Few comedians are more adored by the British public than John Cleese. His very name is synonymous with manic hilarity child porno and brilliant satire.Like Tommy Cooper, he can provoke laughter merely through his physical presence. That’s why his autobiography, published this escort bayan week, has been so eagerly anticipated.Yet the man that emerges from its pages is strangely humourless, prosaic and self-obsessed. In escort place of comedic delights, there is much dreary introspection. His publisher Random House describes the volume as ‘candid and brilliantly porn funny’.It is anything but that. Written in lifeless prose, full of rather turgid reminiscences about his schooldays, much of it reads like the memoirs of the resident bore of a suburban Rotary Club — exactly the kind of figure that Cleese used to mock so mercilessly.Scroll down for video
Malicious: Comedian John Cleese did not speak highly of his mother, Muriel, who died in 2000 at the age of 91‘The spark was always there,’ he writes, referring to his early ability to make other boys laugh at his Somerset prep school in the 1940s. Well, almost seven decades later, the flame has been extinguished.At one point, Cleese extols the advice of the American comic writer and cartoonist James Thurber about the importance of being able to laugh at yourself. Yet through this exercise in self-absorption, Cleese shows that he takes himself extremely seriously. He comes across as a narcissist lacking in any real empathy, which explains why he writes with so little sparkle or engagement.Cleese has led a long life of rich achievement. His is a tale that features Hollywood triumphs, dazzling television success with shows like Monty Python, and work with some of the biggest celebrities of our times, such as Peter Sellers.It was as a law student at Cambridge, of course, that he became involved with the university’s Footlights revue, whose show made it to London’s West End, launching Cleese and his fellows on the path to stardom.
Professor David Wilson has delivered a damning verdict of Cleeses new book So Anyway…The AutobiographyThanks to a string of marriages and frequent liaisons with glamorous, usually American, blondes, the story of his domestic life should be equally compelling. But everything Cleese touches becomes dull, including his pen portraits.So Ronnie Barker, that other comic genius with whom Cleese worked in the Sixties, is blandly called ‘a top-class comedy actor’, while, in another platitude, song-and-dance man Tommy Steele is said to be ‘a tremendously pleasant chap to work with’. The tribute to Graeme Garden — who won fame with The Goodies — reads like a workplace appraisal: ‘An agreeable, amusing and skilled colleague.’Even in the case of Cleese’s first wife Connie Booth, the American-born actress he met while appearing on Broadway in the late Sixties — and with whom he had a daughter, Cynthia — there is no vividness of observation to give an insight into her character, or why he fell in love with her.Instead, he just provides a banal repetition of the facts. It is obvious that all the years he has spent in therapy, remorselessly playing out the narrative of his life, have robbed him of his humour — but have provided him with little real understanding of other people.Nor do those sessions appear to have made him happy, as shown by the endless turbulence in his relationships, or in his squandering of large chunks of his fortune, much of it in an expensive divorce settlement from his third wife, Alyce, that cost £12 million.This is a man whose own daughter Camilla — the product of his second marriage, to the American artist Barbara Trentham — has said of the familial chaos he has left in his wake: ‘If most people have a family tree, we have family tumbleweed, it just keeps rolling along picking up dirt and debris.’Camilla, now forging a career as a stand-up, has also referred to her father’s fourth and current wife, the jewellery designer Jennifer Wade, 42, as ‘the new child in the family’ and even more witheringly as ‘his soul mate du jour’. Adding to the air of Freudian dysfunction, Jennifer bears a striking resemblance to Camilla. ‘We actually have a lot in common — we’re both 6ft, blonde and inappropriately aged to be married to my dad,’ Camilla joked recently.
John Cleese on writing about his mother in new autobiography
Cleese pictured with his mother Muriel and former wife Alyce – before the couple got divorced in 2008Against the backdrop of all this emotional upheaval, his book is the worst advertisement for the effectiveness of Cleese’s beloved psychotherapy.Cleese heaps the blame for all this conflict and unhappiness on his provincial upbringing, particularly the influence of his domineering mother.Born in 1939 in the coastal Somerset town of Weston-Super-Mare, Cleese is the son of an insurance agent who had fought heroically in World War I.He was an only child, which he feels led to his being pampered, over-protected and spoilt. ‘A namby-pamby little pansy,’ is one scathing description of himself. He also believes that this lack of siblings fed his introspection. ‘I’m sure I could have dramatically cut the hours I spent in therapy if I had had a brother,’ he writes.But it is his mother, Muriel, who comes in for the harshest treatment. Banal about his fellow comics, affectionate if condescending about his father, Reg, Cleese reserves his real malice for her.Though a practical woman and a caring parent, he says she was also controlling, neurotic, self-obsessed and difficult, living her life ‘in a constant state of high anxiety, bordering on incipient panic’ which ‘made life with her very uncomfortable indeed’.
Icon: Despite being synonymous with manic hilarity and brilliant satire Professor Wilson describes Cleeses book as a boreCleese lists all her alleged phobias, which included an aversion to megaphones, trains, church bells, dinner gongs, burglar alarms, parrot houses, whoopee cushions, loud radios and low-flying aircraft. ‘In a nutshell, Mother experienced the cosmos as a vast, limitless booby trap,’ he writes. In truth, these do not seem real phobias, rather a form of hypersensitivity to loud or unusual noises.Yet Cleese claims that it was due to Muriel, who died in 2000 at the age of 101, that he was so socially awkward as an adult, terrified of embarrassment and dysfunctional in his romantic liaisons.This assault on his mother is unlikely to win Cleese much sympathy. It smacks of cruelty and superiority. Indeed, he boasts how, in later life, he liked to mock Muriel’s unworldly lack of general knowledge by, for instance, pretending that quail’s eggs came from molehills, or that Mary, Queen of Scots was a champion darts player.Cleese, beneath all the barbs, acknowledges that there was a bond of affection between them, but there is something deeply immature in a 74-year-old man harping on about his mother, like a helpless teenager who refuses to take responsibility for his own life.This is one of the keys to Cleese’s personality. He exudes a permanent spirit of adolescence, an inability to grow up. It is profoundly revealing that he spends so much of the book on lovingly recounting his schooldays, first at the preparatory school of St Peter’s in Weston-Super-Mare, and secondly at the public school of Clifton in Bristol.
Turbulent love life: Cleese pictured with first wife Connie Booth (left) and second wife Barbara Trentham (right)Tellingly, he writes with far more passion and colour about his schoolmasters than he does about such giants of the entertainment world as David Frost or Michael Palin. Indeed, he admits that his last years at prep school were ‘the happiest of his life’ — a rather tragic statement from someone who went on to meet such international acclaim.Yet his final year at Clifton was also the setting for a deep disappointment. To his outrage, he was not made a prefect in his house, a decision which he admits ‘engulfed me in a surge of high-minded contempt for authority’.Blown out of all proportion, the move appears to have been the driving force for Cleese’s permanent rebellion against the Establishment. Denied his rightful place at the top of the hierarchy, as he saw it, he decided to rage against the system through comedy, never more brilliantly than in Monty Python’s sketches about idiotic politicians or upper-class twits.But this also points to a deep contradiction within Cleese, which has given rise to much of his psychological conflict. So he wails about the English class system — yet is fascinated by it.Absurdly, he pores over the minutiae of class distinctions in his family background, calling his father ‘middle-middle-lower-middle class’, and even, like the worst kind of snob, running through the places of various public schools on an imaginary ladder of esteem. He wants to be an English gentleman yet, at the same time, sneers at the very concept.This tortuous duality runs through his life. He affects to despise finance, his father’s profession, yet proved a shrewd businessman with his creation of a corporate training company. He claims to loathe the suffocating, self-satisfied provincial life of his Weston background, but has a property in nearby Bath because, as he said in a recent interview, ‘it feels like the England that I grew up in’.
Past and present: The actor poses with his third wife Alyce Faye Eichelberger (left) and current wife Jennifer Wade (right)He is one of the most famous comedic performers in the world, yet was long crippled by nerves when appearing in front of a camera. In fact, some of the best passages in the book are when he describes his terror of forgetting his lines when he is doing live segments for The Frost Report in the Sixties.Above all, he claims to feel so much antipathy for his mother, yet remains in her thrall. His relationships seem to have been moulded by the search for another Muriel, as he admitted in an interview in 2010: ‘I think all my wives and girlfriends had aspects similar to my mother. I don’t think there’s any question about that.’But again, this fixation with his mother inevitably leads to turmoil in his personal life, as he ends up in adolescent rebellion against the newly created maternal figure.If Cleese were more open, then this could have been a fascinating book. But because of his inability to engage, it is an unpleasant, sterile work.In A Fish Called Wanda, by far the most successful screenplay Cleese ever wrote, his leading character says at one point about his Englishness: ‘We’re terrified of embarrassment. That’s why we are so dead.’ Those words could also be used about Cleese’s autobiography. There is nothing new here about Monty Python or his time at Cambridge, where the Footlights led the satirical boom of the early Sixties.
Professor Wilson writes: The greatest irony of all is that he criticises his mother for being tiresome, self-centred and neurotic. But that is exactly what Cleese himself has becomeEven his long creative working relationship with his fellow Python Graham Chapman never comes to life. ‘Our conversations were typically male. It would not have occurred to us to talk about private matters,’ writes Cleese.That says far more about him than Chapman, who was flamboyant, mercurial, gay and alcoholic. He should have been a fascinating character to portray.For all his decades in therapy, Cleese never really confronts his demons. Because the autobiography goes up only to the early Seventies, much of his career and tempestuous romantic life is not covered. Instead, the text is padded out with scripts of not particularly funny sketches from the late 1960s. ‘Lazy bastard, I hear you cry,’ he writes of this trick, in one of the book’s more inadvertently revealing lines.He may have needed the money after his last, crippling expensive divorce, but Cleese is diminished by this tired effort.‘I have always aimed to be as funny as I can possibly be,’ he writes, but that desire certainly does not shine through the pages.The greatest irony of all is that he criticises his mother for being tiresome, self-centred and neurotic. But that is exactly what Cleese himself has become.So, Anyway . . . The Autobiography by John Cleese (Random House, £20).