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Last Updated: Monday, 12 June 2006, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
Cleese's contribution to comedy
John Cleese, 2005
Cleese will be heard next year in animated sequel Shrek the Third
John Cleese, who has announced he is to give up writing and performing, has been both a literal and figurative giant of British comedy for four decades.

Born John Marwood Cleese in October 1939, his talent for mirth-making revealed itself at an early age.

As a pupil at Clifton College in Bristol, he used painted footsteps to suggest that the school's statue of Field Marshal Haig had left his plinth to relieve himself.

His teachers failed to see the funny side, however, expelling him for his insolence.

At Cambridge he joined the prestigious Footlights society, where he met his future writing partner Graham Chapman.

The comedy troupe took him to Broadway, where he met future Monty Python member Terry Gilliam and actress Connie Booth, whom he married in 1968.

On returning to England, Cleese began performing in the BBC radio show I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again alongside Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graham Garden and Bill Oddie - later to form The Goodies.

Satirical landmark

However, it was when he and Chapman began writing and performing in The Frost Report that their careers took off.

It was while working on this satirical landmark that Cleese met Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin.

The Monty Python team, 1970
Cleese (centre) was the best-known member of the Python troupe
Together they created Monty Python's Flying Circus, the hugely influential sketch show that ran from 1969 to 1974.

Cleese's performances in the Ministry of Silly Walks and Dead Parrot sketches cemented his reputation as one of Britain's most popular comic stars.

However, that did not stop him becoming the first Python to jump ship - though he would return for the films Life Of Brian, The Holy Grail and The Meaning Of Life.

Post-Python, Cleese's next project was the sitcom Fawlty Towers, co-written with then-wife Connie Booth.

Centred around the antics of ill-tempered hotelier Basil Fawlty, the show had a shaky start but is now widely regarded as one of the UK's finest sitcoms.

When the series ended in 1979 Cleese concentrated on film work, achieving his greatest success in 1988's A Fish Called Wanda.

'Comedy professor'

A crowd-pleasing mix of romantic comedy and heist caper, the film landed him a Bafta for best actor and an Oscar nomination for best screenplay.

In recent years he appeared in the James Bond films The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day, playing gadget master Q's assistant and subsequent replacement.

John Cleese as Basil Fawlty
Hen-pecked hotelier Basil Fawlty remains his most iconic creation
He was also seen in two Harry Potter films as Nearly Headless Nick and heard as King Harold in Shrek 2.

But his increasing involvement in documentaries, politics, teaching and self-help books saw him move away from comic projects.

And some of those he did participate in - among them Wednesday 9:30 (8:30 Central), a 2002 sitcom that was cancelled after five episodes - did not enjoy the same success as his earlier work.

In 2003 Cleese was awarded 13,500 damages against London's Evening Standard newspaper, claiming it had branded him a "humiliated failure".

The 66-year-old's decision to become a "comedy professor" suggests he has now had his fill of television comedy.

Yet with vocal appearances in Shrek the Third and Charlotte's Web to come, not to mention writing duties on Aardman Animations' upcoming Crood Awakening, it is unlikely we have seen the last of him.

Cleese 'retires from performing'
12 Jun 06 |  Entertainment
Fawlty Towers flying high at 30
19 Sep 05 |  Entertainment
John Cleese writing Aardman film
12 May 05 |  Entertainment
Cleese to embark on one-man show
12 Apr 05 |  Entertainment
Fawlty Towers is voted top sitcom
10 Oct 04 |  Entertainment
Monty Python reunion 'unlikely'
09 Sep 03 |  Entertainment
Cleese awarded 13,500 damages
12 Feb 03 |  Entertainment


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