David Parkin wonders if TV return will be funny or faulty

DID you see that John Cleese plans to bring back Fawlty Towers?

The much-loved sitcom about a crazed hotelier, his bossy wife and a madcap group of hotel staff and guests, ended 44 years ago.

But now former Monty Python star Cleese, who co-wrote and starred in Fawlty Towers with his then wife Connie Booth, wants to bring it back.

He will return as Basil, now an octogenarian pensioner, alongside his real-life daughter Camilla, who will play his on-screen daughter.

There is no question that Fawlty Towers is one of the great classic TV comedy programmes.

It has been popular ever since it first hit our screens in 1975 and has been ranked first on a list of the ‘100 Greatest British Television Programmes’ drawn up by the British Film Institute in 2000, and then, almost 20 years later it was named the greatest ever British TV sitcom by a panel of comedy experts compiled by the Radio Times.

Given it only ran for two series which spanned just 12 episodes, this longevity and popularity might seem surprising.

But unlike most people involved in making TV programmes, Cleese and Booth subscribed to the view that ‘less is more’.

They resisted appeals from fans and chunky cheques from TV companies to bring back Fawlty Towers.

Perhaps that is why it has remained so popular.

But now it is set for a ‘reboot’ as they call it.

What has persuaded Cleese, 83, to attempt to bring it back to our screens?

Money, I would imagine.

The problem is, John Cleese is not funny.

Of course, he has been funny in the past. 

On the Frost Report, in Monty Python, appearing alongside Les Dawson in his TV series in the 1970s, in Fawlty Towers and in the 1988 film he wrote and starred in, A Fish Called Wanda.

He was even quite funny in a series of training films he made for Video Arts, the film production company he co-founded with Yes Minister writer Sir Anthony Jay, which made ‘soft-skills’ training videos about meetings and other challenges in the workplace.

But he’s not been funny for about 20 years.

After divorcing Connie Booth, who he had a daughter with called Cynthia, he married American actress Barbara Trentham with whom he had daughter Camilla.

After they divorced in 1990 he married American psychotherapist Alyce Faye Eichelberger.

When they divorced in 2008; the divorce settlement left Eichelberger with £12m in finance and assets, including £600,000 a year for seven years.

Cleese said: “What I find so unfair is that if we both died today, her children would get much more than mine … I got off lightly. Think what I’d have had to pay Alyce if she had contributed anything to the relationship – such as children, or a conversation.”

I think that was the last time he was vaguely funny.

The divorce left him coughing up large chunks of whatever he was able to earn to pay off his ex-wife and an increasingly embittered Cleese would rant about this perceived injustice whenever he made personal appearances as a guest speaker or on TV chat shows.

I saw him speak at the Yorkshire International Business Convention in 2009 and he wasn’t a happy man.

Neither was Mike Firth, the YIBC founder, who had hoped his headline speaker might entertain, engage and excite the 1,200-strong audience of business people.

Forget the dead parrots, Four Yorkshiremen and goose-stepping Basil Fawlty antics.

Instead Cleese spoke bitterly about his divorce settlement and then gave what was more like a university lecture about how creativity isn’t inert and can be learned – even if you’re a busy business leader.

The comedian, actor, writer and business owner espoused the virtues of the ‘tortoise mind’ – a state of thinking that is more contemplative, almost dreamlike, rather than the usual ‘hare brain’ fast thinking reactionary thought process dominant in today’s business culture.

He described creativity as coming from the intelligent unconscious, which delivers awareness without the thinker being aware of it.

It was intelligent stuff, but there were plenty of other successful entrepreneurs and business thinkers in the YIBC line-up to listen to.

The audience wanted Cleese to entertain them and I’m not sure he hit the spot.

What struck me is that Cleese is funny when he has a script, but in all the interviews and appearances I’ve seen of him he just isn’t a naturally funny man.

Can he make us laugh again when he brings back Fawlty Towers?

I hope so, but I doubt it very much.


THE latest Fresh Thinking Network event saw technology entrepreneur Tim Hyde speak to a group of young professionals and encourage them to be brave in their career choices and follow their dreams.

I host each of the monthly events for the Fresh Thinking Network, founded by finance business Fresh Thinking Capital and they aim to provide both networking opportunities alongside training seminars and panel discussions involving inspirational speakers.

I’d suggested Tim as a speaker as he’s got a fascinating background and a great deal of success behind him at the age of just 27.

The Manchester-based entrepreneur started his career at LadBible aged 18 – he was the 11th employee – before moving on to social media agency Social Chain, co-founded by Diary of a CEO founder and Dragons’ Den star Steven Bartlett.

Tim now owns TWH Media and is an award-winning marketer specialising in social media marketing, brand strategy and start-up consultancy.

Commenting on the event, Tim Hyde, said: “I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to speak to young professionals about my career and some of the choices I made. It’s essential to have confidence in your abilities if you want to take the leap and progress in your career.”

Since its launch, TWH Media has spent more than £100m on Facebook advertising for clients, which has generated more than £500m in revenue for businesses such as Adidas, Amazon, Dreamworks and Huel.

I first met Tim when I invited him to speak at an event for Sky five years ago.

They needed to engage an audience comprising their broadband tech team so I realised that a traditional speaker from the world of sport or business might not engage this group particularly well.

Tim came along and did a great job, so much so that members of the audience queued up after his speech to get selfies with him and he told me that several people in the audience that day still keep in touch with him via social media.

Mel Hird, director of Fresh Thinking Capital, said: “Tim has had an inspirational journey, and it was great for him to share his experiences with young professionals in the early stages of their careers. The network aims to equip professionals with the soft skills and contacts they need to excel.”

Tim’s experiences, skills and empathy really appeal to a younger audience, particularly those looking to develop their creative skills and navigate the often confusing and ever-changing modern working world.

I’m working with Tim to develop further speaking opportunities and so if you are interested in an inspiring individual to engage with your colleagues or clients, drop me a line.


IT is hard enough giving a speech to a business audience.

But when your father is sitting right in front of you and heckling then it makes it that bit tougher.

That is what Ben Ziff, of Town Centre Securities, faced yesterday morning when he spoke at the UK Israel Business breakfast.

To be fair, his father Edward is a huge supporter of him and his comments were very funny.

When Ben told the audience that one project he had been involved in had been an expensive “waste of time”, Edward piped up: “A bit like your education!”

Working in the family property business, Town Centre Securities, founded by his grandfather Arnold, Ben has focused on developing its car parking arm, CitiPark and his interest in technology and energy has seen a number of fascinating projects, including a collaboration with Tesla.

Last year the online car parking business Your Parking Space, which Ben led TCS’s investment in, was sold for £130m.

With his interest in technology, rather than pure property, it will be interesting to see where Ben focuses his energy in future.

He was interviewed at the breakfast at the Majorie and Arnold Ziff Centre – the community centre in Leeds that bears his grandparents names – by fellow entrepreneur Martin Port.

Martin is a serial entrepreneur who founded vehicle tracking business Masternaut and now runs BigChange and Port Growth Partners.

He is a generous benefactor to charities and good causes and has put a substantial sum into supporting The Street Lane Bakery.

Indeed, after the event he went off to deliver two big trays of bagels and loaves of bread.

He must be the most successful bread delivery boy ever.

Given his success, it is not surprising that Martin’s mind works about 10 times quicker than most people’s, or 100 times faster than mine.

He’s so far ahead with his thinking that sometimes he doesn’t recognise who is in front of him.

The event was sponsored by Blacks Solicitors and the firm’s managing partner Chris Allen told the audience how even though he has worked with Martin for 20 years he wasn’t sure if Martin knew who he was when he walked in.

It was the same when I greeted Martin at the event, although he did recognise me.

“I normally see you in the morning in the executive lounge at Leeds Bradford Airport with a pint in your hand,” he told me.

I don’t know who he thought I was, but I don’t think I’ve ever been in the executive lounge at the airport.

And as for drinking a pint in the morning…I was totally offended.

If he’d said champagne, then I wouldn’t have minded.


FAREWELL then Burt Bacharach.

He was one of pop music’s greatest composers, writing classics such as I Say A Little Prayer, Walk On By and What The World Needs Now Is Love.

Alongside Hal David, he wrote film themes for What’s New, Pussycat, Alfie and scored dozens of hits for artists including Dionne Warwick, Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, Barbara Streisand, Tom Jones and Aretha Franklin.

Burt Bacharach died this week at his home in Los Angeles aged 94.

He had hits in the 1950s with The Story Of My Life for Marty Robbins, in the UK it was recorded by Michael Holliday and went straight to number one, immediately followed to the top of the charts by Bacharach and David’s song Magic Moments, by Perry Como.

You could never deny he had longevity as a songwriter.

In the late 1990s Burt Bacharach co-wrote and recorded a Grammy-winning album with Elvis Costello.

Whenever I hear his name mentioned, yes, I remember his songs, but I also remember a line from the late, great comedian Les Dawson.

Pausing during one of his tone-deaf piano renditions, he paused at the keyboard, looked dolefully at the audience and sighed: “I’m the only person to play Bacharach and lose.”


THE Yorkshire Post interviewed Yorkshire painter Ashley Jackson last Saturday.

Photographs of the Holmfirth-based artist were on both the cover of the newspaper’s weekend magazine and the front page of the main paper.

Now 82, the artist is still painting and opened his first gallery 60 years ago.

If you’ve ever met Ashley, you’ll know his favourite subject – himself.

I was once having lunch in the Flying Pizza in North Leeds with Leslie Silver, the entrepreneur behind paint company Kalon Group.

Leslie was also chairman of Leeds United for 13 years during which time the club won promotion from the Second Division and won the First Division title in 1992, the season before it became the Premier League.

Ashley Jackson walked into the Flying Pizza and approached our table.

“Leslie, is that your green Aston Martin parked outside?” he asked.

Silver, a modest man, quietly said that it was his car.

“Mine’s the blue one,” replied Ashley.

The Yorkshire Post’s front page photograph of Ashley Jackson in his smock posing with one of his paintings against a backdrop of the frosty Pennines was accompanied by one of his quotes from the interview.

“I remember Lowry saying to me; ‘I take my hat off to you, sir, as I will to any good watercolourist and you are one of the finest there is.”

I’m getting the word…vainglorious.

Have a great weekend.


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