John Cleese

John Cleese

Birth name: John Marwood Cleese
Born: October 27, 1939
Age: 84
Birthplace: Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, England, United Kingdom
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John Marwood Cleese, (/ˈkliːz/; 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.

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, both of which he also wrote. He also starred in Clockwise, and has appeared in many other films, including two James Bond films as R and Q, two Harry Potter films, and the last three Shrek films.

With Yes Minister writer Antony Jay he co-founded Video Arts, a production company making entertaining training films. In 1976, Cleese co-founded The Secret Policeman's Ball benefit shows to raise funds for the human rights organisation Amnesty International.



Early life and education

Cleese was born in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, England, the only child of Reginald Francis Cleese (1893-1972), an insurance salesman, and his wife Muriel Evelyn (née Cross) (1899-2000). 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.

As a child, Cleese supported Bristol City Football Club and Somerset County Cricket Club. 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. In his autobiography So, Anyway he says that discovering, aged 17, he had not been made a house prefect by his housemaster, Billy Williams, affected his outlook. 'It was not fair and therefore it was unworthy of my respect... I believe that this moment changed my perspective on the world.’

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, whom he married on 20 February 1968. Later Booth would become a writing partner.

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

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.

Partnership with Graham Chapman
The Dead Parrot sketch performed on Monty Python's Flying Circus in 1969 listen to a clip from the sketch.
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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 "Argument Clinic", 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.

Fawlty Towers
Main article: Fawlty Towers

Cleese achieved greater prominence in the United Kingdom as the neurotic hotel manager Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers, which he co-wrote with his wife Connie Booth. The series won three BAFTA awards when produced and in 2000, it topped the British Film Institute's list of the 100 Greatest British Television Programmes. The series also featured Prunella Scales as Basil's acerbic wife Sybil, Andrew Sachs as the much abused Spanish waiter Manuel ("... he's from Barcelona"), and Booth as waitress Polly, the series' voice of sanity. Cleese based Basil Fawlty on a real person, Donald Sinclair, whom he had encountered in 1970 while the Monty Python team were staying at the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay while filming inserts for their television series. Reportedly, Cleese was inspired by Sinclair's mantra, "I could run this hotel just fine, if it weren't for the guests." He later described Sinclair as "the most wonderfully rude man I have ever met," although Sinclair's widow has said her husband was totally misrepresented in the series. During the Pythons' stay, Sinclair allegedly threw Idle's briefcase out of the hotel "in case it contained a bomb," complained about Gilliam's "American" table manners, and threw a bus timetable at another guest after they dared to ask the time of the next bus to town.

The first series was screened from 19 September 1975 on BBC 2, initially to poor reviews, but gained momentum when repeated on BBC 1 the following year. Despite this, a second series did not air until 1979, by which time Cleese's marriage to Booth had ended, but they revived their collaboration for the second series. Fawlty Towers consisted of only twelve episodes; Cleese and Booth both maintain that this was to avoid compromising the quality of the series.

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.

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 into trouble during a journey to a headmasters' conference.

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

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

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

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

With Robin Skynner, the group analyst and family therapist, Cleese wrote two books on relationships: Families and How to Survive Them, and Life and How to Survive It. The books are presented as a dialogue between Skynner and Cleese.

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

In 1999, Cleese appeared in the James Bond film, 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, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall; in the latter film, Ben Whishaw was cast in the role of Q.


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 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 whom he had based the character of Basil Fawlty. In 2002, Cleese made a cameo appearance in the film 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 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 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.

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 City 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. The show then played in universities in California and Arizona from 10 January to 25 March 2006 under the title "Seven Ways to Skin an Ocelot". His voice can be downloaded for directional guidance purposes as a downloadable option on some personal GPS-navigation device models by company TomTom.

In a 2005 poll of comedians and comedy insiders, The Comedians' Comedian, Cleese was voted second only to Peter Cook. Also in 2005, a long-standing piece of Internet humour, "The Revocation of Independence of the United States", was wrongly attributed to Cleese. In 2006, Cleese hosted a television special of football's greatest kicks, goals, saves, bloopers, plays, and penalties, as well as football's influence on culture (including the famous Monty Python sketch "Philosophy Football"), featuring interviews with pop culture icons Dave Stewart, Dennis Hopper, and Henry Kissinger, as well as football greats including Pelé, Mia Hamm, and Thierry Henry. The Art of Soccer with John Cleese was released in North America on DVD in January 2009 by BFS Entertainment & Multimedia. Also in 2006, Cleese released the song "Don't Mention the World Cup".

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

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

Cleese collaborated with Los Angeles Guitar Quartet member William Kanengiser in 2008 on the text to the performance piece "The Ingenious Gentleman of La Mancha". Cleese, as narrator, and the LAGQ premiered the work in Santa Barbara. 2008 also saw reports of Cleese working on a musical version of A Fish Called Wanda with his daughter Camilla.

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". Cleese has also hosted comedy galas at the Montreal Just for Laughs comedy festival in 2006, and again in 2009. Towards the end of 2009 and into 2010, Cleese appeared in a series of television adverts for the Norwegian electric goods shop chain, Elkjøp. In March 2010 it was announced that Cleese would be playing Jasper in the video game Fable III.

In 2009 and 2010, Cleese toured Scandinavia and the US with his Alimony Tour Year One and Year Two. In May 2010, it was announced that this tour would extend to the UK (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, Nottingham, Salford, York, Liverpool, Leeds, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Oxford, Bristol and Bath (the Alimony Tour DVD was recorded on 2 July, the final Bath date). Later in 2011 John took his Alimony Tour to South Africa. He played Cape Town on the 21 & 22 October before moving over to Johannesburg where he played from 25th to 30 October. In January 2012 he took his one-man show to Australia, starting in Perth on 22 Jan and throughout the next 4 months visited Adelaide, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Newcastle, New South Wales, Melbourne, Sydney, and finished up during April in Canberra.

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

In May 2012 he did a week run of shows in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Entitled 'An Evening with John Cleese' he was at the Madinat Theatre, Souk Madinat Jumeirah from Wednesday 23rd to Saturday 26th.

In 2012, Cleese was cast in Hunting Elephants, an upcoming heist comedy by Israeli filmmaker Reshef Levi. Cleese had to quit just prior to filming due to heart trouble and was replaced by Patrick Stewart.

Between September and October 2013, Cleese embarked on his first ever cross-Canada comedy tour. Entitled 'John Cleese: Last Time to See Me Before I Die tour', he visited Halifax, Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, Victoria and finished in Vancouver, performing to mostly sold-out venues. Cleese returned to the stage in Dubai in November 2013, where he performed to a sold-out theater.

Cleese was interviewed and appears as himself in filmmaker Gracie Otto's 2013 documentary film The Last Impresario, about Cleese's longtime friend and colleague Michael White. White produced Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Cleese's pre-Python comedy production Cambridge Circus.

At a comic press conference in November 2013, Cleese and other surviving members of the Monty Python comedy group announced a reuniting performance to be held in July 2014.

Admiration for black humour

In his Alimony Tour Cleese explained the origin of his fondness for black humour, the only thing that he inherited from his mother. Examples of it are the Dead Parrot sketch, "The Kipper and the Corpse" episode of Fawlty Towers, his clip for the 1992 BBC2 mockumentary "A Question of Taste", the Undertakers sketch, the Vomit episode in The Meaning of Life, and his eulogy at Graham Chapman's memorial service.

Cleese blamed his mother Muriel, who lived to the age of 101, for his problems in relationships with women, saying: "It cannot be a coincidence that I spent such a large part of my life in some form of therapy and that the vast majority of the problems I was dealing with involved relationships with women."

Personal life


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

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

Cleese has two grandchildren through his eldest daughter's marriage to Ed Solomon, Evan and Olivia.


In 1992, he married American psychotherapist Alyce Faye Eichelberger. 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, "What I find so unfair is that if we both died today, her children would get much more than mine".

Less than a year later he returned to the UK, where he has property in London and a home in Bath on the Royal Crescent.

In August 2012 he married British jewellery designer and former model Jennifer Wade, in a ceremony in the Caribbean.

In March 2015, in an interview with Der Spiegel, he was asked if he was religious. Cleese stated that he didn't think much of organized religion and told he was not committed to "anything except the vague feeling that there is something more going on than the materialist reductionist people think."

Interest with lemurs

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."

Political views

Currently a supporter 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. In April 2010, Cleese expressed his support for the Liberal Democrats on Twitter 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."

In 2008, Cleese expressed support for Barack Obama's presidential candidacy, offering his services as a speech writer. He also criticised Republican Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, saying that "Michael Palin is no longer the funniest Palin". The same year, he wrote a satirical poem about Fox News commentator Sean Hannity for Countdown with Keith Olbermann.

In 2011, Cleese declared his appreciation 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.

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."

Talking to Der Spiegel in 2015, Cleese took a critical position on how the things were in the world. He told he had reached a point when he "saw that our existence here is absolutely hopeless. I see the rich people have got a stranglehold on us. If somebody had said that to me when I was 20, I would have regarded him as a left-wing loony."


Radio credits

  • I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again
  • I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue (1972-73)

Television credits

Major roles

  • The Frost Report (1966)
  • Frost on Sunday
  • At Last the 1948 Show
  • How to Irritate People (1968) with Michael Palin, Graham Chapman, Connie Booth and Tim Brooke-Taylor
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-74)
  • Sez Les (1971, 1974)
  • Fawlty Towers (1975, 1979)
  • Whoops Apocalypse (1982)
  • Cheers (episode "Simon Says") (1987), he won an Emmy Award for best actor in a guest starring role
  • The Taming of the Shrew (1980) as Petruchio
  • True Stories: Peace in our Time? as Neville Chamberlain

As host

  • The Human Face
  • Wine for the Confused
  • We Are Most Amused: Master of Ceremonies for a stand-up comedy show celebrating Prince Charles's 60th birthday.

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
  • 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 Lansing
  • 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 on YouTube 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
  • Whitney as Dr. Grant (2012-2013)
  • Over the Garden Wall as the voices of Quincy Endicott and Adelaide (2014)


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
1971 The Statue Harry
1973 Elementary, My Dear Watson Sherlock Holmes
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 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
1986 Clockwise Mr. Stimpson Evening Standard British Film Awards Peter Sellers Award for Comedy
1988 Fish Called Wanda, AA Fish Called Wanda Barrister Archie Leach Also 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
1989 The Big Picture Bartender
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 The Jungle Book Dr. Julius Plumford
1994 Swan Princess, TheThe Swan Princess Jean-Bob speaking Voice Only
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 The 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 three years after Llewelyn's death in 1999
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
2004 Around the World in 80 Days Grizzled Sergeant
2005 Valiant Mercury Voice Only
2006 Charlotte's Web Samuel the Sheep
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 Chief-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 The Big Year Historical Montage Narrator Voice Only
2011 Winnie the Pooh Narrator Voice Only
2012 God Loves Caviar McCormick
2013 The Last Impresario Himself Featured interview subject in this documentary film about Michael White, producer of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
2013 The Croods Story credit
2013 Spud 2 The Guv Awaiting international release
2013 Planes Bulldog Voice Only
2015 Absolutely Anything Chief Alien Voice Only

Video game credits

  • Monty Python's Complete Waste of Time (1994) 7th Level
  • Storybook Weaver (1994) MECC
  • Monty Python & the Quest for the Holy Grail (1996) 7th Level
  • Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1997) Panasonic
  • Starship Titanic (1998) Simon & Schuster Interactive (voice of the Bomb) — (Credited as Kim Bread)
  • 007 Racing (2000) Electronic Arts
  • The World Is Not Enough (2000) Electronic Arts
  • Time Troopers (2004) Mr. Cleese
  • Storybook Weaver Deluxe (2004) MECC, The Learning Company
  • James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing (2004) Electronic Arts
  • Trivial Pursuit: Unhinged (2004) Atari
  • Jade Empire (2005) BioWare (as Sir Roderick Ponce von Fontlebottom the Magnificent Bastard)
  • Shrek the Third (2007) King Harold, Narrator
  • Fable III (2010) Jasper
  • Smart As (2012) The Narrator
  • The Elder Scrolls Online (2014) Sir Cadwell

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.
  • 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.
  • In 2004, Cleese co-wrote the graphic novel Superman: True Brit which reimagines the origin of Superman, by considering how Clark Kent's upbringing would be different if his spaceship had crashed in Weston-super-Mare in England instead of the fictional town of Smallville in Kansas, America.

Television advertisements

Year Title Role
1970s Royal Mail Pirate / Sir Betty
1975 Texaco Himself
1978 Accurist Himself
1980-82 Sony Himself
1981 Giroblauw (Netherlands) Interviewer
1982 Postbank (Netherlands) Himself
1982 EAC Multilist (Australia) Estate Agent
1982 American Express Himself
1980s Compaq Himself
1980s Planters Pretzels (Australia) Himself
1986 Maxwell House Himself
1988 Talking Pages Man who wants to marry Princess
1990-91 Schweppes Himself
1991-94 Magnavox Himself
1992-93 Talking Pages Colin
1993 Nestlé Milk Chocolate (Australia) Himself
1993 Cellnet Woman
1993-95 Health Education Authority (Smoking Quitline) Himself
1996 Norwich Union Direct Himself
1996 Tele Danmark (Denmark) Himself
1998 Tostitos French Chef
1998 Lexus Himself, voice only
1998-99 Sainsbury's Himself
1999 Melba toast Himself
1999 Himself
2001 007: Agent Under Fire R
2001-08 Titleist Ian MacCallister
2002 Little Tikes Himself
2002 Heineken Himself
2003 Westinghouse Unplugged vacuum cleaner Himself
2005 Intel Himself
2006 TBS Himself
2006 TV Spielfilm (Germany) Himself
2006-08 Kaupþing (Iceland) Himself
2008 Bank Zachodni WBK (Poland) Himself
2009 Elgiganten (Sweden) Himself
2009 Hashahar Ha'oleh (Israel) Western general
2009 Accurist Himself
2010 William Hill (Austria) Himself
2010-11 AA Himself
2011 Dogtober (Australia) Himself, voice only
2012 Czech Olympic Team (Czech Republic) Himself
2012 DirecTV Himself
2012 Canadian Club (Australia) Himself, voice only
2015 Specsavers Basil Fawlty


  • Academy Awards
    • (1988) Nominated—Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay / A Fish Called Wanda (shared with Charles Crichton)
  • Golden Globe Awards
    • (1988) Nominated—Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy / A Fish Called Wanda
  • BAFTA Awards
    • (1970) Nominated—BAFTA Television Award for "Best Light Entertainment Performance" / Monty Python's Flying Circus
    • (1971) Nominated—BAFTA Television Award for "Best Light Entertainment Performance" / Monty Python's Flying Circus
    • (1976) Nominated—BAFTA Television Award for "Best Light Entertainment Performance" / Fawlty Towers
    • (1980) Won—BAFTA Television Award for "Best Light Entertainment Performance" / Fawlty Towers
    • (1989) Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay / A Fish Called Wanda
    • (also 1989) Won—BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
  • Primetime Emmy Awards
    • (1987) Won—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor - Comedy Series / Cheers (as Dr. Simon Finch-Royce)
    • (1998) Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor - Comedy Series / 3rd Rock from the Sun (as Dr. Liam Neesam)
    • (2002) Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for "Outstanding Nonfiction Special" / The Human Face
    • (2004) Nominated—Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor - Comedy Series / Will & Grace (as Lyle Finster)
  • Writers Guild of America
    • (1989) Nominated—Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay / A Fish Called Wanda (shared with Charles Crichton)

Honours and tributes

  • A species of lemur, the Bemaraha woolly lemur (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"—and John Cleese's response to the honour.
  • An asteroid, 9618 Johncleese, is named in his honour.
  • Cleese declined a CBE (Commander of the Order 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".
  • "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 titled "Reese's Pieces, I Don't Know Who John Cleese Is?".


  • The Rectorial Address of John Cleese, Epam, 1971, 8 pages
  • Cleese Encounters: The Unauthorized Biography of Monty Python Veteran John Cleese, Jonathan Margolis, St. Martin's Press, 1992, ISBN 0-312-08162-6
  • The Human Face (with Brian Bates) (DK Publishing Inc., 2001, ISBN 978-0-7894-7836-8)
  • Foreword for Time and the Soul, Jacob Needleman, 2003, ISBN 1-57675-251-8 (paperback)
  • So, Anyway..., 2014, Crown Archetype, ISBN 038534824X


  • 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


  • Families and How to Survive Them, w/Robin Skynner, 1983 ISBN 0-413-52640-2 (hardc.), ISBN 0-19-520466-2 (p/back)
  • Life and How to Survive It, w/Robin Skynner 1993 ISBN 0-413-66030-3 (hardcover), ISBN 0-393-31472-3 (paperback)

[ Source: Wikipedia ]

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