Best Known For
Comedian John Cleese is most famous for his work with the comedy group Monty Python, and for the popular British television series Fawlty Towers.
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Cleese soon anded a job writing jokes for BBC Radio. He later made the move to television, becoming a writer and performer on The Frost Report featuring David Frost. Other members of the writing staff included Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, and Terry Jones. Based on weekly themes, each episode of the program would feature musical satire and sketch comedy. He also starred in At Last the 1948 Show with Chapman, Tim Brooke-Taylor,
and Marty Feldman in 1967.
Cleese started working on a new television venture with Chapman, Idle, Palin, Jones, and Terry Gilliam. Together they developed Monty Python's Flying Circus, an outlandish comedy series featuring off-the-wall sketches and odd animation segments. At first, the BBC and the public did not know what to make of this unusual show when it debuted in October 1969. Monty Python avoided standard punchlines in their skits, which threw off audiences at the time.
At 6-feet 5-inches tall, Cleese towered over most of the cast. He often played authority figures and showed a talent for hurling insults. Cleese, with his crisp speaking style, took on a number of memorable roles, including the stuffy representative of the Ministry of Silly Walks or the consumer who buys a dead parrot. "John's performances were the linchpin of Python," Michael Palin told People.
In 1972, Cleese branched out in a new direction. He helped found Video Arts Ltd, a company that produces humorous training videos for corporations. Putting his writing and acting talents to the test, Cleese created and appeared in programs on customer service, organization, and meetings among other topics. The company's videos have been used by such companies as General Motors and Saks Fifth Avenue.
During the show's third season, Cleese started to lose interest. The group often worked in teams to write the sketches, with Cleese frequently pairing up with Chapman. Chapman suffered from a drinking problem at the time. "I felt we were repeating ourselves. And also I was writing with the alcoholic, and no one else wanted to," he explained to Entertainment Weekly. He left Monty Python's Flying Circus before its fourth season.
Working with his wife, Connie Booth, Cleese created a new television series, Fawlty Towers. The popular sitcom first aired in 1975 and featured Cleese as the high-strung Basil Fawlty who runs an inn with his wife (Prunella Scales). His real-life wife played a hotel waitress named Polly on the show. His marriage to Booth ended in 1978, but the two continued to work together on Fawlty Towers until 1979.
While he had been tired of the Monty Python television series, Cleese did participate in the group's film projects. He appeared in, and helped write, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979), and Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (1983). The films won high praise and delighted the group's ever-growing legions of fans. They are now considered some of the best comedies ever made.
Cleese had another career breakthrough in 1988 with A Fish Called Wanda.
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