I had one other survival technique: I sometimes said things that made the other boys laugh. When this happened I inmediately experienced a moment of warmth, of acceptance, of feeling ‘Maybe I am all right, after all.’ Peter Cook always said that he quite deliberately staved off bullying by being funny. I think in my case it was less a conscious activity – more ‘Oh, that felt nice.’ And, as I relaxed, I became funnier, of course, because the spark was always there. So the bullying faded away, and I started, for the first time, to make friends.This is the autobiography of John Cleese, up until the first day of Monty Python, starting with his birth and childhood in Weston-Super-Mare, then on to Cambridge and his early career in London (and to an extent in New York), with occasional flashforwards to more recent happenings. I was familiar with some of the basics already from Roger Wilmut's 1980 book From Fringe to Flying Circus; since then I have also read Cleese's two collaborations with Robin Skynner, and of course watched Python over and over.
Cleese has been more psychologically reflective than a lot of his fellow performers, and he shows off the fruits of his introspection - and is honest about his own failings and limitations, at least as he sees them. (He's still wrong about political correctness and Brexit, though the latter is not mentioned in this 2014 book.) There are some unexpected shafts of light. In particular, it was very pleasant to read of just how nice in person Harry Secombe turned out to be - Cleese had grown up venerating him and the Goons just as we in turn venerate Cleese and Python, and then ended up performing with Secombe, Milligan and Sellars at a reunion show. (Harry Secombe's granddaughter was our au pair for a few months back in 2002 - she hadn't mentioned it before she arrived, and, needless to say, I was blown away when she told us.)
I hadn't realised, though it's fairly obvious, that Cleese almost became a teacher, and indeed taught posh boys at his former school both immediately before and after his studies at Cambridge. That explains part of how he does so well in Clockwise. He explains his frustration with his mother all too well. And he attempts to explain the mysterious process of writing and performing - he feels that he is much better at the former than the later, which does make one wonder if this is another mistaken self-perception - if he was really such a bad performer, people would hardly continue asking him to do it!
Anyway, I found this an interesting insight into the dynamics of Cleese's own personality and his engagement with Python, and I hope that he will continue the story in a future volume. You can get this one here.
This was both my top unread non-fiction book, and my top unread book acquired in 2015. Next on those lists respectively are The Road to Middlemarch, by Rebecca Mead, and Looking for JJ, by Anne Cassidy.