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John Cleese: FOX News viewers are too stupid to realize that they are stupid

Be afraid, be very afraid…

For some years now, I have been fascinated with the Dunning-Kruger effect. I believe it was some Internet writings by Errol Morris that first turned me on to the idea around 2007. It’s incredibly useful, I feel like I find a use for it almost every day. If nothing else, it’s a spur to humility, because we’re all susceptible to it. Some, ahem, far more than others.

In a 1999 article called “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments,” David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University came to the conclusion that the qualified are often more skeptical about their own abilities in a given realm than the unqualfied are. People who are unqualified or unintelligent are more likely to rate their own abilities favorably than people who are qualified or intelligent. In the paper, the authors wrote, “Across four studies, the authors found that participants scoring in the bottom quartile on tests of humor, grammar, and logic grossly overestimated their test performance and ability. Although test scores put them in the 12th percentile, they estimated themselves to be in the 62nd.”

However, people with actual ability tended to underrate their relative competence. Participants who found tasks to be fairly easy mistakenly assumed that the tasks must also be easy for others as well. As Dunning and Kruger conclude: “The miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.”

Charles Darwin put it most pithily in The Descent of Man when he wrote, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” As W.B. Yeats put it in The Second Coming: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” Apparently there is a scientific grounding for that line.

The Dunning-Kruger effect is unusually suitable in describing the many frustrating positions and rhetoric of the Republican Party. My favorite (if depressing) example of the Dunning-Kruger effect comes from the mouth of George W. Bush in the days before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. As Bob Woodward wrote in Plan of Attack:

The president said he had made up his mind on war. The U.S. should go to war.

“You’re sure?” Powell asked.

Yes. It was the assured Bush. His tight, forward-leaning, muscular body language verified his words. It was the Bush of the days following 9/11.

“You understand the consequences,” Powell said in a half-question. …

Yeah, I do, the president answered.

Yeah, I do, the president answered. What on earth could that utterance by Bush possibly mean? Could it not be clearer that what was in Bush’s head at that moment and what was in Powell’s head at that moment had very little to do with each other? In effect Powell was taking Bush’s word that Bush had seriously considered the consequences of invasion, when to be frank, all available evidence, both at the time and later on, suggests that Bush was foolhardy about what the actual consequences of invasion might be.

Earlier this year, the research of Dunning and Kruger was referenced by a relatively unlikely source: John Cleese, the brilliant comedian who famously portrayed one of the single most obtuse and supercilious characters in TV history, Basil Fawlty. Cleese believes FOX’s viewership is too unintelligent to put the proper brakes on their own thought processes: “The problem with people like this is that they are so stupid that they have no idea how stupid they are. You see, if you’re very, very stupid, how can you possibly realize that you’re very, very stupid, you’d have to be relatively intelligent to realize how stupid you are.”

Apparently Cleese and Dunning are pals—he says so in the video, anyway. Here, have a look:


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On location with ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’

At the end of April 1974, the Monty Python team arrived in Ballachulish, Scotland, for a month’s filming on their second feature Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

After more than a year of careful planning, writing and lengthy negotiations, the Pythons (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin) hoped to make a “really good comedy film” that could stand alone and wouldn’t rely on the success of their TV series.

In his diary, Michael Palin detailed the film’s progress from initial idea to finished product.

Monday, March 5th [1973]

A Python meeting at Terry’s. The first time since the third LP in September that we have all contributed to a creative enterprise—in this case the second Python film. It was in many ways like a typical Python working day. Graham arrived late, and Terry made the coffee—and there was the usual indecision over whether to have a small lunch in, or a blow-out at one of Camberwell’s few restaurants…

But for me, the most heartening thing of all was the quality and quantity of the writing that Python has done over the last week… Today we proved that Python can still be as fresh as three years ago, and more prolific.

The team were also working on a stage show, a new book, another TV series (this time without Cleese) and their own projects. In amongst all this, each Python had to find time to work on the film script.

Tuesday, November 27th [1973]

Worked at Terry [Jones’] in the morning. A very poor session. We both wrote 75% tripe, and seemed unable to summon up excitement or concentration about the film. The most I could manage was a sketch about Galahad having smelly breath.


Tuesday, January 15th, London [1974]

Python meeting at T. Gilliam’s… There was some fairly bitter debate over timing of the film and rewriting. In the end, after the personal differences had been aired, we got down to some fast and efficient business, dates were agreed and there was a very useful hour’s discussion of the film. An idea I had for the gradual and increasing involvement of the present day in this otherwise historical film was adopted as a new and better way of ending it…

With the script finished, casting and locations chosen, the filming was scheduled to commence in the spring with Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam co-directing.

Tuesday, April 30th, Ballachulish

First day of filming. Woken at 6.45. Sunshine streaming through the curtains. Into chainmail and red-cross tabard. A difficult day today—the Bridge of Death scene where Eric and I die and Lancelot is arrested by the police…

Camera broke midway through first shot.

The day is hastily rearranged and, from having been busy, but organised, it is now busy and disorganised… Graham as King Arthur got vertigo and couldn’t go across the bridge. He spent the day unhappily cold and shaking. Eric and I and John sat around listening to stories from the Mountain Rescue boys about how many people perish on these spectacular mountains each year. Five or six deaths usually.

Terry J comes up to me in the afternoon and says he’s ‘a bit worried about Terry G’s priorities in choice of shots’—we run two and a quarter hours overtime, until nearly 8.00. Everyone in the young unit seems happy enough.


Wednesday, May 1st, Ballachulish

Lunch with Mark [Forstater, producer], Eric and John, who is trying to read a book of philosophy and is constantly rather cross—but quite fun. He continually goes on about the ‘bovine incompetence’ of the waitresses—who are no Einsteins, but good-hearted Scottish mums.


Thursday, May 2nd, Ballachulish

Eric and I have another lazy day at the rest home for officers, while Graham and Terry are finding the Castle Aaargh! We go to the location about 2.00, and they still haven’t had a lunch break.

Graham is getting shit poured all over him. He’s taking a great deal of punishment in these first few days of filming.

Friday, May 3rd, Killin

A slow day’s filming, it seems. Rather a lot of worried faces when we run into overtime again…

Julian [Doyle] took me aside after filming today as we walked down the hillside and said he was worried that the way things were being shot this week was putting a big strain on the budget (almost the entire £1,000 allowed for overtime was spent in this first week) and there would have to be some compromises by the Terrys somewhere along the line.


Saturday, May 4th, Killin

A good day’s filming at last. Even John and Eric aren’t grumbling, even tho’ we go into overtime again.

Monday, May 6th, Killin

John and I talked about life. I sympathise quite a lot with his urge to be free of the obligations and responsibilities of the Python group—but I feel that John is still tense and unrelaxed with people, which compounds his problems. He has more defences than Fort Knox.


Tuesday, May 7th

Today we shoot the Camelot musical sequence. A long and busy day for 50 seconds’ worth of film…

We pass the afternoon with a game of football. Despite the chainmail, some quite good moves.


Thursday, May 9th

Amazing how much eating one does on filming. If you get up at 7.15 it is nice to have a cup of coffee at least before going to over to the Doune Rural Hall (headquarters of the WI [Women’s Institute]) and, with a full breakfast menu available, I am quite often tempted to a kipper or even a piece of toast. Then, at 10.30 on set, there is more coffee and soft, delicious bap rolls with sausages and scrambled egg. Ron Hellard supplies a gargantuan lunch with much pastry and potato, which is also hard to resist. At around 4.00 tea/coffee and cakes (v. good home-made currant buns) and, after a drink back at the hall at the end of the day, and a look at the rushes (shown extraordinarily enough, in the Silver Chalice Bar!), there is a four-course set meal at the hotel. Consumption is about double what one eats at home.

Saturday, May 11th

John is doing the Taunter on some artificial battlements at the back of the castle. He’s getting very irritated by TG’s direction of his acting. TG tends to communicate by instinct, gesture and feeling, whereas John prefers precise verbal instructions. So TJ has to take over and soothe John down.

Monday, May 13th

The day of the Mud-Eater. Clad in rags, crawling through filthy mud repeatedly and doggedly, in a scene which makes the flagellation scene from Seventh Seal look like Breakfast at Tiffany’s.


Friday, May 24th

...filming is an appalling process for reducing an actor to the role of machine.

In the Knights of Ni, for instance, I was to do close-ups first. directly in front of me are a group of anoraked people squatting down, far more preoccupied with their equipment than me. Someone reads the lines off in a flat voice, which gives you little encouragement. An eyeline keeps you looking at no one at all. Two huge white polystyrene reflectors enclose me on either side—it feels like acting in a sandwich.

Wednesday, May 29th

John, dressed as a magician, spent much of the morning on the narrow top of an extremely impressive pinnacle of slate, across the quarry from us.

Twice the cameras turned. Twice John, towering above the green and pleasant vistas of the Trossachs, gave the signal to summon forth mighty explosions. Twice the explosions failed, and John was left on this striking but lonely pinnacle. He kept in good form, reciting his old cabaret monologues across the quarry, but it was a hard start to the day for him—and he was cold and subdued by the time he came back.

Friday, May 31st

The long and wordy Constitutional Peasants scene. Feel heavy dull and uninspired—wanting above all else for it to be the end of the day…

Terry Bedford [camera] is angry because Mark [Forstater, producer] has been trying to economise by buying old film-stock. Some of the film which has arrived today is six years old. Terry will not use it—in fact he threw a can into a nearby moorland stream—so we have 1,000 feet on which to do this entire scene…

I’m almost too tired to enjoy fully the elation at the end of the day, when the filming, or my part of it anyway, is finally completed. Want to jump up and down, but can’t. So I just stand there looking out over the Scottish hills, all grey and dusky as evening falls, and feel wonderfully free.

Extracted from Michael Palin’s Diaries: 1969-1979 The Python Years.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail was released in April 1975 and proved incredibly successful, hailed as one of the greatest comedies ever made, making millions in profit, and spawning Eric Idle’s multi-award-winning musical Monty Python’s Spamalot.

H/T Vintage Everyday

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan & John Cleese star in a ‘Goon Show’ TV special, 1968

Peter Sellers once received a letter from a fan requesting a “singed photograph of yourself.” Sellers obliged, delicately burning the edges of a B&W 8x10 with a cigarette, before sending the portrait off. A week or so later, the fan wrote back asking Sellers if he would be so kind to send another photograph, as the last one was “signed” all around the edges.

This tale of probable dyslexia captures something of the humor of The Goon Show, that classic radio comedy series, which launched the careers of Peter Sellers, Harry Secombe and Spike Milligan.

With its unique brand of surreal humor, The Goon Show started modern British comedy and inspired generations of comic performers. It is difficult to imagine how Peter Cook, Firesign Theatre, Monty Python, The Bonzo Dog Band,  Eddie Izzard, and The Mighty Boosh would have developed their own particular brands of comedy without The Goons.

In 1968, eight years after The Goon Show had finished, Sellers, Milligan and Secombe reunited for a specially televised recording of one of their classic scripts “Tales of Men’s Shirts.”  The trio were ably joined by a young John Cleese as the program’s announcer. Though not as brilliant as the original radio production (the visuals distract from imagining the comedy, and Milligan and co. appear to be enjoying themselves a tad too much), there is, however, more than plenty to enjoy.
More from The Goons (& Cleese), plus bonus documentary, after the jump…

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Monty Python: The true story behind the ‘Dead Parrot Sketch’

John Cleese would spend hours finessing a script—choosing the right word, or considering where best to place a comma for greatest comedic effect. His writing partner, Graham Chapman preferred to sit quietly, listening, smoking his pipe, and from time-to-time suggest an idea that would often turn an average sketch into something extraordinary. One such example, was Chapman’s inspiration to insert a dead parrot into some old material that led to the writing of one of Monty Python‘s most famous routines.

The “Dead Parrot Sketch” developed out of something Cleese and Chapman had previously written for a one-off special called How to Irritate People. Produced by David Frost, How to Irritate People was a collection of sketches introduced by Cleese, and co-starring Chapman, Tim Brooke-Taylor, Michael Palin, Connie Booth, Gillian Lind and Dick Vosburgh. The programme was notable for being the first time Palin worked with Cleese and Chapman, a year before they created Monty Python’s Flying Circus, as Palin explained in Bob McCabe’s biography of Chapman, The Life of Graham:

‘...that was the first time I’d ever worked with John and Graham, as an actor, and that was very much like a miniPython, except that I wasn’t writing with Terry [Jones]. I was an actor with their material, but we changed it a little bit in rehearsal and we’d really enjoyed doing that, even though the end result had not been successful, largely due to problems with recording.’

The show appears never to have been shown on British television, but was aired in the US on January 21st, 1969. The programme contained elements of material later used on Python, in particular the “Car Salesman” sketch, which eventually became the famous (Dead) “Parrot Sketch.”

The “Car Salesman” was more than a piece of creative comedy, it was an idea suggested by Palin, and based on his own dealings with a less than scrupulous garage owner, as Cleese explains:

‘..that was based on a man called Mr Gibbins, which is Helen [Palin’s] unmarried name. And Mr Gibbins ran a garage somewhere in Michael’s area, and Michael started to tell me about taking his car in to Mr Gibbins if there was something wrong with it, and he would ring Mr Gibbins and say, “I’m having trouble with the clutch,” and Mr Gibbins would say, “Lovely car, lovely car.” And Michael said, “Well, yes, Mr Gibbins, it is a lovely car, but I’m having trouble with the clutch.” “Lovely car, lovely car, can’t beat it.” “No, but we’re having trouble with it.” “Well, look,” he says, “if you ever have any trouble with it, bring it in.” Michael would say, “Well, I am having trouble with it and I have brought it in,” and he’d say, “Good, lovely car, lovely car, if you have trouble bring it in,” and Michael would say, “No, no, no, the clutch is sticking,” and he would say, “Sign of a quality car, if you had a sticky clutch first two thousand miles, it’s the sign of good quality,” and he was one of those people you could never get to take a complaint seriously. And Michael and I chatted about this, and I then went off and wrote a sketch with Graham about a man returning a second-hand car…’

The sketch has Chapman, as a Jacques-Tati-like customer, dealing with Palin’s furtive car salesman.

More on the metamorphosis of the “Dead Parrot Sketch,” after the jump…

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John Cleese at 36: On Basil, Monty and anger management

You could say it all started with Adolf Hitler. That was who John Cleese could impersonate when he was at school. Highly wrought, apoplectic impressions of the deranged Nazi leader. It brought Cleese laughs and popularity, which all made the shy young schoolboy feel less awkward and less self-conscious about himself, and particularly his height.

Being Hitler was also a release for his anger, his frustrations, and it allowed him to develop his natural comic skills. Most importantly, it offered Cleese an alternative career to the one his family expected.

‘When I was 16, everyone told me, “John, the thing to do is to get a good qualification. You go in an accountant’s office now and by the time you’re thirty-seven, you’ll have several letters after your name, you know you’ll be able to get married…” It was that kind of feeling. Fine. It’s one type of life, but it was laid down to me as a sort of golden pathway leading up to the A.C.A.’

A sense of duty saw Cleese study Law at Cambridge University. He soon found it frighteningly dull, and after 3 years, was more proud of a 12-minute sketch he had written and performed for the Cambridge Footlights than his knowledge of libel laws or past trials.

The sketch was the start of his long and successful career as a writer and performer, firstly in Cambridge Circus, then The Frost Report, At Last the 1948 Show, to Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the brilliant Fawlty Towers. Each of these shows, in their own way, allowed Cleese to vent the anger he could never express in his public life.

‘I know something’s manic in me,’ thirty-six-year-old Cleese explained in this BBC profile. ‘Yes, there is something manic somewhere in me, and I think it’s something to do with being trapped in a shell of lower middle class reasonableness, politeness.

‘Sometimes I get very angry and I find it frightfully difficult to be angry, and I think anger in particular—people talk to me at parties, and they really do talk, talk at me. And I have fantasies of picking things up, cheese dips and…[mimes rubbing the dip in someone’s face].

‘But I’ve never had the courage to do it.’

Broadcast in February 1976, after the highly successful first season of Fawlty Towers, this profile of John Cleese includes interviews with the great man himself, his then wife and co-writer, Connie Booth, as well as performers, writers and friends such as Tim Brooke-Taylor, Antony Jay, Alan Coren and David Frost, who said of Cleese:

‘I think it was the element of benevolent-sadism in his work really, in the sense that his humor can be immensely cruel—and the nice thing is that he means it.’

Previously on dangerous Minds

‘Sez Les’ What John Cleese did after ‘Monty Python’

John Cleese Carefully Considers Your Futile Comments

With many thanks to NellyM

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Souls in Torment: John Cleese as Satan, 1966
10:35 am


John Cleese

Via the mighty Open Culture:

Hell. We tend to take it for granted. Have you ever stopped to think about the heating bills, or the stupendous overhead?

John Cleese plays a cash-strapped Prince of Darkness in this classic sketch from The Frost Report, the show that launched Cleese as a television star in Britain. He was 26 years old at the time. The program was hosted by David Frost, who is perhaps best known for his 1977 interviews of Richard Nixon. There were four other future Monty Python comedians on the writing staff of The Frost Report–Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Eric Idle–but only Cleese was a cast member. The show was broadcast in 1966 and 1967, with each weekly episode centered around a particular theme, like love, leisure, class and authority. The “Souls in Torment Appeal” is from a March 24, 1966 program about sin. It’s a funny sketch.

And what a great Satan Cleese makes, too. I’m surprised more devil roles haven’t come his way.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Monty Python on the Yorkshire Moors: Seldom seen interview from 1973

An early interview with some of the members of Monty Python (John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin), recorded during filming on the Yorkshire Moors - “Of course it’s changed a bit now. They’ve put the rocks in, haven’t they? That used to be the bathroom over there,” quips Palin, while Jones seeks attention by falling over, and Chapman sips his G&T. Filmed for the BBC regional news program Look North, this was originally broadcast on May 23rd, 1973.

Previously on Dangerous Minds

‘Away From It All’: Little-known Monty Python ‘travelogue,’ 1979

‘Sez Les’: What John Cleese did after ‘Monty Python’

Monty Python vs. God


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Away From It All’: Little-know Monty Python ‘travelogue,’ 1979


“Peace and tranquility, my ass! Take one photograph of the wrong building here, and they’re taping electrodes to your reproductive organs.”

Seldom-seen and practically unavailable (until it got stuck on YouTube, of course), of all of the various Monty Python pieces, the 1979 short, “Away From It All,” is probably the least-known thing they ever made. It was screened before The Life of Brian, but only in theaters in Great Britain and Australia, where boring, groan-worthy travelogues were still being routinely shown prior to feature films.

Over typical “world travel” stock footage, narrator “Nigel Farquhar-Bennett” (John Cleese) becomes increasingly unhinged as the film un-spools. Clearly “Nigel” could use a holiday himself.

Stay with it. It’s extremely subtle… at first!

This has been going around on various torrent trackers for the past 6-7 years, but this YouTube upload is the highest quality version I’ve yet found.  Despite the numerous times the Python catalog has been repackaged on VHS and DVD over the decades, you’d think that this hilarious short would have been included at some point, but that’s not the case.


Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
John Cleese Carefully Considers Your Futile Comments
04:27 pm


John Cleese

John Cleese answers YouTube comment questions the way only John Cleese could.

YouTuber IrishBagel107 writes: “Sarah Palin = Twit of the Year Nominee.”

John Cleese responds, “I think the problem with people like this is that they are so stupid that they have no idea how stupid they are. You see, if you are very, very stupid how can you possibly realize that you’re very, very stupid?”

Via Nerdcore

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
‘Sez Les’: What John Cleese did after ‘Monty Python’

If John Cleese hadn’t gone into Monty Python, then he would “have stuck to his original plan to graduate and become a chartered accountant, perhaps a barrister lawyer, and gotten a nice house in the suburbs, with a nice wife and kids, and gotten a country club membership, and then I would have killed myself.”

Ah well, the best laid plans of mice and men. Sensibly, Cleese opted for plan B, and all the success that entailed. It was therefore a surprise when Cleese quit Python in 1973, after its third TV series, and joined up as a supporting player to stand-up comic called Les Dawson, in his comedy sketch show, Sez Les.

Dawson and Cleese could not have been more dissimilar - Dawson short and plump, Cleese tall and skinny. Dawson was working class and self-educated, who had worked a long apprenticeship of stand-up in the working men’s clubs in the north of England, while maintaining his day-job as a Hoover salesman. Cleese was middle class, university educated and was upper-middle management, white collar material.

Dawson had originally wanted to be a writer, inspired by Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, he had hitched the highway to Paris, where he found work as a pianist in a brothel. Unable to find a publisher for his poetry, Dawson returned homewards, and inspired by his experiences as a pianist, tried his hand as a comic. Though he made his name with mother-in-law jokes, Dawson was a clever and verbally dextrous comedian, who dismantled jokes, only to recreate them in a funnier form. Cleese described Dawson as “An autodidact, a very smart guy who was fascinated by words.”

After a winning run on the talent show Opportunity Knocks, Dawson earned his first TV series, Sez Les (1969-1976), and fast became one of Britain’s best loved comics. In 1974, Cleese joined Dawson on the series, and the pairing (like a hybrid Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) proved highly successful. Both men had great respect for each other, and more importantly had a genuine affection which came over in their performances together.

Cleese eventually left to make Fawlty Towers, but for 2 series of Sez Les in 1974, Dawson and Cleese were top drawer comedy entertainment.

More from Dawson and Cleese, after the jump…

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Monty Python vs. God

In 1979, Michael Palin and John Cleese were invited onto a chat show, Friday Night, Saturday Morning, to discuss the controversy surrounding the latest Monty Python film, Life of Brian.

The film had outraged Christians across the world, who erroneously believed Brian was a blasphemous representation of Jesus Christ. In America, thousands turned out to demonstrate against Brian, waving banners that read, “Jesus was nailed to the cross not Screwed,” and singing “Kum Ba Yah”.

When the film arrived in the UK, there were similar candle light vigils and councils opting to ban the film from local cinemas, rather than face the ire of Nationwide Festival of Light, a prudish, busy-body Christian group, who foolishly believed they knew what was best for all the British public.

As Life of Brian was released, Cleese and Palin agreed to debate the film with professional Christian and hypocrite, Malcolm Muggeridge, and Mervyn Stockwood, Anglican Bishop of Southwark, who had the look of man who might enjoy yodeling up an altar boy’s arsehole. It was agreed the four would meet in the no-man’s land of the BBC’s chat show Friday Night, Saturday Morning, which was hosted by a variety of presenters (most successfully by the great god Ned Sherrin), but on this occasion by Tim Rice, yes that Tim Rice.

It was a brutal schoolyard battle, with most of the bullying coming from God’s defendants. At one point, the prissy Muggeridge turned to Palin and said:

Muggeridge: “I started off by saying that this is such a tenth-rate film that I don’t believe that it would disturb anybody’s faith.”

Palin: “Yes, I know you started with an open mind; I realise that.”

Neither of the Pythons seemed prepared for the Bishop’s and Muggeridge’s well-rehearsed outrage, which was a shame, and they gave their counterparts too much respect. Palin later noted in his diary:

“He began, with notes carefully hidden in his crotch, tucked down well out of camera range, to give a short sermon, addressed not to John or myself but to the audience. In the first three or four minutes he had brought in Nicolae Ceauşescu and Mao Tse-tung and not begun to make one point about the film. Then he began to turn to the movie. He accused us of making a mockery of the work of Mother Teresa, of being undergraduate and mentally unstable. He made these remarks with all the smug and patronising paraphernalia of the gallery-player, who believes that the audience will see he is right, because he is a bishop and we’re not”

I saw this show when it first went out, and I knew then it was a moment in TV history - a major cultural shift, when the accepted (and interfering) role of religion in public life was shown to be no longer relevant, or acceptable.

More from Python vs. God, plus trail for ‘Holy Flying Circus’, after the jump…

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
‘Fawlty Towers’, the greatest sitcom ever, now a 3-course dining experience

It’s well known that comedy genius John Cleese was inspired to write the classic sit-com Fawlty Towers after he and his fellow Pythons stayed at the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay, England, during the filming of the series Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It was here Cleese met the man who inspired Basil Fawlty:

The “wonderfully rude” hotel owner (Donald Sinclair) endeared himself to the Monty Python team by throwing Eric Idle’s briefcase out of the hotel “in case it contained a bomb,” complaining about Terry Gilliam’s table manners, and chucking a bus timetable at another guest after the guest dared to ask the time of the next bus to town.

“He seemed to view us as a colossal inconvenience right from the start.” — Michael Palin on Donald Sinclair.

Another Python, Graham Chapman, described Mr Sinclair as —“completely round the twist, off his chump, out of his tree.”

Little did this hotelier realise that John Cleese was making mental notes of all this madcap behaviour and he might well have seen himself a few years later on TV, transformed into Basil Fawlty—the most infamous British hotelier ever—broadcast to the British nation and ultimately most of the world! Donald Sinclair died in 1981, apparently he emigrated to Florida in the 1970s where he was once tracked down by a British newspaper after Cleese unfortunately named him in an interview. Mr Sinclair and his relatives have never been too happy about the way he has been portrayed!

Recently, Cleese revealed the BBC originally thought the idea for Fawlty Towers was “dire”, as producers couldn’t see the value in the show.

“There is a famous note which I have a copy of, I think it’s framed. What happened was, Connie and I wrote that first episode and we sent it in to Jimmy Gilbert (Head of Comedy at the BBC). And first of all the fellow whose job it was to assess the quality of the writing said, and I can quote it fairly accurately, ‘This is full of cliched situations and stereotypical characters and I cannot see it as being anything other than a disaster’.

“And Jimmy himself said ‘You’re going to have to get them out of the hotel, John, you can’t do the whole thing in the hotel’.

“Whereas, of course, it’s in the hotel that the whole pressure cooker builds up.”

Thankfully Cleese and Booth were proved right; though it was still hard graft, as each script took six weeks to write and Cleese had to subsidize his writing time with Connie Booth by appearing in adverts:

“I have to thank the advertising industry for making this possible. Connie and I used to spend six weeks writing each episode and we didn’t make a lot of money out of it.

“This will amuse you but in 1975 when I did Fawlty Towers for the first time we made six shows. Well, it took six weeks to make each show, so that’s 36 weeks, one week to film them - 37 weeks - and six weeks to actually tape them in the studio so that’s 43 weeks’ work, for which I was paid for writing and performing and filming, £6,000.

“So that meant that I was able to subsidise my writing time by doing commercials. If it hadn’t been for the commercials, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to spend so much time on the script.”

Fawlty Towers is rightly recognized as one of the greatest sit-coms ever made, and one whose story has now gone full-cycle as the Hadley Park House Hotel, in Telford, England, is offering a Faulty Towers dining experience next month between 17-19 February, as the Australian Sunday Mercury explains”

Midland hotel is promising guests the dinner from hell next month. Diners will enjoy poor service, a goose-stepping maitre d’, a bungling Spanish waiter and a Waldorf salad – without the Waldorf. And if it all sounds like Fawlty Towers, then that’s because it is.

Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience – misnamed after John Cleese’s classic comedy series – will be entertaining guests at the Hadley Park Hotel in Telford for a couple of nights.

Diners will come face-to-face with Basil Fawlty, his shrieking wife Sybil and hapless waiter Manuel. The three-course meal, promise organisers, will be carnage rather than cordon bleu.

The interactive experience involves characters made famous in the hit BBC show moving amongst the tables, treating people as if they are guests of the Fawlty Towers restaurant.

The original programme was screened in the 1970s and starred John Cleese as Basil, Prunella Scales as Sybil and Andrew Sachs as Manuel. Only two series were made, but it remains one of Britain’s most popular comedies.

The show spawned famous catchphrases such as “Don’t mention the war!”, Sybil’s shriek “Basil!” and Manuel’s imploring “Que?”

Faulty Towers: The Dining Experience was created in 1997 by the Interactive Theatre Australia, which is based in Brisbane. It has received rave reviews all over the world.

Karen Hamilton, 46, who plays Sybil in the show, said: “It’s a really fun show which is only one third scripted. The rest of the time we work off the diners and each other.

“We will say things to them, or encourage them to take part in the play. One person even came along dressed as the Queen because she’d heard about what we do.

“Of course we never left her alone that night. I think she might have regretted it.”

However, not everyone knows what to expect. Karen, who has worked on the show for 11 years, added: “Some guests who come along are really surprised that we are standing right next to them. They expect a stage where we should be performing.

“We tend to ease them into it by wandering in one at a time. Then we get into the swing of things.

“The British crowd are great and they understand implied humour. They link things up very quickly, although they can sometimes be a little reserved.”

Karen and the rest of the cast spend hours studying their characters by re-watching DVDs of the show.
“We want to make sure that we get all the mannerisms just right,” she added. “I’m Australian but I do Sybil’s English accent very well. The only trouble is that whenever I do an English accent now, I sound like Sybil.”

If you’re in the UK and fancy a Faulty Towers night out then check details here.

John Cleese talks about the background to Fawlty Towers on the Guardian website, which can be viewed here.

More from ‘Fawlty Towers’ and bonus John Cleese interviews, after the jump…
With thanks to Tara McGinley

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John Cleese

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