The reviews I remember reading seemed quite sniffy or full of faint praise, but in the end I enjoyed John Cleese’s autobiography much more than I’d expected. If he doesn’t come across as the most warm-hearted of individuals — would anyone actually expect him to? — he serves up one sharp thumbnail sketch after another. Here he is, looking back on his student years:
After all, I was going to be a lawyer — apparently, though I couldn’t remember exactly how the decision had been taken. Law, then, had to come first. and Law seemed to be a lot about arguing, about putting your case or dismantling somebody else’s, so maybe learning to debate would help me. Accordingly, I went along to the Cambridge Union to see a debate from the balcony, and watched as a series of very young men, aged between nineteen and twenty-two, stood up and pretended to be fifty-five. They all wore suits with waistcoats, they all tucked their thumbs into their waistcoat pockets, and they all spoke a weird, oratorical, bombastic language that was utterly unlike normal speech. Clearly, they were trying to create the impression of being promising politicians, yet they had no idea how ridiculous they seemed, all behaving in the same manner when, to the rest of us, they were so obviously inflated, self-satisfied, slow-witted duds. The gap between the impression they were trying to create and the way their fellow-students actually viewed them was truly extraordinary. It would have been even more astounding had I known that several of these fat-heads would finish up in John Major’s Cabinet.