Sunday, 29 May 2011

And Now for Something Completely Different

Tonight I have spent the evening with my middle son John and we visited York, principally to see John Cleese in his Alimony Tour 2011 at the Grand Opera House York and have tea in that famous old city at the Ate O'Clock restaurant.

John Cleese is very funny indeed. I have always liked his slightly irascible character and tonight in two 50 minute slots, he merely skimmed the surface of his long and brilliant career. This is called his Alimony Tour because his ex-wife has stung him for $20,000,000 alimony in a court in California, $15 million up front and a million a year for five years. He admits he is doing the tour for the money! This accounted for the first ten minutes of the show and was hilarious in its bitter commentary.

Cleese talked about his early life, his being brought up in Weston Super Mare (bombed by the Germans, he says, to prove they had a sense of humour and where the bomb cost more to produce than the damage it caused) and his mother who lived to be 101. His life in the Cambridge Footlights and the people he met to his being discovered effectively by David Frost who invited him to the BBC for a comedy current affairs sketch show and the rest, they say, is history.

Cleese was/is a complex character no doubt, but a comic genius who wrote some of the best radio and television comedy this country has ever seen and went on to write and appear in many films. He was generous about his fellow stars he met over the years including Graham Chapman, Connie Booth, the Two Ronnies (Barker and Corbet), many of the Pythons and his dear mother a source of much inspiration to his love of psychology and comic material. 

He discussed black humour and why we love it and hate it, and chose clips from his favourite moments in his life from his early TV, film career with A Fish Called Wanda and later television with Monty Python's Flying Circus and Fawlty Towers. He explained comedy and what made audiences laugh and the science behind how you produced comedy that people want.

As an added bonus, Prunella Scales (who played Sybil Fawlty) and her husband Timothy West and their actor son Samuel were in the audience and again Cleese was generous enough to acknowledge her and bade the audience to applaud her which they did warmly.

If I had a criticism, it was the fact that he didn't really talk about his radio career in which he was a prolific writer and performer, but then what can you fit into two 50 minute slots when you have had a rich, busy and varied life.

Worth every penny to watch this comedy genius.

 Tea was at Ate O'clock in High Ousegate in York situated down an alley so nearly missed it. The food was good and because we booked a table for when it opened to get in early, we were offered a complimentary bottle of wine. As I was driving and my lad doesn't drink wine, we had to decline and I was heart-broken.

By the way, the Grand Opera House in York (originally the Grand Theatre and Opera) was built in 1902 having been converted from a warehouse and a corn exchange. Small and intimate, strangely, the seats are small but the leg room is brilliant. Closed for just four years from 1989 with debts, this art deco decorated theatre is a pleasant surprise, comfortable and gentle on the eye.

I hope you are enjoying this Bank Holiday (in the UK) weekend so far.

Chat soon



  1. Sounds like a wonderful night out. I liked Cleese in Fawlty Towers. Somewhere along the line we missed out on Monty Python but know quite a bit about him and have seen clips. I think we must have been living in Canada when he became famous.

  2. Sounds as though you had a great night out. I would have enjoyed see John Cleese too. How sad to think his marriage has come to a sad ending.

  3. I have a real problem with John Cleese. I admit he's obviously very clever but he just annoys me. I watch people rolling about with laughter at Fawlty Towers and I just want to tell him (the character) to grow up. I guess we are all different. Glad you enjoyed it though.

  4. Hi ChrisJ
    Monty Python is a bit dated now - very different at the time, but some of it is cringingly poor now.

    Hi Jarmara
    I think, looking back, he talks about his (first?) marriage to Connie Booth with much affection. I don't think he's been happy in marriage for a long long time.

    Hi MorningAJ
    Even when I watch Fawlty Towers, he makes me uncomfortable now and then but I guess there's more to him that that.

  5. I guess it's natural that people remember John in the past tense.

    He's currently Provost's Visiting Professor at Cornell University, contributing editor to The Spectator, and runs a video production company supplying the public service (amongst others)

    Yep,he helps train Civil Servants,and his company is still retained by Uk Gov. His imitable talents are classic for the job :)

    I've spent two or three times with John (no camera's, no microphones, just a notepad and pen) and got a glimpse of his private personae, and he's a very kindly, chilled chap.

  6. Hi Wheelie
    Indeed, I have been 'tutored' with the assistance of a number of Cleese training films, especially in the field of HR in the 1990s; you are very lucky to have been with him to see him working close to.

  7. :) Lucky? Nooo.

    Steven Fry said in a recent interview "They want to touch the hem of the fame, not the hem of the person".

    He's right.