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Wednesday, 15 September, 1999, 12:25 GMT 13:25 UK
Cleese honours Ealing legend
John Cleese
Crichton was "the most loveable old curmudgeon" says Cleese
Monty Python legend John Cleese has paid a glowing tribute to film director Charles Crichton, who has died aged 89.

Crichton directed a string of classic Ealing comedies in the 1950s and Cleese brought him out of retirement in 1988 to make the acclaimed A Fish Called Wanda.

"He was the most loveable old curmudgeon and the most successful man with his camera that I have ever worked with," said the Fawlty Towers star.

Cleese and Crichton
Cleese coaxed Crichton back to the big-screen for A Fish Called Wanda
The veteran film maker met Cleese while directing training films for the comedian's production company. Cleese later persuaded him make a return to directing for the big screen.

Crichton won an Oscar nomination for his work on A Fish Called Wanda, which starred Cleese, fellow Python Michael Palin and Jamie Lee Curtis.

"He had a wonderful black sense of humour," remembered Cleese. "When we started writing Wanda he said, `I want to run someone over with a steamroller like they do in Tom and Jerry."'

Although in his late seventies during the shooting of the film, Crichton insisted in supervising every shot.

This dedication saw the veteran director suspended form a speeding car in sub-zero temperatures to film one particular scene.

Despite not having directed a big-budget film for more than 20 years, Crichton's confidence did not desert him. His concentration was such that star Michael Palin described him as a "grumpy schoolmaster" on set.

"People think that if you're directing comedy you've got to be funny," said Crichton. "On the contrary, you've got to be serious."

The Oxford-educated director entered film making in the early 1930s - working for the legendary Korda brothers.

He rose from being an uncredited editor to directing some of the finest British film comedies ever made.

Crichton became synonymous with the famous Ealing Studios, where he made classic films including Hue and Cry, with Alastair Sim, and The Lavender Hill Mob, starring Alec Guinness.

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Film critic Simon Rose: Crichton quit Hollywood after a row with Burt Lancaster
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Michael Palin's stutter scene in a Fish Called Wanda
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