John Cleese

Best known for being a member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the British actor comedian, writer and film producer John Cleese, was Born 27th October 1939. He first achieved success at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 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.

Monty Python’s Flying Circus was a surreal comedy show which was conceived, written and performed by members Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin And ran for four seasons from 5 October 1969 to December 1974 on BBC Television, aided by Gilliam’s animation, it pushed the boundaries of what was acceptable in style and content. 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, and 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. Forty-five episodes were made over four series. The Python phenomenon developed into something larger in scope and impact, spawning touring stage shows, films, numerous albums, several books and a stage musical as well as launching the members to individual stardom. Their influence on British comedy has been apparent for years, while in North America it has coloured the work of cult performers from the early editions of Saturday Night Live through to more recent absurdist trends in television comedy. “Pythonesque” has entered the English lexicon as a result. In a 2005 UK poll to find The Comedian’s Comedian, three of the six Pythons members were voted by fellow comedians and comedy insiders to be among the top 50 greatest comedians ever: Cleese at #2, Idle at #21, and Palin at #30.

In the mid 1970s, Cleese and his first wife, Connie Booth, co-wrote and starred in the British sitcom Fawlty Towers which was first broadcast on BBC2 in 1975 and 1979. Twelve episodes were made (two series, each of six episodes) all of which were set in Fawlty Towers, a fictional hotel in the seaside town of Torquay, on the “English Riviera”. The plots centre on tense, rude and put-upon owner Basil Fawlty (Cleese), his bossy wife Sybil (Prunella Scales), comparatively normal chambermaid Polly (Booth), and hapless Spanish waiter Manuel (Andrew Sachs), showing their attempts to run the hotel amidst farcical situations and an array of demanding and eccentric guests, which gave Cleese the chance to play the “stressed out loony” character he had previously played inMonty Python. In a list drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, voted by industry professionals, Fawlty Towers was named the best British television series of all time.

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 as Q, two Harry Potter films, and three Shrek films. He also co-founded the production company “Video Arts” With Yes Minister writer Antony Jay which makes entertaining training films. Cleese is currently 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.

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