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John Cleese says he’s ‘too tired to be unpleasant’ as Fawlty Towers: The Play prepares to open | Ents & Arts News

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Comic actor John Cleese has said he is “too tired to be unpleasant” nowadays – having accepted that those at the top “have no idea” what they are doing.

The Monty Python star made the comments as he spoke to Sky News ahead of Fawlty Towers, his hit sitcom, opening as a play in London’s West End.

Fans will not get to see the comic legend himself on stage, with Cleese admitting he was happy to hand over the role of his iconic creation – frustrated hotelier Basil Fawlty – to actor Adam Jackson-Smith.

Cleese joked how, at 84, summoning up the rage does not come as quickly as it once did.

“I used to be able to but as I’ve got older, well it looks like I’ve mellowed, but actually I’m too tired to be unpleasant so people have the impression that I’m getting nicer,” he said.

While the first episode aired in September 1975, Fawlty Towers remains arguably the greatest British sitcom ever and has been shown in more than 60 countries, making it one of the UK’s most successful TV exports.

Almost half a century later, Cleese said the delay in turning the series into a play was because of struggles figuring out how best to make it work.

“We saw a way of doing it that we probably couldn’t before which was to meld three episodes together,” he said.

John Cleese. Pic: PA
John Cleese speaks to journalists about the new play. Pic: PA

The two-hour play is based on three of the original TV episodes – The Hotel Inspector, Communication Problems and The Germans – complete with goose-stepping and cries of “Don’t mention the war!”

Key to Cleese’s writing of Basil Fawlty back then was that the audience was able to laugh at the character’s xenophobia and prejudice, which was seen as the lead character’s response to how Britain was changing.

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But would so-called “cancel culture” make it less acceptable to write some of those scenes now? Cleese fears it would.

“If you’re going to do a show that offends people, you should be able to say: ‘If you’re sensitive don’t watch this’,” he said.

“What is quite wrong is to say: ‘Well, some people will be offended and therefore we’re not going to do it for everyone’. It’s quite wrong.”

John Cleese answers questions alongside the cast on the set. Pic: PA
John Cleese answers questions alongside the play’s cast. Pic: PA

While part of the joy of Cleese’s comic creation was laughing at how enraged he was with the world, the comedian insists it is not a direction he is personally leaning into the older he gets.

“I don’t think I’ve got the energy anymore and also I’m a little more philosophical about it because my fundamental position is that very few people know what they’re doing,” he said.

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Cleese may claim to be too tired to be unpleasant these days, but it seems he does still have issues with modern Britain – perhaps not totally unlike his creation after all.

“Many people who are at the top of the organisations have no idea… and they have no idea that they have no idea what they’re doing,” he said.

Fawlty Towers: The Play at the Apollo Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue will begin previews on Saturday 4 May.

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