University of Cambridge
St. Peter's Preparatory School
1980 - BAFTA Award for Best Light Entertainment Performance
1987 - Emmy Award for Comedy Series
The most revered figure in British comedy, John Cleese is perhaps one among the few comedians to come out with original, innovative slapstick antics and puerile character sketches. A law graduate from Downing College, Cambridge University, it was at the university that he became a part of the famed Footlights Dramatic Club. Footlights gave him the platform to showcase his comedic talents and he soon became a part of the immensely successful Footlights Revue, ‘Cambridge Circus’. This success inaugurated his career in comedy. He later became part of the legendary comedy group, ‘Monty Python’. The group created the popular British sketch comedy series, ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’. Along with ‘Monty Python’ he was also part of the group’s films, 'And Now for Something Completely Different', 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail', 'Life of Brian' and 'The Meaning of Life'. He is also the co-creator of the Emmy Award winning sitcom, ‘Fawlty Towers’, which he also starred in. Apart from being a comedian, he has also co-authored two books, ‘Families and How to Survive Them’ and ‘Life and How to Survive It’.
- John Marwood Cleese was born in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, England, to an insurance salesman, Reginald Francis Cleesea and Muriel Evelyn.He attended St Peter's Preparatory School, where he excelled in English studies and also actively participated in cricket and boxing competitions. When he was twelve, he was offered his first acting role in a school theatre production.At the age of 13, he received a scholarship to study at the Clifton College, an English public school in Bristol. It was there that he played cricket professionally and excelled in academics.In 1958, he graduated from Clifton College and took up a teaching job at his former alma mater St Peter's Preparatory School. He taught English, Science, Geography, History and Latin.In 1960, he gained admission to study law at the Downing College, Cambridge University. It was during his years at the university that he showed his comedy skills at the famed Footlights Dramatic Club. At Footlights, he met his future professional partner, Graham Chapman.In 1961, he wrote additional material for the Footlights Dramatic Club Revue, ‘I Thought I Saw It Move’. The following year, he was appointed as the Registrar of the club and also acted in the Revue, ‘Double Take!’Career
- In 1963, he graduated from Cambridge University. The same year, he was employed as one of the script writers and members of cast for the Footlights Revue, ‘A Clump of Plinths’. The Revue was successful at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and was renamed, ‘Cambridge Circus’.On July 10, 1963, ‘Cambridge Circus’ opened at the West End theatre in London. The show later opened in New Zealand, where four radio shows and a television special was recorded and broadcast the following year.In October 1964, he was seen in some of the sketches of ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’, broadcast on CBS. Post the ‘Cambridge Circus’, he performed on and Off-Broadway.He worked as a sketch writer for ‘The Dick Emery Show’. In 1965, the success of ‘Cambridge Circus’ inspired the creation of the BBC radio comedy, ‘I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again’.In 1965, he began to write for ‘The Frost Report’. The Following year, he was introduced to television as a performer for the series. His tall built and patrician figure on the classic class sketch made him unique in contrast to short middle-class performers. Furthermore, it was during this time he became acquainted with British comedian Peter Cook.In 1967, he and Graham Chapman were employed as both, writers and performers, for the satirical TV show, ‘At Last the 1948 Show’. He also wrote sketches for the TV comedy series, ‘Doctor in the House’.He co-wrote the 1968 television show, ‘How to Irritate People’. He also began to work on a television venture with Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. Together they formed the comedy group, ‘Monty Python’.In 1969, along with Python members, he created the British sketch comedy series, ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’. The series was broadcast on the BBC Television network.From 1970 to 1973, he was employed as the rector of the University of St Andrews. During this time he also worked on the sketch of the stand-up comedy show, ‘Sez Les’ with comedian, Les Dawson.In 1971, the film ‘And Now for Something Completely Different’ was released. The film was inspired by the television comedy series, ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’.In 1972, along with many other television professionals, he co-founded the video production company, ‘Video Arts’. The company produced training videos like ‘Meetings, Bloody Meetings’ and ‘More Bloody Meetings.’He quit the ‘Monty Python’ team after the third season of the show, ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’. He starred in the British comedy sketch show, ‘Sez Les’, from 1974.Even after he officially quit the Monty Python’ team, he maintained cordial relations with them and began writing with them for the film ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. The film was released on April 9, 1975.Released on September 19, 1975, the award winning, British BBC sitcom, ‘Fawlty Towers’ was written by him and his wife, Connie Booth. The couple also starred in the show.He appeared as a guest star on the TV series, ‘The Muppet Show’ and in 1980, he worked in the TV special ‘Peter Cook and Co’. Furthermore, he played 'Petruchio' in the BBC Shakespeare series, ‘The Taming of the Shrew’.In 1981, he played ‘Robin Hood’ in the British fantasy film, ‘Time Bandits’. The following year he was a part of the concert film, ‘Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl’. He also starred in ‘The Secret Policeman's Ball’ to raise funds.In 1983, his bestselling self-help book titled, ‘Families and How to Survive Them’ was published. The book was co-authored by psychiatrist and psychotherapist Robin Skynner. That year, he also co-wrote the film, ‘Monty Python's The Meaning of Life’.In 1985, he played a minor role in film ‘Silverado’. The following year, he played the role of ‘Mr. Stimpson’, a disciplinarian school headmaster in ‘Clockwise’, a British comedy film.In 1988, he played the role of, ‘Lawyer Archie Leach’ in the Academy Award winning heist-comedy film, ‘A Fish Called Wanda’. The next year, he was seen in the films, ‘Erik the Viking’ and ‘The Big Picture’.In 1993, in collaboration with psychiatrist and psychotherapist Robin Skynner he authored the book, ‘Life and How To Survive It’. The same year, he starred in the British film, ‘Splitting Heirs’.In 1999, he was seen in the James Bond film, ‘The World Is Not Enough’ as ‘R’. He has also appeared in other James Bond film ‘Die Another Day’, in which he reprised his role.In 2001, he was seen in the comedy film, ‘Rat Race’, directed by Jerry Zucker. The following year, he also made a cameo appearance in the film, ‘The Adventures of Pluto Nash’.In 2004, he was the co-writer for the DC Comics graphic novel, ‘Superman: True Brit’. The following year, he went on a tour to New Zealand for the stage show, ‘Cleese-His Life, Times and Current Medical Problems’.He made a guest appearance on the season 5, episode 21 of the American sitcom, ‘Cheers’. He frequently appeared on the comedy series, ‘Will & Grace’ and gave the voice for the character of ‘King Harold’ in ‘Shrek 2’, ‘Shrek the Third’ and ‘Shrek Ever After’.In 2009 and 2010, he went on the ‘Alimony Tour Year One and Year Two’ tour to Scandinavia and the US. The next year, he took the tour to South Africa and was seen in the film, ‘Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole’.In 2012, he did 'An Evening with John Cleese', which ran for a couple of weeks in Dubai. He was also cast in ‘Hunting Elephants’, but later quit due to heart problems.In 2013, he appeared as himself in the documentary film, ‘Chalky’, which was about producer Michael White. The same year it was announced that he would go to Canada for a comedy tour and host shows in Dubai.Major Works
- His show, ‘Fawlty Towers’ was placed at the number one position on the British Film Institute’s list of ‘100 Greatest British Television Programmes’. In the 2004 Britain's Best Sitcom poll, the show was voted fifth.The comedy sketch, ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ was included in Channel 4’s list of ‘50 Greatest British Sketches’. It was also included in the Time magazine list of '100 Best TV Shows of All Time' in 2007.Awards & AchievementsIn 1980, he received the BAFTA Award for the category of ‘Best Light Entertainment Performance’ for 'Fawlty Towers.In 1987, he won the Primetime Emmy for 'Outstanding Guest Performer in a Comedy Series for 'Cheers'.In 1989, he was the recipient of the BAFTA Award for the category of ‘Best Actor’ for the film, ‘A Fish Called Wanda’.Personal Life & Legacy
- He has been married four times and three of his marriages ended in divorce. His former spouses include Connie Booth, Barbara Trentham and Alyce Faye Eichelberger. In 2012, he married Jennifer Wade.He has two children from his previous marriage - one from Connie Booth and one from Barbara Trentham.Trivia
- This English comedian’s ancestral name was ‘Cheese’, but his father considered this embarrassing and changed it when he enlisted in the World War I Army.
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