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Incredible Sunset got hold of me; John Cleese describes how script for brilliant new sitcom lured him back onto the BBC for first time in more than 40 years.

It's been 43 years since Fawlty Towers - still the best sitcom ever produced in the UK.

Only 12 episodes were made and shown in 1975 and 1979. Ceated by John Cleese, already a well-known name for TV sketch show Monty Python's Flying Circus and his then wife Connie Booth, he played hotel owner Basil Fawlty and she played receptionist Polly.

Now John, 78, is back on British primetime with a new sitcom, Hold the Sunset, which has all the elements to take it up to the hallowed ground of Fawlty Towers. It also stars Alison Steadman, who played his wife in the 1986 film Clockwise and Jason Watkins, brilliant in comedies like Trollied and WIA.

John, who was in Edinburgh last December for Sleep in the Park, helping to raise PS3.6million for the homeless, isn't feeling pressure to live up to the success of Fawlty.

He said: "No, because I'm not writing this. 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.

"My character Phil is almost exactly like me. 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."

Phil dreams of marrying his neighbour Edith, played by Alison. On the day she finally says yes, her 50-year-old son Roger, played by Jason, knocks on the door, tells her he's left his wife, kids and job and has come home to findIt was best read in 100 said yes his lost happiness.

I see a between Sunset Called It's a full-scale midlife crisis. The cast also includes Rosie Cavaliero as Roger's abandoned wife Wendy, Annie Reid as housekeeper Queenie, Joanna Scanlan as Roger's sister Sandra and James Cosmo as Edith's ex-boyfriend Bob.

John was tempted back onto British television to star in his first BBC sitcom in four decades by producer Humphrey Barclay, who he's known since their days in the Cambridge Footlights back in the 60s.

John said: "He 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. I loved it. It was the best script I'd read in 100 years. I said yes immediately.

"I have worked with Charles many times. He played Mr Ingrams in Fawlty Towers. And in The Life of Brian, he played the blind man who throws away a stick and says, 'I was blind, but now I see', and then promptly falls into a pit. He gets the biggest laugh in the movie."

It's not Fawlty Towers but the comedy legend does think it's similar to another of his best remembered works - A Fish Called Wanda.

John said: "I see a parallel with A Fish Called Wanda because in that film, Jamie Lee Curtis and I were the emotional centre. In the same way, Alison and I provide the emotional heart of Hold the Sunset, and the other three - Jason, Joanna and Rosie - are funnier than we are. I've never minded that. If you have a scene that everyone laughs at, it doesn't matter who's getting the laughs."

While John's prowess as one of our funniest ever stars is undoubtable, so is Alison's. The 71-year-old has also spanned the generations. To younger TV viewers she is mum Pam in Gavin & Stacey and to older viewers she will always be Beverly in 1977's Abigail's Party.

The chemistry between the two is palpable and goes back 30 years to when she and John played husband and wife in Clockwork.John admitted: "It's been complete heaven. It's nice to play affectionate scenes every now and again, and I don't have to act affection with Alison. She is absolutely lovely and highly entertaining.

"The whole experience on Hold the Sunset has been absolutely wonderful. I've never seen so much laughing on set. In fact, there has been more laughing here than on any other set I have been on, even Monty Python.

"Anne Reid has the wickedest sense of humour.

Whenever I make awful comments about work, she is so funny. There is a great warmth amongst the cast and crew here. It's been a very, very happy experience."

Of late John has become known more for his politicallycharged anti-Trump tweets and his divorces. Now married to fourth wife Jennifer Wade, 45, in the past he's had to tour because his 2009 PS12.5million divorce from his third wife Alyce Faye left his penniless.

At the time, he said: "I have to find a million dollars a year until I'm 76 - so you don't get that sort of money by sitting at home."

True to his word he did, doing one-man shows and reuniting with the surviving Pythons for 10 shows at The O2 in London in 2014. Afterwards, John and Eric Idle wanted to tour the show but Michael Palin said no.

"Today I can say that Monty Python ended in a very satisfactory way," said John, who has settled any annoyance he had at the time, "and the ending taught me something about performing, which is that it doesn't give me a high like the writing can."

Last year Terry Jones revealed he had dementia. John admitted he hasn't seen him for a while.

the script I'd years - I immediately.

He said: "He has a full-time caregiver, he goes for walks, enjoys his food, he can watch things on the box and read, but he can't adjust to a conversation. He can be going down one conversational track and, if you say something that's not on that one track, he derails. It's very sad."

parallel Hold the and A Fish Wanda Cleese " Cleese's own problems seem to stem from his ex wives, with reports he's paid out more than PS25million in settlements to his three former spouses. His private life affected his career and he believes, his Hollywood moment. When his 1988 film A Fish Called Wanda was a hit, he was offered a part in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. He turned it down. Michael Caine took the role and was nominated for a Golden Globe He said: "My second marriage was a mess, and I thought, 'Can I really go off and do a movie without resolving whether I was going to stay married or not?' So I turned the part down. I think if I'd done it, I would've got lots more Hollywood offers. Around Wanda, I was hot for a year or so, but having a chaotic private life takes its toll. I also just didn't have a sufficient commitment to film. I feel dead sitting in a trailer waiting for things to happen."

Perhaps that's why his film work seems to be animated films like the Shrek franchise, Planet 51 and Trolls.

While he and UK TV fell out, in America he's popped up in shows like Cheers, 3rd Rock from the Sun and Will & Grace. His role as Lyle Finster was nominated for an Emmy. Hold the Sunset might mean seeing more of John than in adverts like Specsavers or PPI. His new sitcom co-stars certainly hope so.

Jason said: "I'm a huge fan. Working with him has lived up to all my expectations. It's been a real joy. He's very versatile. You won't see Basil Fawlty or Life of Brian in John's performance as Phil. You will see a brilliant actor who is subtle and real and has a great ability to make you laugh.

"John also has a streak of anarchy in him that he'll never lose."

l Hold the Sunset starts tomorrow, BBC1 at 7.30pm.

because that's been an neighbour she the sitcom in four decades me something about doesn't give me a Last year dementia. seen He say from out to believes, his Hollywood It was the best script I'd read in 100 years - I said yes immediately. I see a parallel between Hold the Sunset and A Fish Called Wanda John Cleese


TURNING CLOCK BACK... John, as Basil Fawlty, far left, loves working with Alison Steadman again in new Hold The Sunset, centre. They both starred in film Clockwork, left, in 1986. Below, with Alison and Jason Watkins
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Feb 17, 2018
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