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Tuesday 2 December 2014

John Cleese's Favourite TV Experience

Fig.1. John Cleese with "Murphy" our baby ruffed lemur on the set of "The Human Face".

 Okay, please excuse the massive clanging sound that will resonate throughout this blog now, but I am going to do one of world famous name drops and I don't care. John Cleese is one of all-time favourite Monty Python members and one of my favourite comedians. So, although I am no longer into hero worship and am rather cynical about the human condition in general, I simply cannot pass up the opportunity to reflect on the Cleese moment that was brought to my attention.

Cover of "Fierce Creatures"
Cover of Fierce Creatures
Back in 1997 John Cleese released his "equal" to the 1988 hit comedy, "A Fish Called Wanda". Cleese had so enjoyed working the creative team and cast involved with "Wanda" that he wanted to reproduce the experience again. The work was based around Cleese's love of zoology this time and featured his favourite animal, the lemur. My parents' company were actively involved with the project. We trained and supplied many of the animals, and my father befriended Cleese over the filming period. His then wife, Alyce, interviewed and features my father in her book, "How to Manage Your Mother" (read the except mentioning Dad here), which wrote during the filming of "Fierce Creatures". Cleese even gave my dad an engraving as a thank you present after filming was completed. Today I learnt that Cleese had named an animal project he was actively involved in as the favourite show he has worked on.

 When John Cleese was working on "Fierce Creatures" he spoke about his desire to travel to Madagascar and see lemurs in the wild. The result was what Cleese cites as "Operation Lemur: Mission to Madagascar”, but was entitled "Lemurs with John Cleese". This little documentary was relayed to The Nerdist in his interview as Cleese's favourite TV experience:

  “I made a little documentary about lemurs in Madagascar once, and there was something about that I thought was very warm and mellow, and I liked that, I liked that a lot. And it enabled me to make a few sort of jokes that I hadn’t made before, and it was something really fresh.”
What I like about this statement is that it isn't an attempt at sentimentalism, which gets very tiresome with celebrity types. Instead he is answering the question within the frame of his specific profession. It's quite refreshing in a time when we have hugely hypocritical people with little qualification to comment, trying to tell us how to vote and which charitable cause is most worthy of us to support.

Fig.3. John Cleese with my father on the set of "The Human Face".

Cleese's professional and artistic performance might have pleased him and, no doubt, he was grateful of the opportunity to see his favourite animal in the wild, however, he relayed a rather different impression of his experiences in Madagascar to my father when they met again for the filming of the four-part documentary series, "The Human Face". Apparently the toilet facilities were less than adequate in the rainforest, which is not a comforting thought when eating and drinking in Madagascar will inevitably result in the average using them a great deal! Dad's company were supplying a lemur,  pictured above, called Murphy, for "The Human Face". At the time Murphy was spending a lot of his time in mother's house, where I still lived at the time. The little sod used to dive-bomb me in every morning off the edge of my bedroom door. There have been subtler alarm clocks.

Here is the Dangerous Minds report on John Cleese's interview to The Nerdist. 

 John Cleese appearing with one of our ring-tailed lemurs to promote "Fierce Creatures" on the Des O'Connor Show.

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