The many faces of John Cleese! Top row: With Michael Palin and Eric Idle in Monty Python and the Holy Grail; memorable scenes from Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Middle: as Basil Fawlty with his dragon wife Sybil, sensible waitress Polly and the hapless waiter Manuel from Barcelona in Fawlty Towers; Basil does his silly walk for the Germans; manic Basil on the phone. Bottom: as barrister Archie Leach with Jamie Lee Curtis in A Fish Called Wanda; with schoolgirl Sharon Maiden in Clockwork. Below: Clifton College, Bristol, Cleese’s alma mater.
JOHN MARWOOD CLEESE was born on 27 October 1939 at Weston-super-Mare, a popular seaside resort in the English county of Somerset, located on the Bristol Channel and some 18 miles south-west of the city and port of Bristol. He was educated at Clifton College, Bristol, and Downing College, Cambridge. His somewhat unusual middle name comes from his maternal grandfather, Marwood Joseph Cross (1870-1936).
The proverbial “man of many parts”, the four-times-married Cleese is an actor, comedian, writer and film producer. He achieved initial success at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with the Cambridge Footlights Review and as a scriptwriter and performer on The Frost Report in the 1960s. He co-founded Monty Python, the comedy troupe responsible for the sketch show Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the four Monty Python films: And Now for Something Completely Different, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Life of Brian and The Meaning of Life.
In the mid-1970s, Cleese and his first wife, Connie Booth, co-wrote and starred in the hugely popular, award-winning sitcom Fawlty Towers. Later, he co-starred with Kevin Kline, Jamie Lee Curtis and former Python colleague Michael Palin in the films A Fish Called Wanda and Fierce Creatures. He also starred in the comedy film Clockwise, and has appeared in many other films, including two James Bond films, two Harry Potter films, and the last three Shrek films. With Yes Minister writer Antony Jay, he co-founded Video Arts, a production company making entertaining training films.
Reginald Francis CHEESE was born on 19 December 1893 in the city of Bristol. He died in 1972 at the age of 79 in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset. In the 1911 census he was an insurance clerk in Weston-super-Mare and later became an insurance salesman. Reginald Francis apparently changed his name from Cheese to CLEESE because he thought his name was a possible cause of embarrassment when he enlisted in the army in World War I, during which he served as a corporal in the Gloucestershire Regiment.
Muriel Evelyn CROSS and Reginald Francis CLEESE were married in 1926 in Bristol. Muriel Evelyn CROSS was born on 5 October 1899 in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset. She lived long enough to become a centenarian, dying in 2000 at the age of 101, her death being recorded in the North Somerset Registration District. Cleese has blamed his mother Muriel for his problems in relationships with women, saying: “It cannot be a coincidence that I spent such a large part of my life in some form of therapy and that the vast majority of the problems I was dealing with involved relationships with women.” The comment, made in his autobiography, was not universally approved by reviewers!
John Edwin CHEESE was born in 1865 at Clifton, Bristol. He died in 1951 at the age of 86 in Bristol. In the 1911 census he was a law clerk at Weston-super-Mare. I found a number of newspaper cuttings relating to John Edwin in the online British Newspaper Archive. These mostly concerned his work as a solicitor’s clerk, some involving his giving evidence in a court of law. Edith GREY and John Edwin CHEESE were married in 1888 in the Barton Regis Registration District.
Edith GREY was born in 1865 in Bristol. She died on 4 November 1916 at the age of 51 at 24 All Saints’ Road, Clifton, Bristol.
In the course of my researches, I came across a tiny scandal in John Edwin’s history! His wife, Edith Cheese, died in 1916 at the age of 51 and John was left a widower. However, in 1919 he re-married at Bristol to a woman called Hylda Lollar Cooksley, the daughter of a local businessman and parish councillor, who was born in 1896 – thus, she was over 30 years John Edwin’s junior. When they married, John Edwin would have been 54 and Hylda about 23…an unusual match, to say the least.
“Cheese v. Cheese and Scutt. – John Edwin Cheese, of Northumberland Road, petitioned for a divorce from his wife, Hylda Lollar Cheese, alleging misconduct with Cyril Edgar Scutt, a builder’s foreman, employed on improvements of the petitioner’s house at Brentry. Decree granted.”
The same cutting continued with a brief report that Scutt’s wife, Lucy Scutt, was also granted a divorce on the grounds of her husband’s alleged misconduct. Cyril Edgar Scutt and Hylda Cheese were married at Bristol about a year later in the second quarter of 1932.
Marwood Joseph CROSS was born in 1870 in Halse, Somerset. He was an auctioneer, valuer and estate agent at Weston-super-Mare. He died in 1936 at the age of 66 in Weston-super-Mare.
Sarah Elizabeth “Bessie” CROAD and Marwood Joseph CROSS were married in 1891 in the Bridgwater Registration District, Somerset. Sarah Elizabeth “Bessie” CROAD was born in 1871 in Broomfield, Bridgwater, Somerset. She died in 1941 at the age of 70 in Weston-super-Mare.
James CHEESE was born about 1825 in Watford, Hertfordshire. He was baptised on 23 October 1825 at St Mary’s Parish Church, Watford. Why he was born in Watford when his father, John Godwin Cheese, was from the West Country is something of a mystery that I have not yet solved. Possibly his parents were living in the town temporarily for some reason, possibly his father being in business there.
In the census of 1841 James appears at Westbury-on-Trym, near Bristol – where his father was in business as a grocer – being apprenticed to a baker and confectioner. James then became a baker in his own right because he appears as such consistently in censuses from 1851 to 1881 in Bristol. He died in 1889 at the age of 63 in the Barton Regis Registration District. A brief notice of his death appeared in the Western Daily Press on 10 May 1889.
Susannah GLOVER and James CHEESE were married in 1848 in the Bristol Registration District. Susannah GLOVER was born circa 1825/6 in East Brent, Somerset. She died in 1910 at the age of 84 in Bristol Registration District, surviving her husband James by many years.
Great great grandparents
John Godwin CHEESE was born about 1792 in Bedminster, Bristol. He died in 1873 at the age of 82 in Westbury-on-Trym, Gloucestershire. He was buried on 30 April 1873 at Holy Trinity Church, Westbury-on-Trym. John was for many years a shopkeeper and a grocer – what name could possibly be more appropriate for a grocer than Cheese, one might ask? He appears in all the censuses from 1841 to 1871 at Westbury-on-Trym as a grocer but the address given is simply “The Village”. A brief notice of his death appeared in the Western Daily Press on 26 April 1873.
Who were John Godwin Cheese’s parents? My research here becomes speculative, for there was a couple called John Cheese and Sarah Godwyn who married at the Church of St Augustine The Less in Bristol on 7 August 1786. As John was born just a few years later, and his given middle name was Godwin, I am making an assumption that this couple were possibly/probably his parents. However, more evidence is needed before I can accept it fully.
John Godwin’s wife was called Harriet, for she appears with him in all the censuses. Her birth place was given as Coventry, Warwickshire, and she was
The Cheese family grave in the churchyard of Holy Trinity, Westbury-on-Trym, where John Godwin Cheese is buried. Unfortunately, the memorial inscription has all but disappeared.
born there about 1795. However, I have been unable to discover much else about her, especially the date and other details of her marriage to John Godwin. There are trees online at Ancestry’s Public Member Trees website that show her as being Harriet Wright and marrying John at Islington, London, in 1821, but since I am unable to confirm this as a fact I cannot accept it without more evidence. There is no evidence I am aware of, other than a possible coincidence of dates, that the John Cheese and Harriet Wright who married at Islington were the right couple! What I do know for certain is that Harriet died in 1872, the year before her husband, at the age of 77 in the Clifton Registration District.
Great great great grandparents
John CHEESE was baptised possibly on 1 May 1763 in Bristol, but this is as yet unconfirmed. A John Cheese was baptised on 1 May 1763 in Bristol, the source being the FamilySearch website. But whether this was John who was the father of John Godwin Cheese I cannot categorically state at this stage. I offer it only as a speculative possibility.
However, it seems possible that this John Cheese was the man who married Sarah GODWYN on 7 August 1786 at the Church of St Augustine The Less, Bristol. My speculative evidence here is that John Godwin Cheese, born about 1792, may have been their son and that he was given the maiden name of his mother as a middle name, which was a very common feature in those times.
The Church of St Augustine The Less was an ancient church founded in the 13th century before 1240. It took its name from its proximity to the church of the Abbey of St Augustine (St Augustine the Great), which is now Bristol Cathedral. St Augustine The Less suffered bomb damage in 1940 during World War II and was demolished in 1962. But was it the church where John Cleese’s earliest traceable ancestors were married in 1786, well over two centuries ago?
Clicking on the image should enlarge it in a new screen
I have drawn upon numerous sources in compiling this blog on the genealogy of John Cleese, including the following…
FreeBMD (http://www.freebmd.org.uk/cgi/search.pl) which has many millions of birth, marriage and death records from the General Register Office for England and Wales.
Findmypast (http://www.findmypast.co.uk/) a major genealogical website which carries all the census records and images from 1841 to 1911.
FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/), the website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/)
Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia.
Photo of Holy Trinity Church, Westbury-on-Trym, by Christopher Gray to whom my thanks are due for permission to reproduce it.
Photo of the Cheese family grave at Westbury-on-Trym parish church by Margaret McGregor, a professional genealogist and former archivist, to whom thanks are also due. My thanks also to the parish office and staff for their kind assistance.