Magazine article The Spectator

The Real Reason I Had to Join the Spectator

Magazine article The Spectator

The Real Reason I Had to Join the Spectator

Article excerpt

Over the past four decades I have received many reviews in The Spectator, all of them mixed (in the technical theatrical sense of 'extremely bad').

For example, in 1976 The Spectator wrote about Fawlty Towers:

I've been bellyaching, ever since I started writing this column, about the low standard of the programmes. I have been told by friends and acquaintances, 'Ah! But have you seen Fawlty Towers? You'll enjoy that!'. . . Well, last Sunday I finally watched the bally thing and I am gratified to report that I didn't laugh once.

What is more I found Fawlty Towers, like its predecessor Monty Python, rather nasty. . .

When Cleese is involved I detect traces of sadism. The continuing battle between Mr and Mrs Fawlty is obsessive and the sound of a man shouting at the top of his voice for half an hour is bound to become boring. There is the same tendency as in Monty Python to take a 'joke' and hammer it remorselessly into the ground. Hysteria is the prevailing atmosphere but it is not a healthy hysteria. Cleese's Fawlty seems unpleasant and lacking in humanity. . .

Another very unfunny programme as far as I am concerned is the new John Bird-John Fortune effort Well Anyway.

When the second series started, the magazine wrote:

Mr John Cleese and his comedy series Fawlty Towers returned to our screens on Monday.

Once again I sat through it all stony-faced. The trouble with Cleese is that he cannot see beyond himself. The only character who exists in his scenario is his alter ego Fawlty. Until he can acquire a less egotistic view of the world and see some humanity in those people who at present he thinks are merely put on earth to drive him up the wall, Cleese will never make me laugh.

Monty Python fared little better:

Monty Python's status as a national treasure has blinded people to its shortcomings and created a tedious tradition of puerile, half-baked humour dressed up as real comedy. . .

Terry Gilliam's unfunny but technically accomplished cartoons. . . When sketches ended abruptly, with a shooting, or a 100-ton weight falling from the sky, or a camera turning round to show the studio, or credits appearing midway through a programme, these cheap tricks were saluted as Brechtian devices or surrealist statements. In reality, they were there to disguise the lack of proper sketch endings, or simply to pad the programme out. . . Most of their supposedly 'offensive' material was puerile rather than satirical. . . All in all, though, it was about as subversive as a Harry Secombe raspberry.

For every disgusted viewer there were many more who were simply irritated or bored, and many more who reached for the 'off ' button.

When I played Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew for the BBC, The Spectator commented:

Jonathan Miller has taken over the BBC's Shakespeare production with predictable results. He began by casting my bete noir, John Cleese, as Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew, an error of judgment typical of the quirky Doctor, Cleese not being an actor at all but a manic puppet capable of portraying only anger and frustration, like Mr Punch. . . In an atmosphere of rather sickening mutual admiration, Cleese and Miller appeared on Parkinson together. . . Brief glimpses of the production did not confirm their views. …

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