John Cleese

Pencil Portrait by Antonio Bosano.

John Cleese Pencil Portrait
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Last update : 24/6/16

John Cleese is currently paying £600,000 a year until 2016 to his third wife in addition to a one off cash payment of £8 million plus assets which include an apartment in New York, a £2 million home in London and half a beach house in California. He is still working of course but at the age of 72 is technically retired, yet the woman herself is still earning as a successful therapist. When he met her in 1990, she was living in a third-floor council flat with two sons from a previous marriage. Camelot clearly exists in different guises.

Unbelievably he married for a fourth time this year (2012) and his nuptials provoked widespread comment from journalists, friends and the general public alike. In reviewing his motives, I have been reminded once again of how genetically stupid, insignificant yet extraordinarily fortunate I am to be in the position in which I find myself.

I did some number crunching over this divorce. Cleese was 50 when he met the woman and the relationship apparently lasted between 1990 and 2006. Factoring in the annuitised settlement and the one off severance figures, this divorce cost him in excess of £14,200,000. Let’s just take an average figure of sex three times a week for a 50 year old and presume these statistics remained consistent throughout the union. That’s 2,496 separate bouts of lovemaking at an individual cost of £5,689 per session. I would have to generate over 126 sales of A3 sized prints in a single session to equal this figure. If a print was unacceptable and I was compelled to draw a similar number of individual new portraits we would be talking months of work. Cleese’s bouts of horizontal jogging may have taken minutes depending how quickly his wife needed to return to more serious and ‘pressing’ matters (there’s a little joke in there in case you missed it) so my observation on all this? It’s the oldest profession in the world and still the most lucrative; well, provided of course that you are a woman.

If I’m being unduly cynical here then let’s look at it from a different perspective. Let’s consider a rewarding interactive relationship on every level, or at least for some period of the marriage. That equates to 5,840 days (if we assume 16 full years excluding leap years) which gives us a daily rate of £2,431, give or take a few pence. The world’s top footballer, Lionel Messi is grossing in excess of £75,000 per day whilst any UK Prime Minister in residence is on a rate of around £400, admittedly with rewarding prospects of lecture circuit speaking tours, autobiography sales and consultancy positions after vacating No 10. Nineteen years is undoubtedly a long time and so it’s not unreasonable to presume that any of us can justify an argument in our favour if we so desire yet in the case of Cleese’s fortune, the reinvestment of his production company’s sale proceeds and overseas revenues from “Fawlty Towers”, “Monty Python” and various high profile movies all pre-date his third marriage. There was no pre-nuptial agreement and there hadn’t been with his two previous marriages yet by the personal admission of his two former wives, financial matters had been “fairly and amicably” resolved. There is evidence to suggest that sheer lunacy is now permeating US and London divorce courts.\

The rancour of an eighteen month court case led the actor to say “I got off lightly. Think what I’d have had to pay Alyce if she had contributed anything to the relationship—such as children, or a conversation.”

In fairness, the man is probably difficult to live with – all intellectual snobbery and self analysis – but devoid of an ability to laugh at himself. For Alyce, there has been, for three years, the reality of a second failed marriage, and the loss of the kudos associated with being Mrs Cleese. It’s more comfortable being miserable in wealth but money cannot buy self contentment; that invariably only comes from putting someone else first. Ultimately, we must all consider what the press would “dig up” about ourselves, and whether we feel that such information would present a balanced, distorted and untrue, or possibly unflattering and irrefutable image of ourselves to the outside world.\

Cleese, of course, like any celebrity, is fodder for tabloid discussion. If accumulated wealth breeds artistic atrophy then scratching around amongst his last £10m may inspire his creative juices to flow again, but is this relevant here?\

In 2004, the Parlour case involving the former Arsenal footballer and his estranged wife brought with it media speculation that future divorce cases would bring people a more equal share in their former partner’s future earnings, and a possible increased usage of prenuptial agreements. In this high profile case it would appear that the judge’s decision was motivated by the desire to create a “clean break” situation as soon as possible.


The case of John Cleese and his third marriage was fought in a US court. Currently pre nups are recognised in the States, although they may not always be enforced. Both parties should have lawyers represent them to ensure that the agreement is enforceable. In some cases, the parties retain a private judge to be present during the signing, to be sure that neither party has been coerced into the agreement. Some attorneys recommend videotaping the signing, although this is optional. Some states such as California require that the parties be represented by counsel if spousal support (alimony) is limited.

In the United States, prenuptial agreements are recognized in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. Likewise, in most jurisdictions, five elements are required for a valid prenuptial agreement:

1.agreement must be in writing (oral prenups are generally unenforceable);
2.must be executed voluntarily;
3.full and/or fair disclosure at the time of execution;
4.the agreement cannot be unconscionable; must be executed by both parties (not their attorneys) “in the manner required for a deed to be recorded”, known as an acknowledgment, before a notary public.

The following link investigates the circumstances surrounding his fourth nuptials but I have no interest in validating the facts, preferring instead to investigate the comedian’s motives;\

Dr Adam Sheck is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and also a certified Imago Relationship Therapist. Imago Relationship Therapy utilizes a variety of clinical techniques to teach couples (as well as singles desiring an intimate union) to identify their defenses against intimacy and to understand the unconscious forces that influence partner selection and stressors in committed relationships.

Dr Sheck posted an article on the worldwide web in June 2011 entitled “Why are men so stupid?” in which he wrote;

“When a man is living in his deepest purpose, in his highest self, his true mission, he is open, alive and true to himself. If he is in a committed relationship, it gives him another area to express himself and share of himself fully. It contributes to his life and his mission.

When a man is NOT being true to his life purpose, he is not satisfied and is vulnerable to using superficial sexuality to gain a sense of energy and purpose. It is perhaps a shallow purpose, a less than noble purpose, yet it provides him with an object to place his energy, his drives and he feels a little more alive than before. And somehow, feeling alive is worth the risk, compared to the deadness of not being true to yourself.

_It still doesn’t move him towards his true mission in life and in fact may destroy his existing life; and perhaps on a deeper, unconscious level, there is the need to destroy and deconstruct his existing life in order to have a clean slate to rebuild towards that deepest purpose. It usually doesn’t work out for the better though, especially for the loved ones and family members involved. The collateral damage is rarely considered by the “little head.”__
The solution, is like most solutions in life, simple but not easy. Taking the time to turn within and really figure out what your true purpose is, and then creating a life that supports that purpose is the solution. It takes time and maturity to get to this point for most of us and there are very few role models for this process”.

Individuals in America wishing to test their experiences against Dr Sheck’s theories can do so for the princely sum of $120 per session. The problem I have with these practitioners is that I can almost guarantee their lives have been infinitely messier than mine, so in all honesty how on earth are they going to “show me the light.” I have resolved every problem I have ever had in my life for myself, which doesn’t make me sanctimonious or self righteous but merely pragmatic, no matter what the degree of pain and recrimination involved. All one has to do is to look inwards and confess to the very real motivation for one’s reprehensible actions; be it vanity, greed, revenge, jealousy, hatred etc. It isn’t a simple process and I am aware that the option for self delusional thoughts is infinitely preferable. John Lennon, one of Cleese’s musical icons, was once quoted as saying that “Avant- guarde” was french for bullshit, and there’s a word I symbolically detest, being near pathologically committed to living a life totally devoid of it.

So what are men looking for? Well, to my mind, relationships are what happen to men whilst they’re looking for the perfect encapsulation of love. Women, on the other hand, whilst paying verbal homage to the ecoutrements of romance, are infinitely more practical and focussed. Yes, they want romance but more than anything they want a man who will put them first before anyone or anything else. Therefore, with so many fledgling relationships carrying emotional and financial baggage from previous unions-let alone the issue of siblings – is it small wonder that so many partnerships flounder and at a much faster rate than previous entanglements? In believing that any woman is going to invite a man into her bed on the grounds of his bewitching personality, looks and intellectualism, requires a massive suspension in male logic. Fortunately for women, with the “little head” ruling the “big head” and humility suitably suppressed in a sea of testoterone, the entrapment will invariably succeed.

The writer Graham McCann hypothesised about Basil and Sybil Fawlty in his book “Fawlty Towers – The story of Britain’s favourite sitcom.” In chapter seven, he writes about their marriage, suggesting their union was prompted by a combination of ambitions that fitted together like fingernails dug deeply into each other’s flesh. Basl wanted a solid material basis upon which he could build up his social stature, and Sybil wanted a commercial project through which she could pave a steady way to luxury; so they settled on co-owning an hotel. His wife was bolder, probably brighter and certainly far more earthbound and businesslike than Basil, and she must have unnerved him in ways that he did not quite understand. Whereas he would have been spectacularly sexually repressed (and possibly still a virgin), she would have been experienced, self confident and aggressively direct. If he had wanted her, he would surely have been far too scared to dare to date her, whereas if she, for some peculiar reason, had wanted him, she would have set off on that muscular mince of hers and forced him twitching and screaming into her bed.

Basil’s marriage has become so disconcertingly durable, that solace is sought in the barely restrained cruelty he extends to virtually his entire patronage.

“Well that was fun wasn’t it dear. the odd moment like that, it’s almost worth staying alive for.”

McCann questions in his book why their wretched union goes on. It might just possibly be down to the one quality that they still have in common: amour-propre. They both have so much pride that neither can quite bear to admit – to him – or herself as much as to anyone else – that thay have been stupid enough to have made such a massive mistake. Divorce is therefore not an option (and therefore they have no choice but to continue to cohabit in separate beds), and neither is the sale of the hotel (so they have no choice but to continue to co-manage at cross-purposes.) They are thus, perversely and profoundly, stuck with each other, because so long as they still have each other, they feel there is no need to admit complete defeat.

Its an interesting theory yet I wonder what might have happened to the marriage had Basil taken his wife for a candlelit meal, stared into her eyes whilst holding her hand and told her that he wished to discuss how he had failed her as a husband, how he had unfeelingly trampled over her youthful dreams, how he had singularly failed to appreciate her own frustrations and resentments in life, her more delicate hormonal imbalance, the mid life change, what he could do to make her life better, to acknowledge her rightful position as the engine room of the marital unit and to look out for her wellbeing in such a manner that rebuffing any affectionate advances on his part would appear unloving, nay even cruel. Yes I wonder how Cybil would have responded and if contrary to my own expectations, then they could at least have ended the marriage in a civil fashion.

Cleese has recently admitted that he can no longer afford to live in his homeland full-time. “I can’t afford to live in Britain,” he declares. “I would have to earn around £6million before I kept a penny. So the question is where do I go? Liechtenstein? Tax is too high in Europe.”

In fact Cleese, whose new wife Jennifer Wade is 31 years his junior, reckons his future could lie Down Under after living in the US in recent years. “I wouldn’t mind going to Australia,” he has revealed. “People warn you they are chippy about Brits but I haven’t found that at all.”

Perhaps in the final analysis, the real lasting legacy of his third marriage will be an enforced expatriation from his homeland, whatever his disatisfaction with its econonomy and falling ‘standards.’ If he cannot feasibly maintain the alimony payments living in England, then surely this will be the bitterest pill of all whatever happens in his private life frtom hereon in.

As Oscar Wilde once said “A second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience,” but his views on a fourth nuptial went unrecorded!

Recommended viewing

Video Arts Training Films

by Cleese’s production company, so enormous were their impact in the early 70’s. Video Arts, a British based video production company which produces training videos for companies was founded in 1972 by John Cleese, Sir Antony Jay, and a group of other television professionals. The videos featured well known British actors, and humorously explained business concepts. Productions included Meetings, Bloody Meetings and More Bloody Meetings, and featured Cleese, Dawn French, Prunella Scales, Hugh Laurie, and Robert Hardy.

John Cleese reportedly sold the company in the 90s for £35m.

Fawlty Towers (BBC Tv 1975 & 1979)

The pièce de résistance amongst Cleese’s work and a fact acknowledged by the star himself; interviewed by The Times in 2006 he was moved to say that he was “too tired to write new comedy” claiming “I can never do better than Fawlty Towers whatever I do”.

A lot has been written about Fawlty Towers over the years, and, in truth, it’s difficult to know what to write that adds anything to the perfectly formed sitcom that only last for 12 episodes but lives on in the minds of many generations of comedy fans all over the world.

John Cleese is perfect as the manic hotel manager Basil Fawlty, his life slowly unravelling and imploding thanks to bossy wife, Sybil (Prunella Scales), who always seeks to keep Basil under her thumb, a steady stream of exasperating guests and a slightly inept Spanish waiter called Manuel (Andrew Sachs).

The remastered 30th anniversary box set (2009) contains audio commentaries from Cleese himself in addition to cast interviews and outtakes. You’ll pick it up for a tenner and watch the extras once or possibly twice but the real meat lies in the uncut twelve original episodes, a sublime example of comedic writing at its very best.

A bargain at three times the price.

Life of Brian (1979)

Brian: Excuse me. Are you the Judean People’s Front?
Reg: Fuck off! We’re the People’s Front of Judea

Reg (Cleese) was nothing, if not a stickler for absolute precision and anyway the last thing he needed was another splinter breakaway group!

The actor/comedian was at his imperious best in several key roles in the story of Brian Cohen, a young Jewish man who is born on the same day as, and next door to, Jesus Christ. Being subsequently mistaken for the Messiah causes problems as I suppose it would for most of us.

Millions got the joke and many more millions were deeply offended for religion is a serious business, unless of course, you’re one of the blessed cheesemakers!

Time Bandits (1981)

Move over Errol Flynn, Richard Greene and Kevin Costner, there’s only one Sir Robin of Locksley and he isn’t about to distribute to the poor. Mind you, with his impeccable english accent and manners, our intrepid time travellers are temporarily “taken in”.

“And you’re a robber too, are you?” he says, whilst extending another felicitous hand to the dwarves, “Jolly Good!”

Fidgit, Randall, Strutter, Og, Wally and Vermin line up dutifully to meet the great man but young Kevin remains unimpressed!

An excellent cameo from the tall and gangley one.

Clockwise (1985)

The fastidiously punctual Stimpson loses his way on route to the annual Headmasters’ conference and for Cleese, its the beginning of a romp through a rather dated ‘period feel’ Ealing comedy.

Its very ‘englishness’ imbues the visual elements of a superior farce with a traditional sunday afternoon feel and suffers no less for that. The frenetic energy of John Cleese in his prime really lifts this above the norm, as he hitches a ride with a student, bumps into and kidnaps an ex-girlfriend and winds up naked in a monastery. The climactic scenes at the conference amount to perhaps the finest pay-off seen in farce. In the words of Stimpson “This is, indeed, a historic moment”.

Since we’re on the subject of education, the grammatical rule is that an should be used instead of a in front of all words beginning with a vowel sound. These include all words whose first letter is a or i, most words beginning with e,o and u, and a few beginning with h. Words spelt with an initial h that is not pronounced take an : an hour; an honour. It is not strictly incorrect incorrect to write an hotel or an heroic achiievement and in spealking it may seem less awkward to an (h)otel than a hotel. Most modern authorities, however, recommend that words beginning with h should be preceded by a. Generally we use an with words beginning with an h : a hacker, a horse, a historian, a hotel

Personally, I’m a little more liberal in the use of ‘an’ but not in Headmaster Stimpson’s presence! Having asked once whether I could visit the toilet during a chemistry class my teacher let me walk the entire length of the room to the door before adding “but you may not”. Enquiring a week later what I wanted to be when I grew up I politely replied “an English teacher Sir!”

A Fish called Wanda (1988)

Cleese co-wrote the script about a jewel heist and acquits himself well as an unlikely sex symbol despite the competition from Kevin Kline in his best supporting actor Oscar winning performance.

He’s little more than a money making machine to both his wife and daughter and the lure of a new life, (well okay, a couple of years at least) with the body to end all bodies (Jamie Lee Curtis), proves too much for him.

The four protagonists (Cleese, Kline, Curtis and Palin) mesh well and its highly regarded as a piece of comedic work to this day yet this very success may have unjustly consigned the ensemble’s reunion in “Fierce Creatures” to the trash can.

Recommended reading

Fawlty Towers – The story of Britain’s favourite sitcom (Graham McCann) 2007

Cleese’s inspiration for Basil was one Donald William Sinclair, the proprietor of the hotel Gleneagles in Torquay. I met a German Fawlty in Albufiera in 2005. Dining in his restaurant, which resembled the London Aquarium, so overcome was every corner of the large room with tropical fish tanks, that I enquired whether the chef prepared meat dishes. Ignoring me completely he began to regale my wife with tales of his aquatic acquisitions to the point where I felt compelled to inform him that since half my family is spanish and that Franco had maintained neutrality during the war perhaps he might bear that point in mind during our conversation. Enquiring whether the spanish, generally as a race, disliked fish I knew by then that the evening wasn’t going to work out as planned. With my razor sharp wit in tatters, we consigned ourselves to waiting for as long as it took for each course to arrive without so much as a murmur.



An eye catching site that ultimately offers little of any substance. Original scripts – including first and second drafts – would have offered a unique insight into Cleese’s modus operandi, but our man opts instead for safer waters and a web presence that provides little more than a personal appearance itinerary and a merchandising shop window.

Contains a link to “The Original Memorabilia Company.” Get your original limited edition Fawlty Towers framed and mounted print, personally signed by Basil and Manuel!!!