Tuesday 30 December 2014

Book Review - So, Anyway ... John Cleese

I am old enough to have enjoyed Monty Python's Flying Circus when it first came on the air here in Canada back in the early 1970s. John Cleese was my favorite of all the Pythons and I became a big fan of Fawlty Towers, a series that starred him and his wife, Connie Booth. In September 2013, Teena and I went to see him at The Wintergarden Theater here in Toronto during his, Last Time to See Me Before I Die tour. He was hilarious!

So I was quite excited when he came out with a new book, So Anyway ...

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 home life 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.

Boy, was I disappointed. Mind you, I never read the description of the book but thought much of it would focus on the Python and Fawlty Towers years. He touched on those subjects but concentrated on his life before that. That is all well and good and I would have enjoyed it except he writes in great length about rather trivial stuff and I mean pages and pages. There is some interesting stories of his life and some very funny material in the book, but if he had whittled his 400 pages down to around 200, the story would still have been told, just done much better.

The only reason I finished the book is the fact that I'm a huge fan of Cleese and would not recommend this book. A big Cleese fan might enjoy it but others should give it a pass.

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