John Cleese: No pressure for new sitcom to live up to Fawlty Towers

John Cleese has said he feels no pressure for new sitcom Hold The Sunset to live up to the success of Fawlty Towers, because he did not write this one himself.

The BBC One series is the veteran actor’s first sitcom appearance since he starred in his self-penned series nearly 40 years ago as the hilariously neurotic hotel owner Basil Fawlty.

Hold The Sunset sees Cleese play Phil, who is keen to move abroad with his ex-partner and neighbour Edith, played by Alison Steadman.

After months of her turning him down, Edith – who has been widowed for some time – finally says yes to Phil’s pleas for a new life together, but their plans are scuppered when her 50-year-old son Roger knocks on her door and announces he has left his wife and children.

Cleese, 78, said he does not worry about this new effort measuring up to that of Fawlty Towers, which aired between 1975 and 1979 and is still considered one of the greatest TV comedies of all time.

He said: “I come to Hold The Sunset just as an actor. It hasn’t been my creation.

“Instead of looking at me and three others on Fawlty Towers, the audience have five or six other key players to watch in Hold the Sunset.”

John Cleese and Alison Steadman in Hold The Sunset (Adam Lawrence/BBC/Shutterstock)

The Monty Python star said he was drawn to the new comedy because he is close friends with its producer Humphrey Barclay, who he has known since being a member of the Cambridge Footlights in the early 1960s.

“He came to me and said he had found this great new script called Hold The Sunset by Charles McKeown and asked if I would be interested in doing it,” Cleese said.

“I read it and loved it. It was the best script I’d read in a hundred years! So of course, I said yes immediately.”

Cleese said that his new character is “almost exactly” like him.

He added: “When you stop reading it and start playing it, you can immediately see that. Phil sits around making sarcastic remarks – that’s exactly how I am in real life!

“I keep thinking: ‘I know how to say that line because that’s exactly how I’d say it in real life’. It’s been an absolute pleasure to play him.”

Hold The Sunset (Adam Lawrence/BBC/Shutterstock)

Steadman, 71, said that she and Cleese, who she first worked with on the film Clockwise in 1986, have not changed at all over the years, and that she has enjoyed collaborating with him again.

She said: “It’s been lovely. Working with an old friend is great because it gives you such freedom.

“It helps that we were able to leap straight into it because we had played a married couple before. John is really good fun and off the wall.

“You need to be disciplined on set. John is disciplined, but he’s not afraid to take it one step further if it helps the comedy.”

She added: “I hope people will enjoy the chemistry between John and me. We have a very easy relationship. Also, John fits the part very well; he told me that the more he plays Phil, the more he thinks it’s him!”

Jason Watkins, Anne Reid, Rosie Cavaliero, Joanna Scanlan and James Cosmo also star in Hold The Sunset, which starts on Sunday at 7.30pm on BBC One.

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