John Cleese was born in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, England to Reginald Francis Cleese and Muriel Cross. His family's surname was previously "Cheese", but his father, an insurance salesman, changed his surname to "Cleese" upon joining the army in 1915.
As a boy, Cleese was educated at Clifton College in Bristol, from which he was expelled for a humourous defacing of school grounds: he used painted footsteps to suggest that the school's statue of Field Marshal Earl Haig had got down from his plinth and gone to the toilet. His talent for comedy progressed with his membership of the Cambridge Footlights Revue while he was studying for a law degree at Downing College at Cambridge University. Here he met his future writing partner Graham Chapman. As Cleese's comic reputation grew, he was soon offered a position as a writer with BBC Radio, where he worked on several programs, most notably as a sketch writer for The Dick Emery Show. The success of the Footlights Revue led to the recording of a short series of half-hour radio programmes, called I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again, which was so popular that the BBC commissioned a regular series with the same title. He then joined the Cambridge Revue, Cambridge Circus, for a tour of New Zealand and Broadway in September 1964, and decided to stay on in America performing on and off-Broadway, including in the musical Half a Sixpence. It was during this time he met future Python Terry Gilliam and his future wife, American actress Connie Booth, whom he married on 20th February 1968.