John Cleese discusses his love of Somerset

There was a very special Somerset supporter at the final County Championship match of the season.

As Somerset took on Essex at the Cooper Associates County Ground in the title decider in September, John Cleese was amongst those present hoping for a Somerset victory and that elusive maiden Championship title.

We sat down with him during the match to discus his love of the Club and how his passion for Somerset began.

“I saw a game at Clarence Park in 1948,” he said. “We lived in Weston at the time and my dad took me to see Somerset play Sussex. It was a great old Somerset team back then with the likes of Wellard and Gimblett. After that I started watching them passionately every summer. I remember Harold Stephenson who always had a very red face when he came out to play but was a wonderful wicketkeeper.

“My favourite was Bertie Buse who looked like an Edwardian butler. He was very dignified and I think someone once said that if the ball went past Bertie he thought it would be impolite to chase after it. I fell in love with them all really and they became the centre of my life.”

Legend has it that John grew his moustache in honour of Bertie. Is it true?

“I think so because the two people I liked the most in the world were Bertie Buse and my father and they both had moustaches,” said John. “Bertie was a wonderful character and I loved him. He was such a nice chap and I remember being terribly excited if he made 26! He was a hero from the point of view of being a wonderful human being rather than being a wonderful cricketer.”

Obviously John moved away from the region, but did he still keep an eye on the happenings at Taunton from afar?

“When I went up to Cambridge and was living in London I didn’t really get to see them that often but I would occasionally come and see them in Taunton,” he said. “I’ve followed them from all over the world in fact, because I lived in California for 10 years and first thing in the morning when I was over there I would get up and try and find out what the Somerset score was.

“Even now when I’m on tour and things like that, the first thing I do every day is get to a computer so that I can see what the score is. It’s obsessional! It’s much easier now than it was back then. It was very difficult when I was living in California. I’d be buying the newspaper a day late or ringing people in England to find out the score.

“In 1964 I made a friend in New York and ever since then we’ve been exchanging messages about Somerset and I am meeting him here today. I saw from the schedule that this match against Essex was going to be the crunch game so I altered my schedule and I flew in from Athens and then I’ll be off to Dusseldorf.

“Sadly I don’t get to come to Taunton very often as I don’t live in England anymore, but I still love Somerset and I love the Somerset people. They are friendly, low key and they know how to live. They have nice, slightly quiet, totally civilised lives and they’re friendly and kind to people. They’re just lovely people to be around. That’s a bit of a contrast after being in London where everyone’s so grim and frantic!”

Did John ever play the game?

“I used to play a bit when I was younger,” he explained. “I got into the Clifton College team when I was at school in Bristol and I played at Lord’s twice.

“I even managed to get Dennis Compton out twice in the same innings once. His son was at Clifton and he came down to play against us. I said to the wicketkeeper that if he started to walk down the wicket, which he was famous for, I would bowl much wider. He did run down the wicket and I bowled a very wide one. He hardly reached it but it spun back towards the wicketkeeper, who had previously told me that he was not interested in stumping Dennis Compton because he wanted to watch him bat, which was a bit discouraging from the bowlers point of view. As the ball came to his gloves he literally turned his wrists so that the ball hit the back of his hand, but it shot up in the air and eventually came down on the stumps. There was this silence and the wicketkeeper just picked the bails up and put them back on again and I didn’t have the balls to say ‘Howzat’, so I just went back to my run up. In the next over I bowled him a full toss and he hit it straight to mid-on, so I got him twice in two overs!”

What are John’s favourite memories of following the Club?

“I was at Lord’s in the 1979 for the first time that we won anything with the help of a couple of West Indians,” he recalled. “I remember sitting in the stands afterwards and it was as if the world had changed because the whole point about being a Somerset supporter was that we never won anything. It meant that I had to completely readjust my world view!”

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11/07/2022 11:00 - Southport