Born in 1939 in Weston-super-Mare, John Cleese studied at Cambridge University. In his second term, he was accepted into the Cambridge Footlights company, where he met Graham Chapman. The success of the Footlights' 1963 production A Clump of Plinths took Cleese to London, New Zealand and eventually America. In 1968, Cleese and Chapman teamed up with Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam and formed the Monty Python troupe. Their TV series, Monty Python's Flying Circus, ran until 1974 and sparked a number of spin-off movies, including The Holy Grail and The Life of Brian. In 1975, the first series of Fawlty Towers was broadcast, which Cleese wrote with the American actress Connie Booth, who was then his wife. His film credits include A Fish Called Wanda and its sequel Fierce Creatures, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and The World Is Not Enough. This November, Cleese will appear as Q in the latest James Bond film, Die Another Day. He lives in California with his third wife, Alyce Faye Eichelberger, a psychoanalyst.
How's filming going for the new Bond movie? Any new gadgets you can tell us about?
Ben Hitchcock, Oxford
I shot my scenes with Pierce [Brosnan] back in January, during the first week of filming. That is unusual for Q; normally they shoot him handing over the gadgets to Bond right at the end of the production, so that if any of the gadgets have not worked exactly as planned, Q's dialogue can be adapted to take account of this. However, this time they needed to take the new Bond car straight off to Finland to blow it up, so my scenes had to be at the start. The best new gadget concerns the car. It's based on military technology now being developed, which will one day allow something as big as a tank to be rendered invisible. More will be revealed on 18 November.
Ever thought of changing the family name back to Cheese?
Walter Phillips, Rye
Yes, I have half-considered it, because Cheese is a splendid old English name, whereas Cleese is kind of nothing at all, really. My dad changed it in 1915, when he enlisted in the Army, because he was fed up with being teased about it. I don't know if it worked for him, but it certainly didn't for me. At school, I was always given nicknames connected with fermented curd. What is more, "Cleese" doesn't sound like anything. People always used to think it was "Crease" or "Cleves" or "Creaves". Even now, the Americans pronounce it as though it rhymed with "piece". Cheese would be much better; it's just that they'd have to go back over all the old films and videos changing it, which would be a bit of a bore.
What's the least funny comedy sketch you've ever done?
Sarah James, Conwy
I did a Python sketch once in which my character was parodying the kind of language they used to use in Exchange & Mart. The sketch had been written largely by Michael Palin, and the character was a "cheeky chappie" of the kind Michael always did perfectly. But I asked him if I could do it, because it was different from what I usually did. And Michael let me, being such a very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very nice chap. And I worked very hard on it in rehearsal, and then performed it on the night to almost complete silence. And I went to Michael after the show and apologised, and he was very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very nice about it.
There's a rash of movie stars coming over from California to grace the London stage at the moment. Are you tempted?
Toni Butler, London
I'm not tempted to grace the London stage, because they'd want a long run, and they'd need lots of publicity, and it would all be a bit of a hassle, and all the critics would remark on how my Claudius or Prospero or Portia was "Fawlty-esque". …