John Cleese

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John Cleese
John Cleese.jpg
Birth name John Marwood Cleese
Born October 27, 1939 in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, England
Sometimes credited as Maurice Godin
Notable Roles Monty Python's Flying Circus: Monty Python member
Fawlty Towers: Basil Fawlty
Notable Episodes Fawlty Towers: 1x06 - The Germans
Fawlty Towers: 2x01 - Communication Problems
Fawlty Towers: 2x02 - The Psychiatrist
Awards 1 Emmy
1 BAFTA TV Award
1 AFI Star Award (with Monty Python)
1 Aftonbladet TV Prize, Sweden
1 Banff Television Festival Sir Peter Ustinov Award
Other: 1 BAFTA Film Award; 1 David di Donatello Award, Italy; 1 Evening Standard British Film Awards Peter Sellers Award for Comedy

John Cleese is a British writer, producer, comedian and actor best known for his work as a member of the comedy troupe Monty Python, and for his solo work as creator, writer and star of the British sitcom Fawlty Towers and dozens of subsequent film and TV roles.



John Marwood Cleese was born in Weston-super-Mare, England on October 27, 1939. Although his family was not well-to-do, he moved around a lot as a child to various small towns in England. His father, Reginald Francis Cleese, was an insurance salesman and World War I veteran, and his mother, Muriel Cross, was a homemaker. Young Cleese was fascinated by making people laugh and by comedy—especially The Goon Show on BBC Radio, but he never considered show business as a career. His biggest dream was to play cricket. After high school, he taught for a couple of years and headed on to Cambridge to study law.

At Cambridge, Cleese joined the famous Footlights Club, which performed comedy revues on a real stage. There he met fellow future Python Graham Chapman. At first, Cleese preferred to be a writer and avoided performing—a shyness born from a childhood of being unusually tall, but in 1963 he caught the eye of the BBC, who hired him as a writer for radio. Cleese agreed to it for the steady pay.

After a few years Cleese came to America, as part of the Cambridge Revue. He fell in love with the country and stayed for a few years. There he met Terry Gilliam and his future wife Connie Booth. When he returned to England, Cleese went to work writing and performing on BBC television on such shows as The Frost Report and At Last the 1948 Show.

In 1969, Cleese was offered the chance to headline his own show with Chapman. They brought together several writer/performers they had worked with, and the show soon became a collaboration. Monty Python's Flying Circus would become one of the most influential and beloved sketch comedies in television history, and unquestionably the most important in BBC history.

Feeling that he was not spending enough time with his wife and daughter, Cynthia (born 1971), Cleese left the show after three seasons and asked for a chance to work with Booth on his next series. That show, Fawlty Towers, was also a landmark in BBC history, and in 2000, it was named the favorite British TV series of all time by the UK TV industry.

In between the first and second seasons of Fawlty Towers, Cleese and Booth were divorced. Cleese also made two original movies with his fellow Pythons: Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Life of Brian. The latter was released after the second season of Fawlty Towers and it became an international hit, rocketing Cleese and his fellow Pythons to an almost rock star-like status. Cleese and the Pythons again toured America, and after Life of Brian, they made another original film, Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl.

Upon completion of the final Monty Python film, The Meaning of Life, Cleese and the Pythons officially split up, although they would continue to work together on other projects. Cleese and Python Michael Palin worked together on two movies which Cleese wrote and starred in —A Fish Called Wanda (the highest grossing British film to date) and Fierce Creatures. In the meanwhile, even before Fawlty Towers, Cleese had begun his own company in collaboration with Tony Jay, Video Arts, which devoted itself to business training videos, often starring Cleese.

Throughout the 80s and 90s, Cleese, by then a sort of legend, continued to make cameo appearances in films and guest appearances on TV shows. In 1987, he won an Emmy as Outstanding Guest Performer in a Comedy Series for his appearance in Cheers. He has since been nominated in that category twice more, in 1998 for 3rd Rock from the Sun and in 2004 for his recurring role as Lyle Finster in the sixth season of Will & Grace. He also received a nomination in 2002 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special (Informational) for his work as writer, producer and host of the documentary-miniseries The Human Face. In 1981, he remarried, to Barbara Trentham, with whom he had one child, Camilla, before they divorced in 1990. He married a third time to Alice Faye Eichelberger in 1992.

In more recent years, Cleese has become a fixture in comedy/action movies set in Britain. He had notable supporting role as "Nearly Headless Nick" in the Harry Potter movies, as the new Q (formerly Q's assistant R) in the James Bond films, and voiced King Harold in the Shrek movies. He has also lent his voice to several video games, animated movies and commercials. He has co-authored books on psychology and serves as a visiting professor at Cornell University.


Starring Roles

Series Role Year(s) Season(s)
The Frost Report Ensemble Member 1966–1967 1 2
At Last the 1948 Show Ensemble Member 1967 1 2
Monty Python's Flying Circus Monty Python Member 1969–1973 1 2 3
Sez Les Ensemble Member 1994–95 8 9
Fawlty Towers Basil Fawlty 1975–1979 1 2
Whoops Apocalypse Lacrobat 1982 1
Funny Women Himself 1998 miniseries
Laughter in the House: The Story of British Sitcom Himself 1999 miniseries
Disney's House of Mouse Narrator 2001–2004 1 2 3
The Human Face Host 2001 miniseries
The Sketch Show Story Himself 2001 miniseries
Wednesday 9:30 (8:30 Central) Red Lansing 2002 1
I Love the 70s Himself 2004 miniseries
Dokument: Humor Himself 2005–2006 1
Monty Python's Personal Best Monty Python Member 2006 miniseries

Guest Starring Roles

Series Role Episode Airdate
The Avengers Marcus Rugman 6x11 - Look — (Stop Me If You've Heard This One) — But There Were These Two Fellers... December 4, 1968
Sez Les Himself 3x04 - Episode Four September 6, 1971
The Goodies The Genie 4x04 - The Goodies and the Beanstalk December 24, 1973
The Muppet Show Guest Star 2x23 - John Cleese August 10, 1977
Doctor Who Art Gallery Visitor 5H - City of Death September 29, 1979—October 20, 1979
Ripping Yarns Passer-by 2x02 - Golden Gordon October 17, 1979
Cheers Dr. Simon Finch-Royce 5x21 - Simon Says March 5, 1987
The Unpleasant World of Penn & Teller Himself 1x02 - Episode Two January 14, 1994
Look at the State We're In! Harold Kingsby 1x02 - Secrecy May 21, 1995
Look at the State We're In! The Minister 1x06 - The Status Quo June 4, 1995
Saturday Night Live Himself 22x10 - Kevin Spacey/Beck January 11, 1997
Heroes of Comedy Himself 1x09 - The Goons May 7, 1997
3rd Rock from the Sun Dr. Liam Neesam 3x22 - Just Your Average Dick (1) April 28, 1998
3rd Rock from the Sun Dr. Liam Neesam 3x23 - Dick and the Other Guy (2) April 28, 1998
Kiss Me Kate Himself 1x03 - Calendar May 18, 1998
Mickey Mouse Works Narrator 1x06 - Episode Six June 5, 1999
Casper & Mandrilaftalen Gun Rack Technician 2x02 - Episode Two September 3, 1999
Mickey Mouse Works Narrator 2x05 - Episode Thirteen October 23, 1999
MADtv Guest 5x09 - Episode 509 November 20, 1999
3rd Rock from the Sun
(credited as Maurice Godin)
Dr. Liam Neesam 6x17 - Mary Loves Scoochie (1) May 8, 2001
3rd Rock from the Sun Dr. Liam Neesam 6x18 - Mary Loves Scoochie (2) May 15, 2001
MADtv Guest 7x09 - Episode 707 November 24, 2001
Will & Grace Lyle Finster 6x06 - Heart Like a Wheelchair November 6, 2003
Will & Grace Lyle Finster 6x11 - The Accidental Tsuris January 15, 2004
Britain's Best Sitcom Himself 1x01 - Fawlty Towers January 24, 2004
Will & Grace Lyle Finster 6x15 - Flip-Flop (1) February 26, 2004
Will & Grace Lyle Finster 6x16 - Flip-Flop (2) March 4, 2004
Will & Grace Lyle Finster 6x23 - I Do (1) April 29, 2004
Will & Grace Lyle Finster 6x23 - Oh, No, You Di-In't (2) April 29, 2004
Comedy Connections Himself 3x01 - Monty Python's Flying Circus February 21, 2005

Specials and Made-for-TV Movies

Title Role Airdate Series/Banner
The Goon Show Announcer August 8, 1968
How to Irritate People Various characters January 21, 1969
Euroshow 71 Monty Python member May 1, 1971
Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus Monty Python member January 3, 1972 Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus
Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus Episode 2 Monty Python member December 18, 1972 Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus
Monty Python & the Holy Grail Location Report Monty Python member December 19, 1974
Pleasure at Her Majesty's Various characters December 29, 1976 The Secret Policeman's Ball
The Mermaid Frolics Various characters September 10, 1977 The Secret Policeman's Ball
Peter Cook & Co. Various characters September 14, 1980
The Taming of the Shrew Petruchio October 23, 1980 The Complete Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare
The Grand Knockout Tournament Himself June 19, 1987
An Audience with Peter Ustinov Himself January 3, 1988
Parrot Sketch Not Included: Twenty Years of Monty Python Monty Python member November 18, 1989
John Cleeses fornemmelse for humor Himself August 11, 1997
Monty Python's Flying Circus: Live at Aspen Monty Python member March 21, 1998
Comic Relief: The Record Breaker Himself March 12, 1999 Comic Relief
John Cleese & Anders Lund Madsen Himself October 2, 1999
Python Night Monty Python member October 9, 1999
It's... the Monty Python Story Monty Python member October 9, 1999
Night of a Thousand Shows Himself September 16, 2000
Comic Relief Short Pants Himself February 13, 2001 Comic Relief
2002 ABC World Stunt Awards Himself May 19, 2002 ABC World Stunt Awards
Premiere Bond: Die Another Day Himself November 19, 2002
Best Ever Bond Himself November 22, 2002
James Bond: A BAFTA Tribute Himself December 28, 2002 A BAFTA Tribute
Comic Relief 2003: The Big Hair Do Himself March 14, 2003 Comic Relief
Ronnie Barker: A BAFTA Tribute Himself February 7, 2004 A BAFTA Tribute
John Cleese's Wine for the Confused Host October 21, 2004
2nd Irish Film and Television Awards Presenter October 30, 2004 Irish Film and Television Awards
The Ultimate Film Host November 27, 2004
Comic Relief: Red Nose Night Live 05 Himself March 11, 2005 Comic Relief
Britain's 50 Greatest Comedy Sketches Himself April 3, 2005
Avenue of the Stars: 50 Years of ITV Himself September 18, 2005
Return of the Goodies Himself December 30, 2005
The Art of Football from A to Z Various characters May 25, 2006

Talk, News and Game Show Appearances

Series Episode Airdate
The Midnight Special October 12, 1973
Friday Night, Saturday Morning November 9, 1979
Late Night with David Letterman November 27, 1984
The South Bank Show John Cleese January 12, 1986
Late Night with David Letterman January 28, 1986
Aspel & Company March 22, 1986
Late Night with David Letterman October 6, 1986
Late Night with David Letterman July 6, 1988
Aspel & Company October 8, 1988
The Charlie Rose Show March 2, 1995
Late Show with David Letterman Show 383 May 18, 1995
Late Show with David Letterman Show 709 December 9, 1996
Late Night with Conan O'Brien Show 709 January 9, 1997
TFI Friday January 24, 1997
Sven kväll med Luuk April 24, 1997
Lo plus April 25, 1997
Mundo VIP May 31, 1997
Dennis Miller Live Greed March 6, 1998
Brigitte & Friends May 28, 2000
Parkinson March 10, 2001
The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn June 15, 2001
Rove Live March 25, 2003
The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn February 18, 2004
X-Play March 17, 2004
VH1 Goes Inside Shrek May 16, 2004
Wetten, dass..? Wetten, dass..? aus Berlin July 4, 2004


Staff Writer

Series Year(s) Credit Season(s)
The Frost Report 1966-1967 1 2
At Last the 1948 Show 1967 1 2
Broaden Your Mind 1968 1
Monty Python's Flying Circus 1969-1973 1 2 3
Fawlty Towers 1975-1979 1 2
The Human Face 2001 1

Episode Writer

Series Episode Airdate Credit
That Was the Week That Was 1x02 - Show 2 December 1, 1962
ABC Stage 67 1x18 - David Frost's Night Out in London February 2, 1967
Marty 1x05 - Episode Five May 27, 1968
Marty 2x02 - Episode Eight December 16, 1968
Marty 2x03 - Episode Nine December 23, 1968
Doctor in the House 1x01 - Why Do You Want to Be a Doctor? July 12, 1969
6 Dates with Barker 1x05 - 1971: Come in and Lie Down February 5, 1971
Doctor at Large 1x11 - Saturday Matinee May 9, 1971
Doctor at Large 1x14 - No Ill Feeling! May 30, 1971
Doctor at Large 1x16 - It's All in the Mind June 13, 1971
Doctor at Large 1x17 - Cynthia Darling June 20, 1971
Doctor at Large 1x21 - Mother and Father Doing Well July 18, 1971
Doctor at Large 1x25 - Things That Go Mumps in the Night August 15, 1971
Monty Python's Flying Circus 4x02 - Michael Ellis November 7, 1974
Monty Python's Flying Circus 4x03 - The Light Entertainment War November 14, 1974
Monty Python's Flying Circus 4x04 - Hamlet November 21, 1974
The Two Ronnies 5x08 - Episode Eight October 23, 1976
Look at the State We're In! 1x06 - The Status Quo June 4, 1995

Specials and Made-for-TV Movies Written

Title Credit Airdate Series/Banner
How to Irritate People January 21, 1969
Simply Sheila July 7, 1968 Show of the Week
Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus January 3, 1972 Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus
Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus Episode 2 December 18, 1972 Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus
The Mermaid Frolics September 10, 1977
Comic Relief April 25, 1986 Comic Relief
It's... the Monty Python Story October 9, 1999
We Know Where You Live June 16, 2001
John Cleese's Wine for the Confused October 21, 2004
The Art of Football from A to Z May 25, 2006

Responsible For

Memorable Moments

  • Monty Python's Flying Circus
    • 1x08 - Full Frontal Nudity: In the sketch "Dead Parrot," he plays Eric Praline, a customer trying to return a dead parrot to a pet shop. As the shopkeeper tries to argue the parrot is not dead, merely sleeping, Praline tries to find some way to get across that the parrot is dead, "passed on. This parrot is no more. It has ceased to be. It's expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late parrot. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. ... It's rung down the curtain and joined the Choir Invisible. This... is an ex-parrot!" The sketch would become a trademark of Monty Python and arguably their most popular sketch of all time.
    • 2x01 - Face the Press: Cleese is first seen walking down the street in an odd goose-step and skipping combination. He walks all the way to his office—at the Ministry of Silly Walks, where he reviews grant proposals to develop silly walks for the United Kingdom.
  • Fawlty Towers
    • 1x05 - Gourmet Night: Scrambling furiously to deliver the duck which will be the only menu item at his gala gourmet night, Basil Fawlty is pushed to the limit when his car breaks down. Basil curses at the car and threatens to give it a "damn good thrashing!" He runs off and returns with a tree branch, which he beats furiously across the hood and windshield of the car.
    • 2x06 - Basil the Rat: Basil has been serving lunch to a hotel health inspector and trying to hide that a pet rat has escaped into the hotel. As Basil serves the inspector biscuits, the rat sits staring up from the biscuits can at the startled inspector. Trying to act casual, Basil says, "Would you care for any rat, or...?"

Awards and Accolades

Primetime Emmy Awards

(4 Nominations/1 Win)

  • Won: Outstanding Guest Performer in a Comedy Series (1986-87)
  • Nominated: Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (1998-99)
3rd Rock from the Sun
  • Nominated: Outstanding Non-Fiction Special (Informational) (2001-02)
The Human Face
  • Nominated: Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (2004-05)
Will & Grace


(4 Nominations/1 Win)

  • Nominated: Best Light Entertainment Personality (1969)
Monty Python's Flying Circus
  • Nominated: Best Light Entertainment Performance (1970)
Monty Python's Flying Circus
  • Nominated: Best Light Entertainment Performance (1975)
Fawlty Towers
  • Won: Best Light Entertainment Performance (1979)
Fawlty Towers

American Film Institute

(1 Win)

Honoring "the talents of those who have made a significant impact and have had an enduring influence on the television and motion picture industries."

Aftonbladet TV Prizes, Sweden

(1 Win)

  • Won: Best Foreign TV Personality - Male (1991)

Banff Television Festival, Canada

(1 Win)

  • Won: Sir Peter Ustinov Award (2002)
"In recognition of outstanding achievement in a body of comedy work."

Other Awards

  • Academy Awards
    • Nominated: Best Writing, Original Screenplay (1988) - A Fish Called Wanda
  • Golden Globes, Motion Picture
    • Nominated: Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Comedy/Musical (1988) - A Fish Called Wanda
  • BAFTA Film Awards
    • Won: Best Actor (1988) - A Fish Called Wanda
    • Nominated: Best Screenplay - Original (1988) - A Fish Called Wanda
  • Writers Guild of America
    • Nominated: WGA Award (Screen) (1988) - A Fish Called Wanda
  • David di Donatello Awards, Italy
    • Won: Best Screenplay - Foreign Film (1988) - A Fish Called Wanda
  • DVD Exclusive Awards, USA
    • Nominated: Best Audio Commentary (2001) - Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  • Edgar Allan Poe Awards, USA
    • Nominated: Best Motion Picture (1988) - A Fish Called Wanda
  • Evening Standard British Film Awards, UK
    • Won: Peter Sellers Award for Comedy (1986) - Clockwise
  • Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards, USA
    • Nominated: Best Acting Ensemble (2002) - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets


  • His family name was originally "Cheese," but his father changed it to avoid being made fun of while he was in the Army in World War I. Cleese regrets the name change, saying his wife, Alice Faye Eichelberger, calls him Jack, and "I liked the idea of being called Jack Cheese."
  • Mother Muriel Cleese (née Cross) had a long, fascinating life. Born November 11, 1899, the armistice declaring the end of World War I happened on her 20th birthday. On her 101st birthday—November 11, 2000—she passed away, having been witness to almost the entire 20th century.
  • Was over 6' tall by the age of twelve.
  • All three of his wives have been blonde American actresses.
  • Has a fascination with psychology, psychiatry and psychotherapy. Many of his writings use it as a major theme—including an episode of Fawlty Towers, 2x02 - The Psychiatrist. Two of his wives—Connie Booth and Alice Faye Eichelberger—have worked as psychotherapists. And he has co-authored books on psychology (including Families and How to Survive Them) and co-created, written and hosted the documentary miniseries The Human Face, which largely discusses the psychology of facial beauty and recognition.
  • Starting in 1970, he served for three years as a rector of St. Andrews University in Scotland.
  • In 1989, he joined the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). Despite his long, distinguished career by that point—including an Emmy two years prior and an Oscar nomination the year before—none of the staff recognized him.
  • There are claims he declined the honor of Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1996. Contrary to some claims, however, he did not turn down knighthood, as Commander is one rank below full knighthood and the right to be addressed as "Sir John Cleese."
  • An Internet piece entitled "The Revocation of Independence," in which (in response to the election of George W. Bush in 2000 and subsequent Bush Administration policies) Britain revokes America's independence, was falsely attributed to him. Although he does have left-leaning politics, he is very fond of America and has resided here for many years, so his own attitude is far from the smug sense of superiority on display in the e-mail forward.
  • In 2005, he had a part of his colon removed in a medical procedure. He subsequently put the tissue removed for sale on his Website.
  • In recognition of his love for lemurs (who figure prominently in his film Fierce Creatures), the recently discovered Malagasy species Cleese's woolly lemur (Avahi cleesei) was named after him.