Shoreham actress Carol Cleveland gearing up for live Monty Python shows this summer
PUBLISHED: 14:50 26 June 2014 | UPDATED: 12:12 03 November 2017
Carol Cleveland was a familiar face on stage and screen but as the only woman in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, she will go down in British comedy history. Never one to slow down, the Shoreham actress is gearing up for the live Python shows this summer
Carol Cleveland has appeared in countless stage and screen productions, but she will always be best-known as the only regular female member of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Born in London and raised in the United States, Carol will always be a Sussex girl at heart. Now a remarkably youthful 72, Carol is at her home in Shoreham desperately trying to complete her memoirs – entitled Pom-Poms Up – in time for the 10 live Python shows at London’s 02 arena in July. And you can be assured she’ll be writing about Sussex with as much affection as the classic Python sketches she featured in such as The Milkman, Travel Agent, and The Semaphore Version Of Wuthering Heights.
Holding her beloved Spaniel/Jack Russell cross Tallulah, whom she rescued just before she was admitted to the local Dogs Trust rehoming centre, Carol talks passionately about how Sussex has filled her life for more than 35 years.
“As a child, I went on day trips to Brighton on visits back to Britain from the States,” she recalls. The daughter of an actor and a glamour girl, Carol moved to the USA as a youngster after her mother remarried an American Air Forceman. After studying at RADA, Carol worked as a Playboy bunny in London. “I was engaged to an Italian racing driver-cum-stuntman, and we used to come to Brighton in his E-Type Jag for ‘dirty weekends’,” she says, giggling.
“I’ve always loved being by the sea, especially in Brighton. But, having been brought up in California, I found the pebbles hard to take after the lovely golden beaches.”
From 1971 until 1983, Carol was married to Peter Brett, a drama teacher, writer and actor who played one of the Hotel Inspectors in the John Cleese sitcom Fawlty Towers. “My husband loved the sea too, and we talked about moving to Brighton. When we split up after 10 years, I thought that was a good time to live by the sea. I couldn’t afford to stay in London anyway. One weekend I did a recce on my bicycle and the fourth property I looked at – a two-up, two-down mid-terrace fisherman’s cottage in Hanover, central Brighton – was the one for me. It even cost the exact money I had to spend: £20,000.”
For much of her treasured time in that property, Carol rented her spare room to actors performing at the Theatre Royal. But four years ago she – and Tallulah – moved to a pretty semi-detached house in Shoreham.
Carol is surrounded by mementoes of a glittering career which has included TV classics such as Dixon Of Dock Green, The Saint, The Avengers, and films starring opposite Marlon Brando, Sophia Loren, Julie Andrews, David Niven, Peter Sellers, and Shirley MacLaine. But the star names she’s most closely associated with are Michael Palin, Eric Idle, John Cleese, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, and the late Graham Chapman. Known affectionately as Carol Cleavage, the blonde appeared in 35 of the 45 episodes of the classic Monty Python television series that ran from 1969 until 1974, and in all five of their movies.
Carol thinks it’s high time the Pythons received knighthoods.
“If they were going to be knighted, it would have to be all of the remaining Pythons. It would be awfully difficult to knight just one or two and not the others; they might have a fight. Terry Jones might throw a chair, as he’s been known to do in the past! I think they do deserve to be recognised.
“Monty Python is one of the all-time classic British comedies and it has an enormous following all around the world, particularly in America. I’m afraid all the other people who’ve made me laugh are gone. Tommy Cooper, Danny Kaye, Donald O’Connor, Morecambe & Wise...there really aren’t that many now who do it for me.
“I like French & Saunders, but there is no-one now who I think I must watch. I don’t like lavatory humour and I think there’s far too much of it – that turns me right off. When Bill Connolly first arrived he made me laugh such a lot, but then F-words were here, there and everywhere and put me right off. So all my favourites are no longer with us, except for the Pythons.”
Of course Carol can’t wait to be reunited with the guys on stage this summer.
“As far as I know, we only have 10 days’ rehearsal,” she reveals. “People are amazed when I tell them that, but it’s because it’s mainly material we’ve done before. Some of the sketches are being updated, but I’m not sure which ones. Maybe to make it more politically correct, but then the Pythons have never been PC.
“The big addition is Arlene Phillips’ choreography and 20 dancers. So there are going to be two big song and dance numbers. I’ve got a fair amount to do, and I’m greatly looking forward to it. But it looks like we’re not going to be doing a world tour afterwards. There was talk of it. Eric was very keen, and John was very keen. But it has to be a full contingent and I believe Michael has another commitment. So unless something changes, sadly we won’t be touring, which I’m very disappointed about because it would have been wonderful.
“We were talking about going back to the Hollywood Bowl and going to the Sydney Opera House. But it has to be all of them or nothing. Maybe Michael can change things around in time. I think later would be too late. We’re all in our 70s now, and even 10 shows might be pushing it a bit. But the stage show will be filmed and there’s talk of a documentary and a DVD. So those people who haven’t been able to get tickets can at least see it that way.”
Following the O2 stint, Carol fancies becoming a reality TV star. “It’s such a shame they didn’t have all this reality stuff when I was doing Python. I watch them and think ‘I could have been on all of these!’ I was a dancer, I used to ice skate and ride horses. Now with this upsurge in my career, I’ve said to my agent ‘Get me on a reality show, I really want to do one!’”
However what Carol, who’s never married again nor had children, would like most of all is to meet a nice man. “I think Mr Right has been and gone, but I’m searching for Mr Good Companion – someone who loves me and I love him – and I haven’t given up hope. He’s out there but he’s not going to come knocking on my door and say ‘Here I am!’ I’d say, ‘Where the Hell have you been? Get in here quick!’ But I get out and about quite a lot and I have male friends – I’m not totally manless – but there isn’t anyone special right now. I think what I’d really like is to meet a nice man who has a ready-made family that I can get on with. I am acutely aware, however, that the clock is ticking much faster these days so I hope he finds me soon!”
My favourite Sussex
Restaurant: I’m not a vegetarian but I do love the award-winning Terre à Terre in Brighton. They do wonderful dishes which change all the time
Shop: I recommend Brighton’s Choccywoccydoodah, which is a magical shop. I’ve had their cakes for two of my big decade birthdays.
View: The Seven Sisters, spectacular from every direction. If I’ve ever had doubts about living in Sussex, I’ve sat near the lighthouse on top of the cliff and said: ‘This is why I live here and I never want to be anywhere else!’
Place to visit: I like to take a long walk with Tallulah from the top of The Downs down to The Shepherd & Dog pub at Fulking. It’s fun watching the ang-gliders and kites and dog-walkers from there.