John Cleese

John Cleese
John Cleese

Cleese in 2008
Birth name John Marwood Cleese
Born 27 October 1939 (1939-10-27) (age 72)
Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, England
Medium Film, television, radio,
Nationality British
Years active 1961–present
Genres Surreal comedy, Dark comedy, Physical comedy
Influences Stephen Leacock, Spike Milligan, The Goons, William Shakespeare
Spouse Connie Booth (m. 1968–1978) «start: (1968-02-20)–end+1: (1978-09)»"Marriage: Connie Booth to John Cleese" Location: (linkback:// (divorced)
Barbara Trentham (m. 1981–1990) «start: (1981-02-15)–end+1: (1990-10-11)»"Marriage: Barbara Trentham to John Cleese" Location: (linkback:// (divorced)
Alyce Eichelberger (m. 1992–2008) «start: (1992-12-28)–end+1: (2008-02)»"Marriage: Alyce Eichelberger to John Cleese" Location: (linkback:// (divorced)
Domestic partner(s) Barbie Orr (2008–2009)
Jennifer Wade (2010–present)

John Marwood Cleese (/ˈklz/; 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 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, 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, the production company responsible for making entertaining training films.


Early life

Cleese was born in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, the only child of Muriel Evelyn (née Cross) (b.1899), an acrobat, and Reginald Francis Cleese (b. 1893), who worked in insurance sales.[1] His family's surname was previously "Cheese", but his father changed it to "Cleese" in 1915 upon joining the Army.[2][3]

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.[4] 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.[5][6]

After leaving school, he went back to his prep school to teach science, English, geography, history, and Latin[7] (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[8]) 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,[9][10] 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![9][10] 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.[11]



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,[9][10] 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.[10]

After Cambridge Circus, Cleese briefly stayed in America, performing on and Off-Broadway. While performing in the musical Half a Sixpence,[10] Cleese met future Python Terry Gilliam, as well as American actress Connie Booth, whom he married on 20 February 1968.[10]

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.[10] 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,[10] 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).[12] 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

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 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 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.


From 1970 to 1973, Cleese served as rector of the University of St Andrews.[13] 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.[14]

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,[15] 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.

Cleese as a Mexican maraca soloist as part of his 1977 guest appearance on The 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, as pictured opposite this text, 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.[16]

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.

Cleese won the TV Times award for Funniest Man On TV – 1978 / 1979.[17]

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 (1982), 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.

Cleese at the 1989 Academy Awards

Timed with the 1987 UK elections, he appeared in a video promoting proportional representation.[18]

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.[19]

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 (CBE). 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."[20]

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 (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 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, but he lives in the town of Montecito, California.[21]

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.[22]

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[23] 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. When the bomb is activated it tells the player that "The ship is now armed and preparing to explode. This will be a fairly large explosion, so you'd best keep back about 22 miles (35 km)". When the player tries to disarm the bomb, it says "Well, you can try that, but it won't work because nobody likes a smart-arse!"[citation needed]

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 (played by Eddie Murphy). The vehicle is subsequently destroyed in a chase, leaving the chauffeur stranded in a remote place on the moon.

In 2003, Cleese also 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 (Megan Mullally).

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 (the shows were directed by Australian Bille Brown). 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".[24] His voice can be downloaded for directional guidance purposes as a downloadable option on some personal GPS-navigation device models by company TomTom.

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.[25] This was an erroneous story, the result of an interview with The Times of London (the piece was not fact checked before printing).

In 2007, Cleese appeared in ads for Titleist as a golf course designer named "Ian MacCallister", who represents "Golf Designers Against Distance".

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,

In 2008, Cleese collaborated with Los Angeles Guitar Quartet member William Kanengiser 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."[26]

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".[27]

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.[28]

Towards the end of 2009 and into 2010, Cleese appeared in a series of television adverts for the Norwegian electric goods shop chain, Elkjøp.[29]

In March 2010 it was announced that Cleese would be playing Jasper in the video game "Fable III".[30]

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 (his first tour in 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.[31]

In October 2010, Cleese was featured in the launch of an advertising campaign by The Automobile Association for a new home emergency response product.[32] 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?"

Personal life

1960s to 1980s

Cleese met Connie Booth in the US during the late 1960s and the couple married in 1968.[15] 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.[33]

Cleese married American actress Barbara Trentham in 1981.[34] 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.[35]

1990s to present

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".[36]

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. In this same show, he revealed that he is no longer a vegetarian, as he claimed to have enjoyed eating dog in Hong Kong.[37][38][39]

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.[40]

Cleese has a passion for lemurs.[41][42] 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.[42][43] Cleese is quoted as saying, "I adore lemurs. They're extremely gentle, well-mannered, pretty and yet great fun... I should have married one."[41]


Cleese turned from christianity to atheism. Today, he is no longer an atheist and is now a believer in reincarnation. Source is here:

Political views

Currently a member of the Liberal Democrats after previously being a Labour party voter, Cleese switched to the SDP after their formation in 1981, and during the 1987 general election, Cleese recorded a nine minute party political broadcast for the SDP-Liberal Alliance, which spoke about the similarities and failures of the other two parties in a more humorous tone than standard political broadcasts. Cleese has since appeared in broadcasts for the Liberal Democrats, in the 1997 general election and narrating a radio election broadcast for the party during the 2001 general election.[44] In April 2010, Cleese tweeted his support for the Lib Dems after Nick Clegg performed strongly in the first leaders' debate on ITV1, stating: "Well, well, well. First leaders debate, and LibDems do so well. Good luck to them."[45]

In 2011, Cleese declared his support for Britain's coalition government between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, saying: "I think what’s happening at the moment is rather interesting. The Coalition has made everything a little more courteous and a little more flexible. I think it was quite good that the Liberal Democrats had to compromise a bit with the Tories." He also criticised the previous Labour government, commenting: "Although my inclinations are slightly left-of-centre, I was terribly disappointed with the last Labour government. Gordon Brown lacked emotional intelligence and was never a leader." Cleese also declared his support for proportional representation.[46]

In April 2011, Cleese revealed that he had declined a life peerage for political services in 1999. Outgoing leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, had put forward the suggestion shortly before he stepped down, with the idea that Cleese would take the party whip and sit as a working peer, but the actor quipped that he "realised this involved being in England in the winter and I thought that was too much of a price to pay."[47]

Cleese expressed support for Barack Obama's presidential candidacy, donating US$2,300 to his campaign and offering his services as a speech writer.[48] He also criticised Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin—saying that "Michael Palin is no longer the funniest Palin"[49]— and wrote a satirical poem about Fox News commentator Sean Hannity for Countdown with Keith Olbermann.[50]

Radio credits

Television credits

Major roles

As host

Guest appearances

  • The Avengers (1968), guest appearance as Marcus Rugman (egg clown-face collector) in the episode Look (Stop Me if You've Heard this One)...
  • The Goodies (1973), guest cameo appearance as a Genie in the episode The Goodies and the Beanstalk
  • Ripping Yarns (1979), guest cameo appearance as "Passer-by" in the episode Golden Gordon[51]
  • Doctor Who (1979), guest cameo appearance as an Art Lover in the episode City of Death as a favour to writer/script editor Douglas Adams
  • The Muppet Show (1977)
  • Cheers (Season 5, Episode 21, Simon Says) as Dr. Simon Finch-Royce, an acquaintance of Kelsey Grammer's character Frasier Crane and fellow psychiatrist, who offers pre-marriage advice to Sam and Diane, much to his later chagrin.
  • Last of the Summer Wine (1993), guest cameo appearance in the episode Welcome to Earth.
  • 25 Years of Last of the Summer Wine (1997)
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun (1998–2001) as recurring character Dr. Liam Neesam.
  • Casper & Mandrilaftalen (1999) both as the repairman of the purple Gunrack, and as the Danish soccer coach Bosse Bo Johansson.
  • Wednesday 9:30 (8:30 Central) (2002) as Red
  • Will & Grace (2003–2004) as recurring character Lyle Finster.
  • Numerous commercials, including for supermarket chain Sainsbury's, snack firm Planters and a British government Stop Smoking campaign
  • Party political broadcasts for the Liberal Democrats and predecessor, the SDP-Liberal Alliance
  • In November 2009 commercials, in which he appears for Swedish electrical appliance chain "Elgiganten", began broadcasting in Sweden, as well as broadcasting in Denmark in late 2010.
  • Song "Don't Mention The World Cup" animated video played on ITV, BBC and Channel 4 News June 2006
  • Batteries Not Included—gadget show on UKTV channel Dave (2008)
  • Entourage as himself, season 7 finale (2010)
  • Ronnie Corbett's Comedy Britain as Himself


Year Title Role Notes
1968 Interlude TV Publicist
1969 Magic Christian, TheThe Magic Christian Mr. Dougdale (director in Sotheby's)
1969 Best House in London, TheThe Best House in London Jones Uncredited
1970 Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer, TheThe Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer Pummer Writer
1971 And Now for Something Completely Different Various Roles Writer
1974 Romance with a Double Bass Musician Smychkov Writer
1975 Monty Python and the Holy Grail Various Roles Writer
1976 Meetings, Bloody Meetings Tim Writer/Executive Producer
Documentary Short
1977 Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It, TheThe Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It Arthur Sherlock Holmes
1979 Monty Python's Life of Brian Various Roles Writer
1980 Secret Policeman's Ball, TheThe Secret Policeman's Ball Himself-Various Roles
1981 Great Muppet Caper, TheThe Great Muppet Caper Neville
1981 Time Bandits Gormless Robin Hood
1982 Privates on Parade Major Giles Flack
1983 Yellowbeard Blind Pew
1983 Monty Python's The Meaning of Life Various Roles Writer
1985 Silverado Langston His first line, as he walks into a bar to
break up a brawl, is, "What's all this, then?")
1986 Clockwise Mr. Stimpson Evening Standard British Film Awards Peter Sellers Award for Comedy
1988 Fish Called Wanda, AA Fish Called Wanda lawyer Archie Leach Writer/Executive Producer
BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Nominated—Academy Award For Best Original Screenplay
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay
Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
1989 Erik the Viking Halfdan the Black and Svend Berserk
1990 Bullseye! Man on the Beach in
Barbados Who Looks Like John Cleese
1991 An American Tail: Fievel Goes West Cat R. Waul Voice Only
1992 Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? Narrator
1993 Splitting Heirs Raoul P. Shadgrind
1994 Mary Shelley's Frankenstein Professor Waldman
1994 Jungle Book, TheDisney's Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book Dr. Julius Plumford
1994 Swan Princess, TheThe Swan Princess Jean-Bob
1996 Wind in the Willows, TheThe Wind in the Willows Mr. Toad's Lawyer
1996 Fierce Creatures Rollo Lee Writer/Producer
1997 George of the Jungle An Ape Named 'Ape' Voice Only
1998 In the Wild: Operation Lemur with John Cleese Host Narrator
1999 Out-of-Towners, TheThe Out-of-Towners Mr. Mersault
1999 World Is Not Enough, TheThe World Is Not Enough R
2000 Isn't She Great Henry Marcus
2000 Magic Pudding, TheThe Magic Pudding Albert, The Magic Pudding Voice Only
2001 Quantum Project Alexander Pentcho
2001 Here's Looking at You: The Evolution of the Human Face Narrator
2001 Rat Race Donald P. Sinclair
2001 Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone "Nearly Headless Nick"
2002 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets "Nearly Headless Nick" Nominated—Phoenix Film Critics Society Award for Best Ensemble Acting
2002 Roberto Benigni's Pinocchio The Talking Crickett Voice Only: English Version
2002 Die Another Day Q Second appearance in a James Bond film,
replaces Desmond Llewelyn as Q in the series
2002 Adventures of Pluto Nash, TheThe Adventures of Pluto Nash James
2003 Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle Mr. Munday
2003 Scorched Charles Merchant
2003 George of the Jungle 2 An Ape Named 'Ape' Voice Only
2004 Shrek 2 King Harold Voice Only
2004 Around the World in 80 Days Grizzled Sergeant
2005 Valiant Mercury Voice Only
2006 Charlotte's Web Samuel the Sheep Voice Only
2006 Man About Town Dr. Primkin
2007 Shrek the Third King Harold Voice Only
2008 Igor Dr. Glickenstein Voice Only
2008 Day the Earth Stood Still, TheThe Day the Earth Stood Still Dr. Barnhardt
2009 Pink Panther 2, TheThe Pink Panther 2 Inspector Charles Dreyfus
2009 Planet 51 Professor Kipple Voice Only
2010 Spud The Guv Awaiting international release
2010 Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole Ghost Voice Only
2010 Shrek Forever After King Harold Voice Only
2011 Happy Feet 2 Himself Voice Only
2011 Winnie the Pooh Narrator Voice Only

Video game credits


Other credits

  • In 2003, John Cleese took part in Mike Oldfield's re-recording of the 1973 hit Tubular Bells, Tubular Bells 2003. He took over the "Master of Ceremonies" duties in the ‘Finale’ part, in which he announced the various instruments eccentrically, from the late Vivian Stanshall.[52]
  • Cleese recorded the voice of God for Spamalot, the musical based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
  • Cleese narrated the audio version of C. S. Lewis's The Screwtape Letters.
  • In the mid 1980s, Cleese starred in British advertisements for Compaq computers and Schweppes beverages.
  • In the late-1990s, Cleese appeared in a set of poorly-received commercials for the UK supermarket chain Sainsbury's. Around the same time, his Fawlty Towers co-star, Prunella Scales, appeared in more well-received commercials for rival chain Tesco.
  • He has enunciated a set of directions for the TomTom in-car navigation system. This allows itself humorous notes at non-critical moments, for instance when asking for a U-turn and when signing off: "I'm not going to carry your baggage—from now on, you're on your own" and "Bear right..Beaver left."
  • He plays the voice of Samuel the Sheep in the 2006 adaptation of Charlotte's Web. Samuel repeatedly tells the other sheep to be individuals, not sheep. This is a reference to Monty Python's Life of Brian.
  • He has a speaking part at the end of the Alan Parsons song "Chomolungma" from the album A Valid Path.
  • In 2008, John Cleese appeared in a humorous TV commercial in Poland advertising a bank loan.
  • From 2006 to 2008 John Cleese has appeared in humorous TV commercials in Iceland advertising Kaupþing.

Honours and tributes

  • A species of lemur, Bemaraha Woolly Lemur or the "Avahi cleesei", has been named in his honour. John Cleese has mentioned this in television interviews. Also there is mention of this honour in "New Scientist"[53]—and John Cleese's response to the honour.[54]
  • An asteroid, 9618 Johncleese, is named in his honour.
  • Cleese declined a CBE (Commander of The British Empire) in 1996.
  • There is a municipal rubbish heap of 45 metres (148 ft) in altitude that has been named Mt Cleese at the Awapuni landfill just outside Palmerston North after he dubbed the city "suicide capital of New Zealand".[55]
  • "The Universal Language" skit from All in the Timing, a collection of short plays by David Ives, centres around a fictional language (Unamunda) in which the word for the English language is "johncleese".
  • The post-hardcore rock band, I Set My Friends On Fire, has a song on their You Can't Spell Slaughter Without Laughter album entitled "Reese's Pieces, I Don't Know Who John Cleese Is?".


  • The Rectorial Address of John Cleese, Epam, 1971, 8 pages
  • Foreword for Time and the Soul, Jacob Needleman, 2003  ISBN 1-57675-251-8 (paperback)
  • The Human Face (with Brian Bates) (DK Publishing Inc., 2001, ISBN 978-0-7894-7836-8)
  • Cleese Encounters: The Unauthorized Biography of Monty Python Veteran John Cleese, Jonathan Margolis, St. Martin's Press, 1992, ISBN 0-312-08162-6


  • The Strange Case of the End of Civilisation As We Know It, w/Jack Hobbs & Joseph McGrath, 1977  ISBN 0-352-30109-0
  • Fawlty Towers, w/Connie Booth, 1977 (The Builders, The Hotel Inspectors, Gourmet Night)   ISBN 0-86007-598-2
  • Fawlty Towers: Book 2, w/Connie Booth, 1979 (The Wedding Party, A Touch of Class, The Germans)
  • The Golden Skits of Wing Commander Muriel Volestrangler FRHS & Bar, 1984  ISBN 0-413-41560-0
  • The Complete Fawlty Towers, w/Connie Booth, 1988  ISBN 0-413-18390-4 (hardcover), ISBN 0-679-72127-4 (paperback)
  • A Fish Called Wanda: The Screenplay, w/Charles Crichton, 1988  ISBN 1-55783-033-9
  • Fawlty's Hotel: Sämtliche Stücke, w/Connie Booth, (The Complete Fawlty Towers in German), Haffmans Verlag AG Zürich, 1995


See also


  1. ^ "John Cleese Biography (1939–)". Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  2. ^ "John Cleese's father". 2 February 2001. Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  3. ^ "John Cleese's Towering Legacy". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 23 Oct. 2009. 
  4. ^ "San Diego Magazine, Silly Walks and Dead Parrots". Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  5. ^ "John Cleese". Cardinal Fang's Python Site. Retrieved 7 May 2011. 
  6. ^ "John Cleese". Leading Authorities. Retrieved 7 May 2011. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ Life of Brian commentary by Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam and Eric Idle
  9. ^ a b c Footlights! — 'A Hundred Years of Cambridge Comedy' — Robert Hewison, Methuen London Ltd, 1983, ISBN 0-413-51150-2.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h From Fringe to Flying Circus — 'Celebrating a Unique Generation of Comedy 1960–1980' — Roger Wilmut, Eyre Methuen Ltd, 1980, ISBN 0-413-46950-6.
  11. ^ Sunday Times, 16 October 1988.
  12. ^ Morris Bright; Robert Ross (2001). Fawlty Towers: fully booked. BBC. p. 60. ISBN 9780563534396. Retrieved 29 September 2010. 
  13. ^ List of Rectors of University of St. Andrews
  14. ^ "John Cleese Biography". Cardinal fang. Retrieved 8 October 2011. 
  15. ^ a b Cahal Milmo "Life after Polly: Connie Booth (a case of Fawlty memory syndrome", The Independent, 25 May 2007
  16. ^ "John Cleese appearance on the Muppet Show, as cited on Muppet Central Web site". α Retrieved 20 Dec. 2008. 
  17. ^ "John Cleese". Save me a ticket. Retrieved 12 February 2011. 
  18. ^ "YouTube – John Cleese Explains Proportional Representation for Canada & Ontario changes Coming". Topix. Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  19. ^ Cleese continued to openly say the word, most notably reported in an interview hosted by Robert Klein in which Cleese remarked that Chapman is, "stone-fucking-dead!"Memorial eulogy by John Cleese for Graham Chapman
  20. ^ "Restaurant review: Michael Winner at Villa Principe Leopoldo, Switzerland". The Sunday Times (UK). 6 July 2008. Retrieved 3 Aug. 2008. 
  21. ^ "Actor John Cleese lists his house in Montecito, CA for $10.75M". Celebrity Real Estate Homes Big Time Listings. Berg Properties. Retrieved 17 February 2011. 
  22. ^
  23. ^ "Art of Soccer, The With John Cleese". Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  24. ^ "Playbill". Playbill. Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  25. ^ "Cleese 'retires from performing'". BBC News. 13 June 2006. 
  26. ^ Graham, Caroline (20 July 2008). "John Cleese's fling with a blonde HALF his age". Daily Mail (UK). Retrieved 3 Aug. 2008. 
  27. ^ "The real reason I had to join". The Spectator. UK. 25 March 2009. Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  28. ^ The Canadian Press (22 July 2009). "CBC News – Arts – John Cleese cancels Just for Laughs appearance". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  29. ^ Ottosen, Peder. "John Cleese i Elkjøp-reklame". Retrieved 17 February 2011. 
  30. ^ Brudvig, Erik (11 March 2010). "GDC 10: Designing Fable III – Xbox 360 Preview at IGN". Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  31. ^ "BBC – Ex-Python John Cleese goes on first UK tour, aged 71". BBC News. 20 May 2010. Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  32. ^ Oatts, Joanne. "AA ad features John Cleese at". Retrieved 2011-06-01. 
  33. ^ Hoyle, Antonia (21 July 2008). "Our divorceymoon! What happened when Cleese and Winner invaded Switzerland on a six-day road trip". Daily Mail (UK). Retrieved 3 Aug. 2008. 
  34. ^ "John Cleese". Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  35. ^ "Cleese Saved Daughter From Drugs". IMDB. 21 Dec. 2008. Retrieved 23 Aug. 2009. 
  36. ^ Pierce, Andrew (18 August 2009). "John Cleese in £12 million divorce settlement". The Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 6 May 2010. 
  37. ^ posted 04-26-2010 (2010-04-26). "John Cleese on Graham Norton Show". Pythonline. Retrieved 2011-06-01. 
  38. ^ "Monty Python’s John Cleese in wheelchair following knee injury | The Sun |Showbiz|TV". The Sun. 2010-04-24. Retrieved 2011-06-01. 
  39. ^ Todd, Ben (11 March 2010). "And now for someone completely similar... John Cleese falls for a new woman who is the spitting image of the last one". Daily Mail (London). 
  40. ^ "John Cleese's non-flying circus". 18 April 2010. Retrieved 18 April 2010. 
  41. ^ a b Hans ten Cate (13 June 2002). "John Cleese Visits Lemurs at San Francisco Zoo". PythOnline's Daily Llama. Archived from the original on 28 December 2010. Retrieved 28 December 2010. 
  42. ^ a b John Cleese (host) (1998). In the Wild: Operation Lemur with John Cleese (DVD). Tigress Productions Ltd for BBC. Archived from the original on 28 December 2010. Retrieved 28 December 2010. 
  43. ^ Duke University (12 October 1998). "Four More Lemurs To Be Released Into Madagascar Jungle This Fall". Science Daily. Archived from the original on 28 December 2010. Retrieved 28 December 2010. 
  44. ^ "Lib Dems plan warmer homes". BBC News. 31 May 2001. Retrieved 21 Jul. 2008. 
  45. ^ JohnCleese. "John Cleese – Twitter Status (15 April 2010)". Twitter. Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  46. ^ "David Cameron impresses John Cleese with his good manners". 
  47. ^ Nikkhah, Roya (17 April 2011). "Lord Cleese of Fawlty Towers: Why John Cleese declined a peerage". Sunday Telegraph. Retrieved 17 April 2011. 
  48. ^ "Michael Saul, "The Full Monty for Bam?: Cleese stumps to be his speech writer," New York Daily News, 9 April 2008 p3". Daily News (New York). 9 April 2008. Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  49. ^ John Cleese (14 October 2008). "John Cleese: Sarah Palin Funnier Than Michael Palin, 14 October 2008, 6:51 pm PDT by Erik Pedersen, eonline". Retrieved 14 June 2010. 
  50. ^ "John Cleese Destroys Sean Hannity with Poetry"
  51. ^ ""Ripping Yarns" Golden Gordon (1979) – Full cast and crew". Retrieved 1 March 2011. 
  52. ^ Mike Oldfield "Tubular Bells" reaches thirty years old...
  53. ^ "New Scientist" comment about the lemur being named after John Cleese
  54. ^ "New Scientist" and John Cleese's response to the honour
  55. ^ Funnyman Cleese rubbishes NZ city. The Australian, 21 May 2007

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