if he could sing or dance. He replied "no" as he was not allowed to sing at his school because he was so bad, and if there was anything worse than his singing it was his dancing. He was then asked "Well, what do you do?", to which he replied, "I make people laugh".

At the Footlights theatrical club he spent a lot of time with Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie and 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. He was also in the cast of the 1962 Footlights Revue Double Take!

Cleese graduated from Cambridge in 1963 with a 2:1. 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.

Cleese was a scriptwriter, as well as a cast member, for the 1963 Footlights Revue A Clump of Plinths. The revue was so successful at 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 October 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, (below) whom he married on February 20th 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, which were so popular that the BBC commissioned a regular series with the same title that ran from 1965 to 1974. Cleese returned to Britain and joined the cast. In many episodes, he is credited as "John Otto Cleese" (according to Jem Roberts, this may have been due to the embarrassment of his actual middle name Marwood.)

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. While working on The Frost Report, the future Pythons developed the writing styles that would make their collaboration significant. Cleese's and Chapman's sketches often involved authority figures, some of whom were performed by Cleese, while Jones and Palin were both infatuated with filmed scenes that opened with idyllic countryside panoramas. Idle was one of those charged with writing David Frost's monologue. During this period Cleese met and befriended influential British comedian Peter Cook.

It was as a performer on The Frost Report that Cleese achieved his breakthrough on British television as a comedy actor, appearing as the tall, patrician figure in 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. This series was so popular 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 (the Four Yorkshiremen sketch is now better known as a Monty Python sketch). Cleese and Chapman also wrote episodes for the first series of Doctor in the House (and later Cleese wrote six episodes of Doctor at Large on his own in 1971). 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's Flying Circus ran for four seasons from October 1969 to December 1974 on BBC Television, though Cleese quit the show after the third. 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.

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 (actually written by Palin and Jones), 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 (who Cleese often claims is his favourite Python to work with), 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 three episodes of the fourth series which used material from these sessions, 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.

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 (the tall, lean Cleese and the short, stout Dawson) and socially (the public school, and then Cambridge-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 September 19th 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.

A Fish Called Wanda was released in 1988. The heist-comedy film was written by John Cleese and Charles Crichton. It was directed by Crichton and stars Cleese as Archie Leach, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin. Kline won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Otto. Cleese and Palin won BAFTA Awards for Best Lead and Best Supporting for their acting. Cleese received an Academy Award nomination for Wanda's screenplay. Cynthia Cleese starred as Leach's daughter in the film.

Both Cleese and Terry Gilliam are the only members of Monty Python to be nominated for Oscars to date. Coincidentally, they were both for Best Original Screenplay. Gilliam's was for Brazil.

Graham Chapman (above) 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.

In 1996, The follow-up to A Fish Called Wanda, Fierce Creatures, which again starred Cleese alongside Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Michael Palin was released, but was greeted with mixed reception by critics and audiences. Cleese has since often stated that making the second film 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."

Cleese married his third wife, American psychotherapist Alyce Faye Eichelberger in 1992. They divorced in 2008. The divorce settlement left Eichelberger with £12 million in finance and assets, including £600,000 a year for seven years. Cleese said that "What I find so unfair is that if we both died today, her children would get much more than mine". We agree his third marriage was a bad experience but Fierce Creatures? It's not Wanda but we still like it.

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." A newly discovered species of lemur, avahi cleesei, was named after him.

Cleese met first wife 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. Booth made appearances on Monty Python's Flying Circus along with Carol Cleveland (honorary seventh member of the troup who appeared in 30 of the 45 episodes in the series). With Booth, Cleese wrote the scripts for and co-starred in both series of 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 Los Angeles. After the end of his third marriage he returned to the UK.

Other non-pyton roles included:

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 into trouble during a journey to a headmasters' conference.

in 1980 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 (above). He also participated in Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl (1982), and starred in The Secret Policeman's Ball for Amnesty International.

In 1994 Cleese would play a supporting role in Kenneth Branagh's adaptation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein alongside Branagh himself and Robert De Niro.

Rat Race, 2001, Cleese plays the eccentric hotel owner Donald P. Sinclair, the name of the Torquay hotel owner on whom he had based the character of Basil Fawlty. 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).

Cleese also appeared in the film The Adventures of Pluto Nash with Eddie Murphy (2002); as Lyle Finster on the US sitcom Will & Grace (his character's daughter, Lorraine, was played by Minnie Driver) and The Pink Panther 2, with Steve Martin (2007).

In 1999, Cleese appeared in the James Bond film, The World Is Not Enough as Q's assistant (above), 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 (Q) 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, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall; in the latter film, Ben Whishaw was cast in the role of Q.

Cleese played Nearly Headless Nick in the first two Harry Potter films, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (2001) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002).

Cleese provided the voice of King Harold in Shrek 2 (2004), Shrek the Third (2007) and Shrek Forever After (2010).

    Selected John Cleese TVography

3rd Rock from the Sun
- Mary Loves Scoochie: Part 1 and 2 (2001)
- Dick and the Other Guy (1998)
- Just Your Average Dick (1998)

The Avengers
- Stop Me if You've Heard this One... (1968)

Cheers
- Simon Says (1987), he won an Emmy Award for best actor in a guest starring role

Doctor Who
- City of Death (1979)

Fawlty Towers
- as Basil Fawlty (1975, 1979)

The Frost Report (1966)

How to Irritate People (1968) with Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Connie Booth and Tim Brooke-Taylor

Monty Python's Flying Circus
- writter and cast member (1969 to 1974)

The Muppet Show
- guest star (1977)

Sez Les (1971, 1974)

Wednesday 9:30 (8:30 Central)
- No Escape (2002)
- Fired (2002)
- Death Be Not Pre-Empted (2002)
- The Chinese Baby (2002)
- The Art of Groveling (2002)
- Diversity (2002)
- Pilot (2002)

Whitney
- Space Invaders (2013)
- Mind Games (2012)

Whoops Apocalypse
- The Violet Hour (1982)
- Lucifer and the Lord (1982)
- How to Get Rid of It (1982)

Will & Grace
- I Do, Oh, No, You Di-in't: Part 1 and 2 (2004)
- Flip-Flop: Part 1 and 2 (2004)
- The Accidental Tsuris (2004)
- Heart Like a Wheelchair (2003)

    Selected John Cleese Filmography

1968

Interlude

1969

The Magic Christian

1969

The Best House in London

1970

The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer

1971

And Now for Something Completely Different

1971

The Statue

1973

Elementary, My Dear Watson

1974

Romance with a Double Bass

1975

Monty Python and the Holy Grail

1976

Meetings, Bloody Meetings

1977

The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It

1979

Monty Python's Life of Brian

1980

The Secret Policeman's Ball

1981

The Great Muppet Caper

1981

Time Bandits

1982

Privates on Parade

1983

Yellowbeard

1983

Monty Python's The Meaning of Life

1985

Silverado

1986

Clockwise

1988

A Fish Called Wanda

1989

Erik the Viking

1989

The Big Picture

1990

Bullseye!

1991

An American Tail: Fievel Goes West

1992

Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?

1993

Splitting Heirs

1994

Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

1994

Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book

1994

The Swan Princess

1996

The Wind in the Willows

1996

Fierce Creatures

1997

George of the Jungle

1998

In the Wild: Operation Lemur

1999

The Out-of-Towners

1999

The World Is Not Enough

2000

Isn't She Great

2000

The Magic Pudding

2001

Quantum Project

2001

Rat Race

2001

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

2002

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

2002

Roberto Benigni's Pinocchio

2002

Die Another Day

2002

The Adventures of Pluto Nash

2003

Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle

2003

Scorched

2003

George of the Jungle 2

2004

Shrek 2

2004

Around the World in 80 Days

2005

Valiant

2006

Charlotte's Web

2006

Man About Town

2007

Shrek the Third

2008

Igor

2008

The Day the Earth Stood Still

2009

The Pink Panther 2

2009

Planet 51

2010

Spud

2010

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

2010

Shrek Forever After

2011

The Big Year

2011

Winnie the Pooh

2012

God Loves Caviar

2013

The Last Impresario

2013

The Croods

2013

Spud 2

2013

Planes

2015

Absolutely Anything

Cleese is Provost's Visiting Professor at Cornell University, after having been Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large from 1999 to 2006. He makes occasional, well-received appearances on the Cornell campus.

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

In 2004, Cleese was credited as co-writer of a DC Comics graphic novel titled 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.

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. Cleese also made a cameo appearance in their 1981 film The Great Muppet Caper.

Cleese won the TV Times award for Funniest Man on TV – 1978–79.

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 The Avengers episode, "Look- (stop me if you've heard this one) But There Were These Two Fellers..." Dec. 4th, 1968, Cleese appears as Marcus Rugman, an egg clown-face collector.

He also appeared in an episode of Doctor Who in 1979. This cameo appearance as an Art Lover in the episode City of Death was done as a favour to writer/script editor Douglas Adams (Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy).

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.

He starred in Clockwise, for which he won the 1987 Peter Sellers Award For Comedy.

Cleese 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.

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.

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."

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).

    John Cleese links

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