Review: John Cleese Presents, R4

To paraphrase a famous sketch, nobody was expecting Tim Westwood. Or Fatboy Slim. Or even Tony Blackburn. John Cleese Presents was trailed as Cleese making his debut as a radio DJ but given that this was a 15-minute slot on Radio 4 it was always likely to be more Ministry of Silly Walks than Ministry of Sound.

In fact it could have almost fitted into the following Book of the Week slot as chunks of the programme featured extracts from Cleese’s recent autobiography, So, Anyway. These were the most illuminating moments as they shed light on what went on behind the scenes with the Pythons.

While older stories about tensions in the group might have been told before, it was intriguing to hear Cleese’s take on their O2 reunion. He recalled fluffing a line during a sketch and being annoyed with himself. But then backstage when he mentioned this to a passing Eddie Izzard he was told that it’s the mistakes that people like. Python is so set in stone in people’s memories that the slightest variation – even accidental – can actually make it feel fresh again. This seems obvious to me but seems to have come as a revelation to the star. 

Elsewhere Cleese had an obligatory swipe at the press – not a big fan – and portrayed himself as an irritable curmudgeon at most comtemporary things, struggling to get to grips with the modern world.  At 77 he thought radio had pictures and was surprised to be told it didn’t. A comic highlight was a call from a listener (actually Peter Dickson) who was rude to Cleese. There was also a little insight into the likes of characters such as Fawlty, who was in part inspired by a schoolfriend’s gift for flying into a rage at the drop of a compass.

The result is a jolly little fun-sized programme mixing laughs and anecdotes. Worth a listen. Just don't expect to be dancing around the kitchen. 

John Cleese Presents, R4, Wednesdays, 9.30am. Listen again here.

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