Candid and brilliantly funny, this is the story of how a tall, shy youth from Weston-super-Mare went on to become a self-confessed legend.
En route, John Cleese describes his nerve-racking first public appearance, at St Peter's Preparatory School at the age of eight and five-sixths; his endlessly peripatetic homelife, with parents who seemed incapable of staying in any house for longer than six months; his first experiences in the world of work, as a teacher who knew nothing about the subjects he was expected to teach; his hamster-owning days at Cambridge; and his first encounter with the man who would be his writing partner for over two decades, Graham Chapman. And so on to his dizzying ascent via scriptwriting for Peter Sellers, David Frost, Marty Feldman and others to the heights of Monty Python.
Punctuated from time to time with John Cleese's thoughts on topics as diverse as the nature of comedy, the relative merits of cricket and waterskiing and the importance of knowing the dates of all the kings and queens of England, this is a masterly performance by a former schoolmaster.
©2016 John Cleese (P)2016 Random House Audiobooks
I delayed reading this due to the astonishingly unkind newspaper reviews.
I suspect Cleese's venom for journalists (particularly those unfortunate enough to have found employment with the daily mail) may have coloured their judgment.
This is a highly entertaining and beautifully read memoir. Looking forward to part 2... be warned that it ends where python starts...
Writer and audiobook reviewer.
This is all you'd expect from John Cleese - not just wildly funny, but sharp and shrewd with insightful analysis of family relationships and the nature of comedy and comedy writing. He makes his childhood as the only child of ill-sorted parents in various parts of the west country both funny and gently tragic with his mother's titanic tempers and crippling anxiety, and himself as a lanky wimp. It's a wonderful recreation of those class-conscious times (was he middle class / lower middle class/ lower middle middle class.....?) and his career through prep school and Clifton College is filled with brilliant and eccentric cameos. Cambridge, where he was actually studying Law which he found mind-numbingly boring, was for him the Footlights and the beginning of what has been fifty years of comedy.
What makes this download so enjoyable is of course Cleese's exaggerated, wildly zany expression with torrents of consecutive adjectives building to a crescendo, or where he pulls out the craziest analogies and descriptions. (When he is teaching at his old prep school whilst at Cambridge, trying to get a boy to understand that the River Congo is in the Congo and the River Niger is in Nigeria, is like 'transferring the principle of anti-matter to the brain of a hamster'). Much of the comedy in all the shows he was involved in (Fawlty Towers, Monty Python etc) would now be censored, and part of their appeal now is their outrageous incorrectness as well as their anarchic inventiveness.
The other winning element is that Cleese himself reads with masses of recreations of conversations with his writing teams, and from sketches from the shows with all his manically energetic voices. Best of all I liked his dissolving into infectious laughter as he reads and on one occasion he actually collapses into that stomach-clutching body wheeze of laughter.
SO ANYWAY, download and enjoy it!
A man with a child in his ears - @shutterspin.
John Cleese, possibly one of the most important figures in British comedy. Thirteen hours spent in his company listening to the story of his life from his early memories up towards his time in Python. Plus, as it happens an add-on to discuss the 2014 Monty Python Live Shows. Hearing story after story replayed by the man himself what shines out is his massive affection for comedy and many of the people he worked with. There is a warmth and a depth to what we are told and how we are told it.
While I don't read many autobiographies it is an obvious area where in some cases the audiobook format is superior to the printed word. The experience is so much more intensely intimate listening to Cleese telling his own story. Hearing him laugh as he recalls particular funny moments is a real joy. In addition when sketches are discussed in the later chapters this audiobook actually includes the recordings of them.
The book intro and "oohtro" feature amusing interjections from another special guest in the form of mini-sketches. After that as John takes up the story it's clear that his voice was not at its best at the start. However, he improves as things go along and while those vocal chords may not be what they once were he becomes a joy to listen to.
The one word of warning I would give about the book is that it is not a complete autobiography. There is almost nothing about Fawlty Towers and only the later chapters start talking about Monty Python including an afterthought chapter talking of the re-union stage show. There is a lot about Cleese's early life and some fantastic anecdotes covering almost every step of his development into a young man.
So, as long as you are aware that the book isn't a complete autobiography and does only lead up to a bit of Python it will not disappoint. There are lots of laugh out loud moments, fantastically funny anecdotes and witty opinions. The dying rabbit story will live with me for some time. If you like John Cleese, you will almost certainly love this book, I just hope there is something coming to carry the story through Fawlty Towers and beyond!
It is rare in my experience for me to re-listen to a book. I would make an exception for this one. Initially before the the book started I wondered if it would work if read by the author but only a few minutes of so in, I could see it would work well indeed. I was quite surprised that the book contained a few recordings of some of the sketches. That is something you can do in an audio book and if this book has a paper equivalent then I have no idea how that would occur.
It was immensely enjoyable. What surprised me and this is common I think in members of an audience, like me, that we often think much of it is made up on the hoof and there is a certain spontaneity. The truth though is that everything was scripted and John and his colleagues worked hard, not only writing the material but delivering it as well.
My favourite piece amongst many was the sketch of the inept train driver delivered by Marty Feldman, a great comic who died far too young.
I also took away, as is common feature in biographies, that happenstance played a big part in the coming together of the comic geniuses that gave us Monty Python and its earlier cousins.
If you want to listen to a thoroughly illuminating, engaging and comic book then pick this.
Thank you so much Mr Cleese.
Really enjoyed it. Classes had quite a few laughing fits during the reading which had me laughing along with him. Loved the sketches that cropped up and Palin's intro was hilarious. My only coming was the book stopped as he got to the start of Python. He did talk Python in the final chapter but let's hope that he is planning a 2nd edition covering Python onwards.
I love fawlty towers, a fish called Wanda, all the monty python films, and even fierce creatures. So I was expecting to enjoy this story, and some of it it did. But I found the story quite disjointed, and johns voice quite hard to listen to. It's so gravely and screechy. Not relaxing to listen to at all.
Joyous from start to finish. A unique voice tells a life story with humour and a self effacing manner. He can make a health and safety video funny interesting, and indeed has on many occasions!
Only one minor complaint...
Maybe a bit more on Python and the many films and shows they did. Also, he mentioned that he married Connie Booth and then nothing else on the personal life...
Apart from that, it's brilliant.
Would have liked to hear more about his time with the monty python team, same about fawlty towers! There are hilarious stories, well worth the listen - also this audiobook is quite special in a way, in comparison to the book, some things you can't get from the book I imagine!
Freelance photographer. I have an eclectic taste in music and books and often listen to audiobooks while at home editing photographic work.
I leapt at the chance to hear John Cleese read his own autobiography, although, by the end, I felt I might have enjoyed it more if it had been read by someone else. At times, the text becomes a bit of a rant, or so relentless that I paused the recording to take a good break from it. It could be hard going on occasions.
It's also, in my view, less balanced than some might have expected. There is a very great deal of detail about Cleese's early life, but the story pretty much peters out around the time of Monty Python. His take on the production and recording of, say, Fawlty Towers, would have been good, but it merits hardly a word, as does much from the mid 1980s onwards.
Maybe he has a second volume in mind?
JC has made good use of the audio format to allow for the inclusion of other performers and actual sketches - it adds real colour to the book.
That would spoil it - it's worth listening to.
I hope this isn't the end and we get another book covering his non-python work (e.g. Fawlty Towers, Wonda etc)
This is one of the best audiobooks I have ever listened to, mainly due to John Cleese spectacular performance as a reader. You almost feel as if you are there with him. It's hilarious, it's interesting and it's what you want from this kind of book. So, anyway enjoy the book.
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