It’s New Year’s day, 2014. It’s raining buckets outside and has been doing so for the past twenty-four hours. This is not a day to go out for the customary New Year’s Day walk, so instead, I’ve just written out my New Year’s resolutions. They are much the same as last year’s and the year before that and for most years, in fact. They remain the same because I always break them! There’s 'drink less wine and more water', 'earlier to bed and earlier to rise', 'clear out the garage', 'bag a millionaire' and, top of the list, 'write the book!'. I'm determined that this year I'll accomplish at least three of these, starting with the book!
All I needed was a good nudge, which has come from a friend of mine, Peter Jarrette, who lives a few miles away in Brighton and has recently had his own book, 'Brighton Babylon' published. He had a word with his publisher and 'voila!' Having signed the contract, the first person I gave the good news to was my dear, long-standing friend, Lynda La Plante, award winning author and TV script writer, who has been on at me for years to tell my story.
"Fantastic Darling... about time! Is it an autobiography? If so, don’t give TOO much away. Keep something back for your next book".
Dear Lynda. How nice to have friends who have such confidence in me.
So here I sit scribbling notes, searching through files, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, and theatre programs, anything that will jog my fading memory. Unfortunately, I don't have diaries to help me because I stopped keeping one when I was nineteen, thanks to my dear mother, bless her. She did something which I'm sure she must have regretted for the rest of her life. When I became a teenager, which was a very important thing to be in America in the fifties, my mother gave me my first, five-year diary. She told me that I should keep it in a safe place and should never show it to anyone. It must be for my eyes only. I did as she said and felt free to express my most intimate thoughts and deeds in its pages.
Then, when I turned nineteen and was in to my second five-year diary, I came home one day to be confronted by my mother who had searched out the diary and had read it. I was stunned, appalled and deeply upset by this betrayal. My boyfriend at the time was budding actor, Ian McShane and my mother was concerned that our relationship had become too sexual. I wish she'd just asked me. Sobbing my heart out, I grabbed the diary out of her hand and tore it to shreds. I’ve not kept a personal diary since.
Of course, I can always look at my profile on Wikipedia. That should remind me of a few things I’ve forgotten about.
I’ve looked and I did find something I didn't know about myself! Apparently, I'm a 'comedienne'! Honestly, I would never have described myself as that. I just think of myself as a good, all-round actress who’s able to do comedy as well as drama. Anyway, I’ve now added that to my CV. Sounds good! But, as for the rest of the stuff on there, well, I don't know where they get their information from, but a lot of what’s said about me is incorrect and it doesn't really acknowledge my achievements either, as it should do. I have never played 'an extra' role in anything... just the opposite, in fact! I was fortunate enough to be given featured or leading roles on stage and television right from the start of my career.
So, I guess now is my chance to set the records straight. And so I shall! On the following pages, you'll find my show-business story, with some personal stuff thrown in, of course. There will be humour and revelations (I'm not sure I CAN hold anything back!) and lots of lovely photos you’ve never seen before! There will be drama, pathos, gun fire and flashing lights!!
Err... sorry... I got a bit carried away there. I came over all Pythonesque for a moment. It happens occasionally.
Now, where was I?
I started writing that Prologue on New Year’s Day, 2014. I then wrote nearly every day, all day for the next fourteen weeks. Yes, that’s how long it took me! Well, I'd been given a deadline, you see. My now publisher had hoped to have it out in time to flog at London’s O2 Arena during the Python farewell performances later that year. Sadly, that wasn't going to happen, as only Python memorabilia and merchandise was on sale.
But I'm actually grateful for the pressure I was under to get it finished so quickly. I discovered that not only can I write... which I was pretty sure I could... but I could also be disciplined enough to do it... which I wasn't sure I could be. My biggest worry was that I had no time to prepare or even think about what my book would be! Would it be my autobiography? Then my publisher gave me the news... one third of the book had to be about PYTHON. Ah... right! Then my book would have to be my 'Mémoires'... not just my show-biz ones though, but also my loves and loses, my highs and lows. So, here it is... and who knows, maybe I'll find the time to write the full story later on!
Here are some little excerpts from the book to hopefully wet your appetite!
Sadly, there was one thing I left RADA without... my boyfriend, Ian McShane. He and I had parted company a few months earlier, not long after the premier of his first film, The Wild and the Willing. Ian had been given leave, along with John Hurt, to make the film. It was so exciting at the time, for both of us. He went off to film and I continued with my studies. About two weeks later he came back for a weekend break. It was all very romantic and we even discussed possible marriage for the first time. Everything was rosy! But the next time I saw him, after filming had completed, something had changed in him. He said that he was going to be so busy with filming now that he couldn't even think about marriage and maybe we could just stay friends. I was devastated and utterly heart-broken. He was a film-star now and I was just a drama student who had no place in his new world...
The most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me on stage occurred during a rehearsal, thank God, and not in front of an audience! I was on tour in the play Dirty Linen when the other actors and I were called in to the theatre early, to tidy up a scene. I played 'Miss Gotobed' - No... not type-casting! While in my dressing room, I got the call to come to the stage straight away in costume. We rehearsed the scene where my skirt accidently gets ripped off, leaving me in my bra, knickers, suspender belt and stockings. We finished the scene and the others applauded! Only then did I realise that, in my haste I'd forgotten to put my knickers on! Fellow actor, Derren Nesbitt had been sitting in the front row watching the scene and beaming away! Now I knew why! “Why didn't you tell me Derren?! Why didn't somebody tell me?!” “We thought you knew... and I was thinking what a game girl you are!” He then added, “Well, now I know you’re a genuine redhead”.
I was then introduced to Warren Beatty, who tapped the empty seat next to him and invited me to join them for lunch. So, here I was sitting next to the biggest Hollywood lothario in the business! I had no thoughts as to what might come of it - I was simply enjoying the moment while it lasted. He was, as expected, an absolute charmer, oozing with sexuality, with a wicked smile that any woman would want to press her lips against. He was showing a great interest in my career and, on top of that, he seemed to find me attractive. What more could a girl ask for?! Lunch over... the first assistant arrived to tell Warren that he was needed back on set for a wardrobe check. I was expecting to say goodbye, but instead Warren invited me to come onto the set and watch a bit of filming... I went with him to his trailer in the far corner. Having chosen a shirt to wear, the first assistant popped his head around the door to say that he’d call back for Warren in about twenty minutes. Warren then closed the door and said to me: “Good... twenty minutes... plenty of time.” He then walked over to where I was sitting, pulled me to my feet and kissed me. I wasn't at all prepared for this - and certainly not for what happened next!
A few years later I was offered a role in the film Vampira, which starred David Niven. I had two scenes with him and was required to drive in both of them. I had time to brush up on my stick-shifting, so my agent and I confidently accepted the job. In this comedy/horror spoof, David plays a modern day, gentleman Dracula and I play a young woman who he saves from being assaulted in an underground car park. After the thug has scarpered, I thank the Count, get into my car and drive a few yards before stopping and reversing back again to offer him a lift. Well... I jerked forward for the first two takes, but was forgiven, as I wasn't used to the car. On the third attempt however, I took off so fast that I only just managed to stop in time before smashing into a wall! After a few gasps from the crew, David came over to me and said, “Darling girl... you do have a licence to drive, yes?” “YES... a learner’s licence.” “In that case, would you mind awfully if we let the stunt lady do the reverse drive back to me? It’s just that I'm needed for the rest of the film”.
One evening I went with the Python boys to a highly recommended steak house, but no-one had told us how classy it was. We arrived to find candelabra on the tables and waiters in black tie and tails. I was dressed up, but the boys were dressed down in their usual 'Can't-be-bothered' attire and received a Basil Fawlty look of disdain throughout the evening. Terry Jones perused the wine list and enquired about the price of a fine burgundy. “It’s rather expensive” came the reply. This pretentiousness was not going over well! When our steaks had all been placed on the table, Terry G grinned widely and promptly picked his up and plonked it on top of his head! After a moment’s stunned silence, Terry J smiled and did the same thing. We didn't bother to stay for dessert - not that we were offered one!
A month later, Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford came into the club, but not as members. They came to do some casting for a feature film that they were about to start working on together called Salt and Pepper. They were at the Playboy Club to find nine actresses to play the Salt and Pepper Girls and I was to be one of them. As soon as I’d signed my contract I left the bunny warren for good! As a teenager, I’d always been a great fan of the 'Rat Pack', but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I’d be working with any of them. Now, here I was working with two of them! The whole experience was like one big crazy party - A party I'll never forget!
These photos were taken in April 2016, two years after the launch of the book, so you can imagine how pleasing it was to walk into the UK’s biggest and best known book store, Waterstones and see my book sandwiched between such luminaries as Sir John Gielgud and Sir Michael Caine on the 'Star Turns' table! It reads, 'From the Golden Age of Hollywood to the Nouvell Vague, film is filled with magnificent characters. Here they are:' My publisher happened to be with me at the time and it definitely brought a smile to HIS face.
I had two book launches... one at the London home of Lady Colin Campbell and a second one in my then home town, Brighton. This was followed by an amazing publicity campaign covering just about every major radio station, TV channel and magazine. I made my first appearance on Breakfast TV, both BBC and ITV, but my favourite interview was with the lovely Lorraine Kelly. Click on the image below to see the interview on ITV Player.
Peter Jarrette, who conducted the interviews in the book with the Pythons arranged a glamour photo shoot with a local photographer, Melissa Buchanan. The photos are very flattering! This is my favourite one, which appears in the book and here in HELLO! magazine. There’s more on my GALLERY Page.
A British newspaper, THE MAIL ON SUNDAY serialised the book in its EVENT magazine giving it
a two-page spread and reviewing it as "Entertaining and charming".
Click here to view the full feature.
REVIEWS ON AMAZON
A MUST-READ FOR ALL MONTY PYTHON FANS!!
By Jeff Krasner on 7 Aug. 2014
Not only an extraordinary look at the life of the 7th (and best looking) Python, but that
of a wonderful life in the performing arts.
Ms. Cleveland holds nothing back in her wonderful tale of life and love from the U.K. to USA and back.
Loads of great photos as well. Highly recommended reading!
By Mojaximus on 14 Jun. 2014
A surprisingly candid insight into life as a Python. I really enjoyed the 'other stuff' - all the deeper understanding of the author’s experiences that lead her through a busy life. The book is highly anecdotal (which I like) and goes to show how mad and maddening life can be. I read this because a friend recommended it and I'm glad they did.
clearly has succeeded in making her own luck...
By David Bailey on 27 July 2014
No deep insights here into Carols psyche. Just the usual highlights of her life and a few lowlights. She has been very lucky, but clearly has succeeded in making her own luck by the good old strategy of listening to what is needed and working very hard to deliver it at the right time and in the right place. Obviously a true professional who had no problem realising what is needed to get on. The Python anecdotes are, of course, very good and help to recall the magic they all had when they first burst upon an unsuspecting BBC. But there is so much more in this book about Carol and the life of a young and attractive female actor negotiating the precarious and exploitative entertainment industry.
A MUST READ for Python fans and an excellent showbiz biography through the 60s and 70s
By Diana Kalethon 5 September 2014
This book is loaded with fascinating gossip, from someone who was at the heart of the Monty Python experience. The anecdotes are PRICELESS. A MUST READ for Python fans and an excellent showbiz biography through the 60s and 70s, warm, humorous and surprisingly engaging.
A fascinating peek into the inner life of the Pythons!
By Mr. W. E. Roberts on 19 Aug. 2015
Very entertaining read. Carol writes fluently and her stories are engaging and -- especially in the case of her many years spent with the Python boys -- revelational, giving clear insights into the way the group played together both onstage and off, and into the peculiarities, strengths and weaknesses of the characters of each of her Python colleagues, all done with the greatest respect and affection. Carol’s own working life is a fascinating tale, from her early years growing up in California, through her RADA training, and on to her work onstage and on television and in films -- even with a stint as a Playboy Bunny -- with a number of romantic interludes along the way! Never a dull moment in this roller-coaster ride of a life. And she’s still at it! Highly recommended.
PomPoms Up! is a must read
By Susan Starr on 17 Jun. 2014
This book reveals the insight of a glamourous beauty queen turned amazing actress and the
The book is written as if Carol was speaking to you. It is easy to read and I had quite a few smiles and laughs with Carol in her antedotes of her experiences.
This is a perfect summer read - don't miss out buy today.
A must read for Python fans
By Roberton 9 July 2014
A must have for any Python fan and or Carol Cleveland fan. So well written, this is a new and facinating perspecitive on the Python world as well as Carol’s own carear. Brilliant!
I hope you'll all be rushing out to buy the book now! There’s several ways you can do that. In the UK it’s at WATERSTONES book shops and some smaller shops too, like CITY BOOKS in Brighton. If you’re a Daily Mail reader, go through their Book Club at mailbookshop.co.uk or you can get it on Amazon UK or Amazon USA... hardcopy or kindle. However, if you’d like a signed, personalised copy you can order it through my website. Just email me for details.