John Cleese: BBC comedy in parlous state because of committees and bureaucracy

John Cleese has said comedy at the BBC is in a “parlous state” because the corporation is “run like a bureaucracy” and is made up of “committees”.

The Fawlty Towers creator, 83, who will revisit his most beloved comic creation when he reboots the classic hotel sitcom with his daughter Camilla, said TV executives “want to control everything”.

Cleese will also embark on a new TV project when his series on GB News begins later this month.

The Dinosaur Hour will see him interview famous faces including Stephen Fry and Sir Trevor McDonald.

He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “They made me the best offer anyone has ever made anyone in television.

“Not financially – they came to me and said: ‘Would you like to make 10 programmes? You can do anything that you like.’ And I mean, nobody’s ever said that to anyone because most television executives have no idea what they’re doing, but they want to control things anyway.”

“My experience was that with a very few exceptions of the BBC about 40 years ago, they don’t know what they’re doing, but they want to control everything and they don’t trust the talent.

“So the moment they get someone – ‘talent’ – and they say: ‘What sort of show are you going to do?’ Then they want to make lots of suggestions.

“They say: ‘We want to know what we’re getting.’ And I say: ‘Well, you’re getting me, but if you don’t trust me, don’t hire me.’ But they try to control everything. And that is why BBC comedy is in such a parlous state at the moment.

“The young comedians tell me how hard it is to get anything accepted, because it’s all committees.

“And the BBC is now run like a bureaucracy, and that’s not good for nurturing talent.”

SHOWBIZ Programme/Fawlty
The cast of Fawlty Towers, (L-R ) Prunella Scales as Sybil, John Cleese as Basil, Connie Booth as Polly and Andrew Sachs as Manuel (BBC)

The original Fawlty Towers show, written by Cleese and his then-wife Connie Booth, ran on BBC Two for two series in 1975 and 1979.

It was confirmed earlier this year that Cleese and his daughter, Camilla Cleese, will be rebooting the show.

The new series will explore how Basil navigates the modern world.

It will also see Basil, and a daughter he has just discovered is his, team up to run a boutique hotel.

Actor Rob Reiner, his wife and actress Michele Reiner, director and producer Matthew George and Derrick Rossi are executive producers.

Asked about criticism of the reboot, Cleese said the announcement of the return was made too early.

SHOWBIZ Programme/Fawlty 2
Andrew Sachs as Manuel and John Cleese as Basil in BBC’s Fawlty Towers (BBC)

“The problem was it shouldn’t have been announced for about another 12 months. But one of the top people wanted a bit of a publicity to help him with his career so he started talking about it before it was really a glint in our eye.

“But Camilla and I have done about two weeks’ work and we’re starting again on Monday because we’re doing a tour together on a bus.”

Cleese said his new programme on GB News is “for people who are badly out of touch”, adding: “Lots of people are happy to be dinosaurs because it’s very hard to understand what’s going on at the moment. And if you’re a dinosaur you have no chance of understanding it at all.

“This is a huge demographic, you know.

“We’re going to get people, of course, who are out of touch because they want to be out of touch, but also people who are out of touch and have no idea that they are out of touch.”

Addressing the recent upheaval in the on-air team at GB News, with the axing of Laurence Fox and Calvin Robinson and the suspension of Dan Wootton, Cleese said: “They are clearing out a certain amount, which is not a bad idea, because they do believe in free speech.”

When presenter Ed Balls interrupted him, to joke: “Get the old blood out and the new blood in,” Cleese retorted: “Will you shut up?” prompting laughter from Balls’ co-host Susanna Reid.

Cleese told the pair: “The trouble with most interviews in British television and American television is that people can’t get their opening statement out properly before they get interrupted.”

When Reid asked: “Did you find that with this interview?” Cleese replied: “You’re naughty, I like you.”

The Dinosaur Hour launches on GB News on October 29.

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