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London - There’s no fool like an old fool, sneer John Cleese’s critics at the news he has married, at the age of 72, for the fourth time.
After all, his divorce three years ago from his third wife - therapist Alyce Faye Eichelberger - cost him almost $20 million. In a bid to recoup some money, he took to the road with a one-man show.
He called it the Alimony Tour and its humour was bitterly black. “Imagine how much I’d have had to pay Alyce if she had contributed anything to the relationship - such as children or a conversation,” ran one lethal gag.
Four years ago he had six homes; today, he owns only a London flat and lives in a rented apartment in Monaco. Yet here he is, opening up his heart - not to mention his wallet - once again.
His new wife, jewellery designer Jennifer Wade, is 31 years his junior - and he says he’s signed a prenuptial agreement only after being persuaded that by doing so he would be protecting her financial interests.
What is it about John Cleese and men like him, who persist in marrying time after time, hoping for happiness against insuperable odds and against all evidence to the contrary? Are they idiots, masochists or a pathetic combination of the two?
The answer is that they are neither. Such men - and there are a surprising number - are failed romantics, who are as hopeless at being husbands as they are hopeful of finding everlasting love.
For the epitome of the type you need look no further than the anti-hero who remains perhaps Cleese’s greatest creation, Basil Fawlty.
Was there ever a more inept husband than Basil? When he proudly remembers their wedding anniversary and organises a surprise party, Sybil - convinced he’s forgotten yet again - storms out on a golfing weekend. Rather than confess to their friends when they arrive for the party, Basil pretends that she’s seriously ill.
His entire life, it seems, is an exercise in hiding his humiliation - and vainly attempting to do something, anything, that will earn him adoration and respect.
Yes, he’s lazy and forgetful. Yet he’s also disarmingly naive and touchingly devoted to his wife. He yearns for her love - but wins only her contempt.
Cleese created a similar character in A Fish Called Wanda. Barrister Archie Leach is married to a harridan and escapes her by falling in love with Wanda, a charming thief who respects his brilliant mind, adores his old-fashioned, innocent courtesy - and is sexually undone by the fact he can speak Russian.
One of the reasons for Fawlty Towers’ enduring success is that so many men sympathise with nagged, misunderstood Basil - just as their wives reluctantly identify worrying aspects of themselves inthe infinitely smarter, sharper, but determinedly unromantic Sybil.
Cleese, who has spent decades in therapy, is clear that his own problems with women can be related directly to his difficult relationship with his mother.
She was, he says, profoundly selfish and neurotic. “I have a history of being rather placatory with women. If you have a mother who is very selfish and you don’t get much attention from her, it sends you the message that you’re not worth it... so you spend a whole lot of time servicing other people, making sure they don’t get cross.”
By “people”, he presumably means wives. For though it sounds obvious, the reality is that too many women get into the habit of constantly carping at their partners.
It may start harmlessly enough, perhaps with a running joke about his inability to mow the lawn or put up a shelf. But the line between complaint and contempt is perilously thin. Before long, the man discovers he’s married Sybil: she doesn’t respect him, far less admire him.
Is it any wonder that he starts to resent her? Hostility penetrates every comment, every action, every sigh. Romance is forgotten and sex an impossibility.
So let’s hear it for the defiantly romantic John Cleese. He’s madly in love with a beautiful woman who says she adores him and seems sweetly protective of him.
It’s fair to assume, for the moment, that far from nagging him, she showers him with hugs and kisses - and in so doing lifts the melancholy that makes him a brilliant comic, but doubtless a difficult husband.
I can only applaud him for his optimism, romanticism and touching faith in the institution of marriage. Yes, he’s old and perhaps he’s being foolish. But my goodness, doesn’t he look happy with it? - Daily Mail