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Cleese, John (1939-)

Actor, Writer, Director

Main image of Cleese, John (1939-)

Dominant in British comedy since the '60s, tall (6'4"), eccentric Cambridge law graduate John Cleese is associated with such landmark TV series as The Frost Report (BBC, 1966) and the iconoclastic Monty Python's Flying Circus (BBC, 1969-70, 1972-74) on which his cohorts included Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and director Terry Gilliam. With these, he would go on to bring Monty Python to the cinema in And Now for Something Completely Different (d. Ian Macnaughton, 1971), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (d. Jones/Gilliam, 1974), Life of Brian (d. Jones, 1979), The Secret Policeman's Ball (d. Roger Graef, 1979) and ...Other Ball (d. Julien Temple, 1982), and Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (d. Jones, 1983), on which he wrote as well as acted.

The wild inventiveness revealed in 'Python' was harnessed to different anarchic effect in the TV series, Fawlty Towers (BBC, 1975, 1979), co-written and performed with his then-wife (1968-76) Connie Booth, and perhaps the funniest ever British sitcom. He had a great success (Oscar and BAFTA-nominated script, BAFTA for acting) in 1988 with A Fish Called Wanda (d. Charles Crichton, 1988), which he failed to duplicate in the follow-up Fierce Creatures (UK/US, d. Robert Young/Fred Schepisi, 1997), played 'R' in the 1999 Bond, The World Is Not Enough (UK/US, d. Michael Apted), and was in several US films, including Silverado (d. Lawrence Kasdan, 1985) and the film version of the cult children's book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (UK/US, d. Chris Columbus, 2001). He also founded Video Arts Ltd, which produced some witty business training films. His varied contributions stamp him a polymath of British comedy in the last third of the 20th century.

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Film

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Clockwise (1985)Clockwise (1985)

John Cleese-starring comedy about a headmaster having a very bad day

Thumbnail image of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

Second outing for the fantastically popular boy wizard

Thumbnail image of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001)Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001)

The film that brought J.K. Rowling's boy wizard to the big screen

Thumbnail image of Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979)

Controversial but hilarious comedy about a reluctant messiah

Thumbnail image of Time Bandits (1981)Time Bandits (1981)

Rich, witty fantasy from the hyper- active imagination of Terry Gilliam

Thumbnail image of At Last The 1948 Show (1967-68)At Last The 1948 Show (1967-68)

Sketch comedy series now seen as a dry run for Monty Python

Thumbnail image of Fawlty Towers (1975, 79)Fawlty Towers (1975, 79)

John Cleese as manic hotelier Basil Fawlty in Britain's greatest sitcom

Thumbnail image of Frost Report, The (1966-67)Frost Report, The (1966-67)

Topical comedy show, a successor to the more famous TW3

Thumbnail image of It's Marty (1968-69)It's Marty (1968-69)

Marty Feldman's unjustly forgotten pre-Python sketch series

Thumbnail image of Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-74)Monty Python's Flying Circus (1969-74)

Legendary sketch show that revolutionised TV comedy

Thumbnail image of Taming of the Shrew, The (1980)Taming of the Shrew, The (1980)

BBC Television Shakespeare adaptation, starring John Cleese

Thumbnail image of Wind in the Willows, The (1984-88)Wind in the Willows, The (1984-88)

Definitive animated version of the Kenneth Grahame children's classic

Related collections

Thumbnail image of The Roots of Monty PythonThe Roots of Monty Python

Before the Circus flew: the hidden origins of the Python wit

Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Booth, Connie (1949-)Booth, Connie (1949-)

Actor, Writer

Thumbnail image of Chapman, Graham (1941-1989)Chapman, Graham (1941-1989)

Actor, Writer

Thumbnail image of Gilliam, Terry (1940-)Gilliam, Terry (1940-)

Director, Writer, Animator, Actor

Thumbnail image of Idle, Eric (1943-)Idle, Eric (1943-)

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Thumbnail image of Jones, Terry (1942-)Jones, Terry (1942-)

Actor, Director, Writer, Presenter

Thumbnail image of Palin, Michael (1943-)Palin, Michael (1943-)

Actor, Writer