Guest Actor Biography
Page 24 of 127


John Cleese

Marcus Rugman, Look - (stop me if you've heard this one) But There Were These Two Fellers...

by Pete Stampede

John Cleese, well... even though he once gave his three rules of writing comedy as, "One, no puns. Two, no puns. Three, no puns!", at the risk of breaking all three, he is simply a giant of comedy. It's impossible to imagine him turning up in any other spy/action series than The Avengers (and with a full head of hair, here!), which is another reason why I like this episode so much. Emerging from the small West Country town of Weston-super-Mare, and entering Cambridge University with the intention of becoming a lawyer, he had become a worldwide star and possibly the best-known figure in British comedy by the 80s, even if he hasn't quite consolidated the success of A Fish Called Wanda (and I do wish he wouldn't do so many commercials!). Indeed, his films from 1968 onwards have largely been cameos; word on The Out-Of-Towners with Steve Martin and Goldie Hawn is not good, and he had the bad luck to be blackmailed into big-headed slimeball Michael Winner's recent loser Parting Shots, and sadly so did Diana Rigg, Joanna Lumley and Gareth Hunt (well, poor old Gareth needs the work, by all accounts).

It goes without saying that Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-74), plus the team's subsequent films, books, records and stage shows, and Fawlty Towers (1975-79), are all milestones in TV comedy (it's strange how, in Britain, the latter is more popular than the former, after all it's more accessible; in the rest of the world, it seems to be the other way 'round). Less well known Cleese series are: The Frost Report (1966-67), as a support player in the last gasp of David Frost's satire series; At Last the 1948 Show (1967), a clear precursor to Python; Jokers Wild (1971), a comedy show masquerading as a panel game whose other players included Bob Monkhouse, Ted Ray, Les Dawson, Patrick Cargill, Clive Dunn, Jimmy Jewel and Roy Kinnear; Sez Les (1974), again with Dawson; Whoops Apocalypse (1982) miscast as a master of disguise in a clumsy satire, later clumsily remade as a film, without him; and Look At The State We're In! (1995), a series of shorts satirising governments, which passed unnoticed on BBC2. He recently announced an intention to retire... mind you, he seems to do that every ten years.

Links: PythOnline gives Weston-super-Mare's favourite son his own section, called The Cleese Shop (hmm, what happened to his rule about no puns?), featuring a changing array of articles by him: mostly taken from available sources like the Python books, but no worse for that, and at the time of writing it has a genuine rarity, his inaugural speech as Rector of St. Andrew's University in Scotland, in 1973. (If I was feeling bitchy, I'd say it's nice to find something on this site that isn't a plug for Eric Idle's flagging career.) And Now For Something Completely in the Know features John interviewing writer William Goldman in a rather surrealistic set-up, but conventional interview. Last, and possibly least, TV Cream, a wonderfully silly alphabetical listing of 60s/70s trivia, has an entry on Jokers Wild, mentioning Cleese's incongruous appearances on it.

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Page last modified: 5 May 2017.

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