Review: SO, ANYWAY… by John Cleese (Doubleday)

CleeseJ-SoAnywayAn interesting, if surprising biography

Candid and brilliantly funny, this is the story of how a tall, shy youth from Weston-super-Mare went on to become a self-confessed legend. En route, John Cleese describes his nerve-racking first public appearance, at St Peter’s Preparatory School at the age of eight and five-sixths; his endlessly peripatetic home life with parents who seemed incapable of staying in any house for longer than six months; his first experiences in the world of work as a teacher who knew nothing about the subjects he was expected to teach; his hamster-owning days at Cambridge; and his first encounter with the man who would be his writing partner for over two decades, Graham Chapman. And so on to his dizzying ascent via scriptwriting for Peter Sellers, David Frost, Marty Feldman and others to the heights of Monty Python.

Punctuated from time to time with John Cleese’s thoughts on topics as diverse as the nature of comedy, the relative merits of cricket and waterskiing, and the importance of knowing the dates of all the kings and queens of England, this is a masterly performance by a former schoolmaster.

This biography was not at all what I was expecting. For one thing, Monty Python plays a relatively tiny part in the story. Instead of So, Anyway…, this book could easily have been called “The Road to Monty Python”. Despite this, I found it interesting and, after Cleese moved on to his university days, absolutely engaging. Continue reading

Audio Review: TRAVELLING TO WORK – DIARIES 1988-98 by Michael Palin (Audible/Orion)

PalinM-Diaries3-TravellingToWorkThe third volume in Michael Palin’s bestselling diaries

After the Python years and a decade of filming, writing, and acting, Palin’s career takes an unexpected direction into travel, which will shape his working life for the next 25 years. Yet, as the diaries reveal, he remained ferociously busy on a host of other projects throughout this whirlwind period.

Travelling to Work opens in September 1988 with Michael travelling down the Adriatic on the first leg of a modern-day Around the World in 80 Days. He was not the BBC’s first choice for the series, but after its success and that of the accompanying book, the public naturally wanted more. Palin, though, has other plans.

Following the tumultuous success of A Fish Called Wanda, he is in demand as an actor. His next film, American Friends, is based on his great-grandfather’s diaries. Next he takes on his most demanding role as the head teacher in Alan Bleasdale’s award-winning drama series GBH. There is also his West End play, The Weekend; a first novel, Hemingway’s Chair; and a lead role in Fierce Creatures, the much-delayed follow-up to Wanda.

Michael describes himself as “drawn to risk like a moth to a flame. Someone grounded and safe who can be tempted into almost anything.” He duly finds time for two more travel series – Pole to Pole, in 1991, and Full Circle, in 1996 – and two more best-selling books to accompany them.

These latest Diaries show a man grasping every opportunity that came his way, and they deal candidly with the doubts and setbacks that accompany this prodigious word-rate. As ever, his family life, with three children growing up fast, is there to anchor him.

Travelling to Work is a roller-coaster ride driven by the Palin hallmarks of curiosity and sense of adventure. These 10 years in different directions offer riches on every page to his ever-growing army of fans.

This is yet another excellent instalment in Michael Palin’s series of diaries. Unlike the first two audio editions, this one is unabridged. This series is a real must for fans of any of Palin’s work: Palin is genial in his delivery, and there is plenty of gentle comedy. It was a welcome ‘more of the same’. Continue reading