British actor, writer, and comic innovator known for his surreal portrayal of everyday life. His TV series Fawlty Towers is known throughout the world.
Born in Weston-Super-Mare, Cleese began his show-business career at Cambridge, when he appeared with the university's revue company, Footlights (1963). By 1965 he was appearing on Broadway in the sentimental musical Half a Sixpence, and in 1966 he started writing for and making occasional appearances in The Frost Report, a topical television satire show fronted by David Frost.
Fame came with the bizarre and anarchic Monty Python's Flying Circus TV series (1969–74); film spin-offs of this series included Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1974) and Monty Python's The Life of Brian (1974). Cleese's TV series Fawlty Towers (1975–79), set in a chaotic seaside hotel, features him as Basil Fawlty, the manic owner. It is generally regarded as one of the classics of TV comedy. Clockwise (1985), a film in which he portrayed a time-obsessed headmaster, was followed by A Fish Called Wanda (1988), for which Cleese won a BAFTA award as best actor and an Oscar nomination for best screenplay. His latest film is Fierce Creatures (1997).
The actor's turbulent three marriages have led to his co-authorship, with the psychiatrist Robin Skynner, of Families and How to Survive Them (1983) and Life and How to Survive It (1993). Cleese is much in demand for commercials, including party political broadcasts for the Liberal Democrats, of which he is a staunch supporter. Less well known is his role in creating Video Arts Ltd, a company that uses humour to revolutionize the production of business training films.
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).