Counterfeit Cleese

Coates on Cleese, Collins and Cole


This article is taken from the July 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

Though lazy journalists have failed to put two and two together, isn’t it high time this portly octogenarian posing as “John Cleese” in 2023 was exposed as the imposter he surely is?

Not content with wanting to disastrously resurrect Basil Fawlty, I gather the troublesome doppelgänger’s also plotting similarly calamitous stage adaptations of A Fish Called Wanda and Life of Brian, while ruthlessly assisted by a striking American blonde.

As evidence mounts to finally prove the real Mr Cleese disappeared in 1989, it’s alarmingly clear this elderly chancer will stop at nothing to sabotage a great man’s legacy.

Contrary to cynical mutterings, outgoing bafta chair Mr Majumdar clarified that his status as a prominent “diversity” champion wasn’t remotely compromised when Kate Winslet’s 22-year-old daughter landed that plum role opposite mother in his recent telly drama. 

He swiftly explained young Mia got the nod “completely on merit” and absolutely nothing else. During this particularly fraught period in the politics of casting, our thanks to Mr Majumdar for so deftly dealing with any unnecessary confusion. 

Despite angrily vowing last September to never again subject myself to the indignities of another open air theatre tour — following a particularly displeasing summer of shoddy accommodation and backstabbing cast members — at the time of writing, I shall once more be taking to the road with a new company of travelling players in the coming days.

After the nephew suggested this was quite the “U-turn” following last year’s “outburst”, I reminded the pesky fool he couldn’t possibly hope to understand the nuances of theatrical life. 

Looking forward to a fitting farewell for a deceased fellow trouper, myself and co-stars were alarmed to discover the oafish taxi driver had thoughtlessly dropped us off at the wrong entrance to West London Crematorium.

Lacking the navigational instincts required to overcome such sudden adversity (just minutes before the old rogue’s send-off), we instead found ourselves hopelessly disoriented amid the endless graves of Kensal Green.

While a botched attempt to use “Google Maps” only added to the panic, progress was further hindered by the sudden appearance of two particularly frail TV favourites of yesteryear, similarly lost and abandoned after attempting to pay their respects, though quite possibly already dead themselves. 

Eventually encountering a largely incomprehensible gravedigger type, begrudgingly pointing us towards an exit, we instead chose to steal a march on those attending post-incineration refreshments over in Maida Vale … our sense of direction now happily restored! 

Following the hit TV drama’s conclusion, praise continues to be lavished on Succession creator and Shropshire lad Jesse Armstrong — not least for ensuring we could all enjoy Brian Cox’s blatantly bitter response to being killed off so early in series four! The Dundonian show pony’s silly announcement that he was refusing to watch the finale due to his alter ego’s demise suggests the trappings of fame, coming so late in a career, have taken their toll.

Death duty

Just days after aforementioned funeral difficulties over in Kensal Green, the agent called to confirm I’d landed the role in one of those perky telly ads for budget-friendly dying. 

With the Grim Reaper now picking off my generation at will, one was tickled by the thought (barring any sudden intervention on his part!) that he’d be personally funding one’s new walk-in shower and senior singles cruise this October.

While Ken Branagh insists on prematurely giving us his Lear on the London stage this autumn, rival Ralph Fiennes prepares for The Scottish Play. Initially heartened by news of Ralph’s plans (I’ve long found his channelling of the Bard more pleasing on the ear than Ken’s), one was soon dispirited to learn he’d bowed to fashionably proletariat demands the production be staged in “warehouses”.

Now ninety years young, Joan Collins proves she’s lost none of her canny touch after confirming plans to flog an umpteenth memoir to fans across the provinces.

When Dame Joan again takes to the stage, dazzling starstruck types with an array of Hollywood tales not heard since the last book came out in 2021, dutiful bag-carrier/hubby number five will naturally come into his own.

While key tasks on the night include reminding oddballs that free selfies with admirably preserved Joanie remain off limits, young Percy can also be relied upon to ensure a suitably speedy getaway once this awkward but lucrative business concludes.

Noises off

Well aware the “drunk and rowdy” behaviour of theatre audiences (mainly in the North) is being viewed as increasingly problematic, one was recently mortified to be unjustly deemed among offenders.

Having long enjoyed discreetly mouthing lines meticulously memorised during my own Shakespearean prime when watching the latest fresh-faced players take to the stage, I suddenly found myself being rudely informed I was “distracting” not only my fellow audience members, but the youth courageously miscast as Mark Antony.

While one’s projection may well have gone up a notch after the interval cocktail, the burly female (?) usher’s notably aggressive attitude seemed wholly out of proportion — prompting the now regrettable fracas in row D which left yours truly taking the evening air sooner than anticipated.

Mind you, having since seen those old dears limping about in their version of As You Like It at Stratford — following McKellen’s similarly creaking Hamlet — this RSC veteran dares to dream there might finally be a theatrical fad he actually benefits from!

With commercial telly folk predictably wanting yet another Downton Abbey, spare a thought for housewives’ pin-up Mr Bonneville, previously heard suggesting — though with trademark diplomacy in public — that they’ve been scraping the barrel long enough.

At the time of writing, one imagines financial realities must of course prevail, leaving the Earl of Grantham discreetly taking a deep breath before cashing in on this nonsense once more.

Friendly media commentators loyally report the grievances of retired showbiz vicar and self-declared national trinket Richard Coles, still grumbling about his recent departure from Radio 4’s Saturday Live.

“I felt rather hurtled to the exit,” sniffs Coles. “Working for an organisation like the BBC, you devote your energies to it and yet they perhaps don’t always respond with similar devotion.” Following the programme’s daft relocation from London to Wales, publicity-savvy Richard sensibly glosses over his refusal to waste Saturday mornings broadcasting from gloomy Cardiff. 

Recent history suggests it must only be a matter of time before a leading actor of the day (presumably Michael Sheen) is pictured in the press, transformed by prosthetics, playing Mr Schofield in an upcoming TV biopic. Countless delightful fillies will be champing at the bit to land the intriguing role of Ms Willoughby! 

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover