How different life could have been for John if his father hadn't made the very prudent decision to change the family moniker from Cheese to Cleese when he signed up to fight for King and country in 1915. Showing dazzling promise from a sickeningly young age, by the time John got to Cambridge and joined the Footlights it was quite clear that a star was born, and he certainly made good on all that potential.
With Monty Python providing the kind of revolution in the world of comedy that The Beatles were creating in music, John also starred in satirical shows, on Broadway and in spin-off Python movies. Putting funny walks and deceased birds into the comedy canon, John would have been a certified legend if he'd stopped then.
But with his flawless Fawlty Towers setting the benchmark for British sitcom, and giving us arguably the finest comedy character ever created in the shape of hapless Basil, comedians everywhere had pretty much reached the point of throwing up their hands and giving up when John decided to slow down a little and give someone else a chance. That said he still went on star in some of the most successful comedy films ever set to celluloid, a reunion show with the Pythons, Harry Potter and some Bond films, in the same way some people would take a fortnight off in the country.
As well as being one of the finest comics alive, John is also a very forward thinking fella and, unlike a lot of his fellow writers, he's anything but the sort of technophobe that would cower at the very thought of using a computer or having to rewind a DVD. In fact, he'd give his fellow anti-luddite Stephen Fry a run for his money, and not just because he stars in gadget show Batteries Not Included.
He's leant his voice to a number of video games (tie-ins with Bond, role-play game Jade Empire, and Starship Titanic which was designed by sci-fi comedy legend Douglas Adams), provided some genuinely witty remarks for Sat Navs, co-wrote a graphic novel and even found some time to join the world of children's entertainment, providing the voice for King Harold in Shrek, the little devil. That said, we're still patiently awaiting the day when we can download a John Cleese app that will scream out "don't mention the war" on demand. If for no other reason than the fact it'll provide a handy conversation starter for everyone's annual visit to their nan.
After a highly public and extortionately expensive divorce settlement, Cleese hit the road, much like a beaten man with just a stick and a hanky to his name, on his aptly titled, Alimony Tour. Telling audiences that, "I'm here my friends, because, frankly I need to earn money", Cleese demonstrated the sort of exasperated honesty of a mellower Basil Fawlty. Still, while the judge overseeing the divorce may have dealt him a blow reminiscent of one of Basil's blows to the back of Manuel's head, his status as a legend is secure.
After all, he's one of comedy's great game-changers, right up there with Messrs Milligan, Cook and McIntyre (only kidding about the last one). And there's a bit of Cleese for everyone – whether you like surreal sketches (Python), or the most perfect mainstream sitcom ever (Fawlty Towers), or an old-fashioned, Ealing-style romp (A Fish Called Wanda). Why, it's enough to make us forgive him for those dreadful adverts he did for the AA. Now that's talent for you.