John Cleese was born and brought up in Weston-super-Mare. However, he recovered to win a place to study science at Cambridge. After sampling the conversation in the Chemistry laboratories, he switched to Law. The success of the 1963 Cambridge Footlights Revue, which played in the West End and on Broadway, saved him from a legal career.
He first shot to fame in England with The Frost Report in 1966 and in 1969 co-created Monty Python’s Flying Circus. The team went on to conquer the world with four cult TV series and four hugely successful films, And Now For Something Completely Different (1971), Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974), The Life of Brian (1979) and The Meaning of Life (1983). The Pythons reunited for a one-off series of 10 live stage shows in the UK in 2014.
After leaving Python, Cleese moved on to create Basil Fawlty, the hotel manager from hell in Fawlty Towers. As one of the most successful TV series ever made, the 12 episodes of Fawlty Towers have been repeated on the BBC many times.
In 1988, he starred in and co-wrote A Fish Called Wanda. He reunited the stars of Wanda in 1996 to make Fierce Creatures, a film about a zoo, which went on worldwide release in 1997. As well as his work with Monty Python, Cleese’s film credits as an actor include The Great Muppet Caper (1980), Time Bandits (1980), Privates on Parade (1982) Silverado (1984), Clockwise (1986), Terry Jones’s Erik the Viking, Eric Idle’s Splitting Heirs (1992), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), The Jungle Book (1995), The Wind in the Willows (1996), The Out-of-Towners (1999), and Rat Race (2001), Cleese has also appeared in both the James Bond, and Harry Potter movie series. For his work on television, Cleese won an Emmy Award for his guest role on the comedy series “Cheers,” and received another Emmy nomination for a guest stint on “3rd Rock From the Sun”.
Less well known is the fact that John Cleese co-wrote (with Robin Skynner) two best-selling books on psychology, Families and How to Survive Them, and Life and How to Survive It. He also co-founded Video Arts in 1972, which became the largest producer of management and sales training films outside the United States. Video Arts was sold in 1991.
John started the Secret Policeman’s Ball concerts for Amnesty International and has continued to do a lot of charity work, much of it, like The Human Face (2001), for the BBC.
In his twilight years, he passes his time writing film scripts, making speeches to business audiences, doing seminars on creativity, teaching at Cornell and constructing a virtual reality (his website, www.thejohncleese.com)