Fitting John Cleese

(From my memoir ‘ To Paris for lunch’)

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Looking back at the time when I worked for Academy Costumes, I wished I’d known beforehand who these people were who kept coming in and out of Adrian’s studio, but maybe I would have been so star struck, it might have changed my attitude towards them and the work I was doing. So I just treated everybody the same, and saw everything as a really exciting job opportunity I was lucky enough to be part of, and focused purely on learning and working as hard as possible and producing the best results I could.

I remember Adrian asking me to make and fit John Cleese’s safari suit. This was for a TV ad and John had to look like a typical tourist, who had just returned from an exotic holiday. Without knowing him, and only his measurements in front of me, I was puzzled to make sense of them. I kept asking if those were really the correct measurements of ‘this man’?

Margaret, one of the ladies who were assisting Adrian looked at the sheet.

‘Yes, these are John’s measurements.’

Returning back to my table with the colourful cloth laid out ready to be chalked out, I kept shaking my head.  Somebody must have made a mistake. What strange proportions, he must have incredibly long legs! I was really concerned as I did not want to make a mistake. I went back into Adrian office and asked him.

‘Adrian, I think there is something not right with the measurements I have for the safari suit.’

‘What? Why?’
‘Well, according to this’, I was holding the sheet with his details in my hand, ‘he must have an incredibly long body on top of incredibly long legs!’
‘Yes, fucking right he has! It’s John Cleese isn’t it, don’t you know John Cleese?!’

Adrian’s English came with an edition of swearing. It wasn’t like he was swearing at you, it was just part of every sentence.  So for example: ‘Where is my passport?’ became ‘Where is my fucking passport?’

And it was impossible not to get infected by this. After working for him for six months, I started to swear like an east end tramp. When I returned to Glyndebourne for the following summer season, I had to work hard to try and eliminate the effings and blindings out of my vocabulary.

‘No, sorry, I don’t!’
I blushed and turned around stubbornly and went back to my table and started cutting the suit.


A few days later, John turned up for his fitting. He and Adrian went into the fitting room and a short while later I was asked to join them to pin the hems on his shirt and shorts. He really was huge and looked so strange with such a serious face in this fun outfit.

After discussing the length of his shorts, Adrian excused himself and left the fitting room. I kneeled down to pin his shorts carefully and put my hand to the inside of the hem so that I would not prick him with a pin. I was concentrating and he was watching me in the reflection of the mirror. I felt a little nervous as he was very quiet and stern.
Suddenly he burst out loudly,
‘You touched my leg!’
‘I am so sorry!’ I pulled my hand away quickly. Oh my god, he is so weird, why did nobody warn me?

Carefully, I continued to pin the hem, but it was impossible not to touch him. I started to sweat.
‘There! You did it again! You keep touching my leg!’
‘I am sorry, but it’s difficult not to!’
By now my hands were shaking. I tried to pin the hem without holding my hand underneath, but that didn’t work at all.
Suddenly he shouted.
‘Ouch! And now you’ve pricked me! Adrian, can you come in please!’
I panicked.
‘But I didn’t! I really was very careful!’ I was mortified and annoyed. I was sure I didn’t prick him and I began to dislike this guy, whoever he was, famous or not!

To my surprise Adrian walked in with tears of laughter running down his face and so did Margaret, and John Cleese’s stern look turned into a big smile. He took my hand and apologised profusely for having made fun of me.

Adrian said,
‘Sorry Nicole, it was just too fucking tempting to play a little joke on you when I found out you had no idea who John is!’

Still, I didn’t get it. Puzzled I left the fitting room. Only months later, when I watched an episode of Faulty Towers, did I understand what went on in that fitting room and I am very grateful to John that he didn’t ‘mention the war’ to me.


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