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John Cleese stars in first BBC sitcom since Fawlty Towers

 

Basil’s back on the BBC! John Cleese to star in his first sitcom for the broadcaster since Fawlty Towers ended in 1979

John Cleese, 77, will star in Edith, playing the lovelorn ex-boyfriend of Alison Steadman, who will take the title role

John Cleese, 77, will star in Edith, playing the lovelorn ex-boyfriend of Alison Steadman, who will take the title role

He vowed never to work at the BBC again – but John Cleese is finally returning to the broadcaster for his first sitcom since Fawlty Towers.

The 77-year-old actor – also known for Monty Python and Clockwise – will star in Edith, playing the lovelorn ex-boyfriend of Alison Steadman, who will take the title role.

The series is expected to air later this year, nearly four decades after Fawlty Towers ended in 1979.

Yesterday, Mr Cleese was effusive about the new project: ‘These are the most enjoyable scripts I’ve been sent in the last 100 years. It will also be particularly nice to work with Alison again since we joined forces in Clockwise all that time ago,’ he said.

But the move marks a dramatic volte face for the actor, who has made no secret of his disdain for the BBC over the years.

In 2014, Mr Cleese branded BBC comedy an ‘awful lot of cr*p’ run by executives who ‘haven’t actually written comedy or directed it and yet they think they understand comedy’.

And a year later he made it clear his feelings hadn’t changed. ‘There’s no way I want to work in TV, especially at the BBC. I have a nasty feeling a large proportion of the commissioning editors have no idea what they’re doing,’ he said in an interview.

Some of his ill-feeling may have come from the fact that the BBC nearly turned down Fawlty Towers – before it went on to become one of the most successful comedies in history.

A BBC script editor who looked at Mr Cleese’s submission in 1974 wrote it off as a ‘collection of clichés and stock characters which I can’t see being anything but a disaster.’

Mr Cleese appeared on a handful of BBC programmes after Fawlty Towers ended, but he has steered clear of BBC sitcoms other than a one-off guest appearance on Last of the Summer Wine in 1993.

However, news of his role in Edith suggests that Mr Cleese and the BBC may have finally buried the hatchet.

John Cleese is finally returning to the BBC for his first sitcom since Fawlty Towers (pictured)

John Cleese is finally returning to the BBC for his first sitcom since Fawlty Towers (pictured)

The thrice-married actor will play Phil, a romantic who is trying to persuade his old flame Edith to marry him and move to sunnier climes.

She finally relents after months of refusing him, leaving Mr Cleese’s character elated. However, his joy quickly turns to disappointment when Edith’s 50-year-old son Roger turns up, and announces he is moving home after leaving his job and his family.

Mr Cleese may have joined the project because of its writer Charles McKeown, who has previously worked with Mr Cleese’s Monty Python collaborator Terry Gilliam.

Yesterday, the BBC’s controller of comedy commissioning said: ‘If you had carte blanche on your fantasy BBC1 comedy cast then you’d not be far off the Edith line-up.

It’s also a huge pleasure to welcome John Cleese back to the land of BBC sitcom – his last one did all right.’