CLEESE – SELECTED MOVIE CREDITS
Magic Christian (1969)
Rise And Rise Of Michael Rimmer (1970)
Statue/ La Statua (1971)
Now For Something Completely Different (1972)
Python And The Holy Grail (1975)
At Her Majesty's (1976)
Of Brian/ Monty Python's Life Of Brian (1979)
Secret Policeman's Ball (1979)
Great Muppet Caper (1981)
Python Live At The Hollywood Bowl (1982)
On Parade (1982)
Secret Policeman's Other Ball (1982)
Python's The Meaning Of Life (1983)
Secret Policeman's Third Ball (1987)
Fish Called Wanda (1988)
Big Picture (1989)
The Viking (1989)
American Tail: Fievel Goes West (1991)
Shelley's Frankenstein/ (1994)
Kipling's The Jungle Book (1994)
Swan Princess (1994)
Of The Jungle (1997)
Bond: The World Is Not Enough (1999)
YOU GENUINELY NEVER KNEW ABOUT JOHN CLEESE
man most directly responsible for Fawlty Towers’
success and comedic perfection is Mr John Cleese, former
Python, advocate of psychotherapy, multi-millionaire
businessman, and physical and intellectual giant. A
complex man, both deeply serious and absurdly funny in
equal measure, Bubblegun is proud to pay tribute to both
Cleese and his greatest creation. Here are 25 – no, 30
– things you probably never knew about either.
year marks the 20th anniversary of what
unquestionably remains the funniest situation comedy of
all time, Fawlty Towers. The twelve episodes, spread
over two series four years apart, are the template by
which all other comedies are judged. Perfectly
structured, brilliantly performed, and never bettered.
To this end, we demand you take a large stick to the
next idiot who claims that Father Ted was “Fawlty
Towers for the 90s”.
father Reg, an insurance agent, was born Reginald
Cheese, but changed his name upon joining the army in
1915. He was worried that it would make him the target
for asinine jokes, and lead him to be nicknamed “Cheesie”.
Years later, his son John was deeply grateful for the
change. It helped him to avoid potential mickey-taking
when he befriended a boy at school named Barnabus J.
Cleese was born on October 27th 1939 in
Weston-super-mare. School friends and neighbours
remember him as a serious boy, and slightly eccentric.
As an infant he once inhaled a chrysanthemum.
spent a brief period teaching at his old school before
enrolling at Downing College, Cambridge. He joined the
famous Footlights Dramatic Club, where fellow
performers included David Frost, and Goodies Tim
Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie, Miriam Margoyles –
most recently seen beating up Arnold Schwarzenegger in
the dreadful End Of Days – and his future Monty
Python collaborator Graham Chapman.
his time with Footlights, Cleese performed in a number
of revues, including one entitled ‘A Clump Of
Plinths’, and even toured the world with another
called ‘Cambridge Circus’. It lead to him being
employed as a writer/producer by the BBC. He was paid
£30 a week – enough to a really nice car.
his Cambridge days, Cleese often claimed that his
middle name was ‘Otto’. In fact it was ‘Marwood’.
Otto would later be the name of Life Of Brian’s
crack suicide squad leader played by Eric Idle, and
Kevin Kline’s character in A Fish Called Wanda. The
inspiration may have come from a Cambridge jeweller
called Otto Wehrle.
joining the BBC, he lived for a time in New York,
where he briefly worked for Newsweek, and met the
first of his three blonde, American wives, struggling
actress and waitress Connie Booth. She introduced
Cleese to the benefits of psychotherapy, of which he
has been an advocate ever since (as well as writing a
pair of books on it, and funding research). Of course,
Booth would later appear alongside her husband in
Fawlty Towers, as well as co-write the series with
early work for the BBC included writing and performing
for That Was The Week That Was, and The Frost Report
for television, and Emery At Large, starring Dick
Emery, for BBC Radio. During this time he worked
alongside Ronnies Barker and Corbett (later to appear
in Fierce Creatures), Barries Cryer and Took, and his
future Python team mates. Cleese had previously met
animator Terry Gilliam in New York, where he appeared
in a Gilliam-penned photo comic-strip about a man who
fell in lust with his daughter’s “Barbee” doll.
first film role came in 1968, in the movie Interlude.
He played a television public relations expert. He
next appeared in the Peter Sellers flop The Magic
Christian, in which he appeared as a director of
Sotherby’s. Around the same time he also appeared in
The Love Ban, The Statue, and a short-film he co-wrote
and starred alongside Connie Booth, Romance With A
Double Bass. It was directed by Robert Young, who 20
years later directed most of Fierce Creatures. It also
marked the first appearance of Cleese’s Basil Fawlty
Cleese claims it was his idea to get together with
Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Graham Chapman
and Terry Gilliam for Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
The others beg to differ,
first writing session of the Monty Python team was on
Sunday 11th May 1969. Among the names
suggest for the show at the time were ‘The Atomic
Zoo’, ‘Arthur Megapode’s Flying Circus’, and
‘Cynthia Fellatio’s Flying Circus’.
the most part Cleese wrote with fellow Cambridge
graduate Chapman. Cleese was responsible for writing
down their ideas, due to Chapman’s scruffy
success of Monty Python and Cleese’s rapid rise to
celebrity, placed strains on his marriage. Connie
Booth appeared a couple of times in the show – as
boxing schoolgirl Sally Bent, and Palin’s girlfriend
during the lumberjack song sketch – in an effort by
Cleese to appease
her self-confessed envy.
the Monty Python period Cleese wrote episodes of
ITV’s Doctor In The House, Doctor At Large, and
several Les Dawson shows. The Doctor At Large episode
‘No Ill Feelings’ featured Roy Kinnear as a
hen-pecked hotel owner and his overbearing wife; an
unofficial pilot for what would become Fawlty Towers.
his final days on Python, Cleese set up his Visual
Arts company, producing business training films. His
Python team mates – staunch left-wingers – saw
this as a sign that Cleese was “selling out to
became increasingly restless during the third series
of Monty Python. He felt the team were repeating
themselves. Relationships became frayed, and on one
occasion he and Chapman had a fight after a practical
joke backfired; Cleese had hidden Chapman’s beloved
left Monty Python after the third series – leaving
his former associates to struggle along with a weak
fourth series – but he returned for the movie, Monty
Python And The Holy Grail and a series of live shows.
Cleese and Booth were by this time formulating ideas
for Fawlty Towers.
inspiration for Basil Fawlty came from a Mr Donald
Sinclair, a real-life Torquay hotelier whom had
treated the Python team with Fawlty-like manners
during a location shoot. During their brief stay at
his Gleneagles hotel, he hid Eric Idle’s football
bag, claiming it was a bomb, abused his Spanish waiter
Pepe, refused to serve them drinks, and reprimanded an
American guest for using his cutlery “like an
American”. The only difference between Sinclair’s
relationship with his wife, and that of Basil
Fawlty’s relationship with Sybil, is that Mr
Sinclair was apparently small, whereas his wife was
and Booth had hoped to research their writing by
booking in for a stay at Gleneagles, but by 1974 the
Sinclairs had moved to America.
its initial broadcast, the first series of Fawlty
Towers was considered a flop. A repeat in the January
of 1976 saw the start of Fawltymania.
second series of Fawlty Towers didn’t appear until
October 1979. By then Booth and Cleese had split, but
said they got on “better than ever”. The first
series had required Cleese to wear heavy make-up to
ensure he looked older than his 35 years.
pair would work out the plot of each episode before
they allowed themselves to begin work on the dialogue,
planning the structure of episodes on huge sheets of
paper. Each episode was rehearsed for a week before
the 12 hour camera rehearsal and recording session.
Cleese claimed this was “two days too few to get it
slick”. Every episode consisted of around 400 camera
shots – twice as many as most BBC comedy programmes
of the time.
1985 a Devon hotel manager changed his name to Basil
Fawlty, and renamed his establishment after the TV
hotel. However, unlike the fictional Fawlty Towers,
the real-life copy was painted in a garish Union Jack
the filming of the classic ‘Gourmet Night’
episode, John Cleese almost crashed Basil Fawlty’s
car. It was only afterwards that he confessed to the
director that he had never learned to drive.
Sachs, who played Fawlty’s idiot waiter Manuel, was
injured twice during filming the series – once when
Cleese hit him on the head too hard with a saucepan
(leaving him concussed for two days), and again when
the kitchen fire in the ‘Germans’ episode left him
have been several attempts to remake Fawlty Towers for
America, all of which have flopped. ABC’s Amanda’s
By The Sea missed the point spectacularly by
eliminating Basil from the programme completely, while
Manuel was transformed into Mexican waiter Aldo.
to popular belief, Cleese has never ruled out a third
series of Fawlty Towers, and even toyed with the idea
as recently as three years ago. An episode in which
the hotel is visited by tax inspectors was discussed
by Cleese and Booth, as were a pair of Fawlty Towers
screenplay concepts. In one Basil visits a Spanish
hotel that is even worse than his own, while in
another he would have foiled an attempt to hijack a
considers Fawlty Towers to be one of his three biggest
successes, the others being Monty Python’s Life Of
Brian, and A Fish Called Wanda. Though Wanda was a
massive success, its follow-up, Fierce Creatures, was
mauled by critics. Around 60% of the film had to be
reshot after disasterous test screenings, adding
millions to the budget.
has since pondered whether he’s now too out of touch
to be funny, questioning how a 60 year-old man can
write anything relevant to a contemporary teenager. A
brief 30th anniversary reunion of the Monty
Python team last year proved that when the gloves are
off, he can be as funny as ever. He opened an evening
of Python-themed programmes by being drenched with
gore from a flattened kitten.
Cleese has had several hair transplants. He used to
hide his baldness beneath a toupee, but during
rehearsals for a stage show in the early 1980s, his
wig slipped revealing his scabby, mid-transplant
scalp. He’s since enthused publicly about the