Smell the Cleese
John Marwood Cleese is arguably Britain's greatest living comedian and actor. Even so, he's still best-known for being unfeasibly tall for the notoriously stumpy world of showbiz, as well as being a member of the legendary comedy group Monty Python and writing and starring in Fawlty Towers. If that wasn't enough, he also wrote and starred in A Fish Called Wanda and made a cameo appearance in a 70s Doctor Who episode. Not bad for the son of an insurance salesman.
Despite his modest background, Cleese is essentially a funny posh bloke. He got a solid private school education, despite being constantly tormented for his height - he was a freakish six foot by the age of twelve. Fortunately, he learnt fast that being humorous could deflect aggression and his love of comedy followed him all the way to Cambridge University and the infamous Footlights group. It was here he meet his the bulk of his fellow Pythoners and effectively sealed his future fame and fortune. He's now 6 foot 4 and three quarters, by the way.
Duck, it's Donald
The inspiration for Fawlty Towers comes from a hotel stay Cleese experienced with the other Pythons in 1975 at the Gleneagles Hotel in Torquay. The hotel manager was called Donald Sinclair and Cleese named him the rudest man he had ever encountered. During their stay, Sinclar threw Eric Idle's briefcase out of the hotel "in case it contained a bomb", complained about Terry Gilliam's "American" table manners and threw a bus timetable at another guest after they dared to ask the time of the next bus to town. Cleese later played a character by the name of Donald P. Sinclair in Rat Race in 2001.
It's a little known fact that John Cleese appeared on a re-recording of one of the world's most famous album. Mike Oldfield had long been a fan of the Monty Python shows and felt that Tubular Bells had a certain Monty Python-like quality to it, with the way hugely contrasting sections of music were juxtaposed carrying a feel of "and now for something completely different...". Therefore, John Cleese was seen as a natural choice on Tubular Bells 2003 as a replacement for the late Vivian Stanshall, who had contributed the Master of Ceremonies part to the 1973 recordings.
At Graham Chapman's memorial ceremony, it is said that Cleese was the person with the balls to get everyone to stop laughing and start crying. He startled everybody by declaiming a parrot sketch parody - "Graham Chapman is no more, he has gone to meet his maker, he has rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible" - and ended by claiming to be the first person to say "fuck" at a Memorial Service.
Cleese is also very good at making cash. No idiot, he set up a production company, Video Arts, to make clever business training videos in which he usually starred. These continue to be enormously successful throughout the English-speaking world, particularly the famously named "Meetings, Bloody Meetings". It seems Cleese could never have cast anyone else as he once revealed "I find it rather easy to portray a businessman - being bland, rather cruel and incompetent comes naturally to me."