The BBC is in talks with John Cleese about a starring role in a new sitcom.
The Monty Python and Fawlty Towers comedy giant, who once said he wouldn’t work at the BBC again, could make a surprise return in the show, the Corporation’s comedy boss Shane Allen has revealed.
“We’re in discussions about a piece that he might be in,” he told the Telegraph. “It’s a sitcom and it’s very early days. He’s a comedy god, and the door is always open to him. There are certain people who have earned their badges, who have got the right to do what they want.”
However Cleese may take some persuading. Three years ago he told RadioTimes.com: “People often ask me ‘Why did you do this? Why did you do that?’ rather as though I’m able to control the offers that are coming in. All that’s happening is that I’m getting offered stuff, most of which is not top class.
“I think in my whole career – apart from things I’ve written myself or co-written – the things where I have been sent a script that I thought were first class: I would say Clockwise and I would say that my scenes in Rat Race and The Out-of-Towners were very, very well written and I hardly had to change a syllable.”
The news has emerged ahead of the BBC’s landmark sitcom season, which begins on Sunday night with two modern remakes of Porridge and Are You Being Served?
This is being followed by a return for Nicholas Lyndhurst’s Goodnight Sweetheart and a Keeping up Appearances prequel called Young Hyacinth starring Kerry Howard.
The comedy season, which also includes pilots for a clutch of new shows, has been criticised in some quarters for using up money on bringing back classic comedy that could go on new material.
Yesterday, comedian Frankie Boyle took to the Edinburgh Television Festival stage to bemoan the fact that TV comedy has “gone back past 1978”.
Interviewing Sharon Horgan, Boyle said commissioners were choosing safe, mass appeal shows such as Mrs Brown’s Boys at the expense of bolder pieces.
“Ratings are the main thing. Critical hits are a bonus,” said Boyle. “If something is a big ratings hit – like Mrs Brown’s Boys as a random example – they try to do one of those. But when something comes out that’s a critical hit, they go, ‘That’s ticked that box for a while. Don’t need to make another sitcom with a lesbian for five years.’
“It seems to me that television has gone back past 1978. There’s a sort of air, it’s an air of you wouldn’t know there had been alternative comedy.
“Now you can pretty much watch most things. Most of the comedy is observational. Most of the shows are variety shows. Most of the sitcoms are family-friendly. I think it’s hit a bit of a stale patch.”