Fawlty Towers 2? John Cleese has a new BBC sitcom – and it starts this weekend

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Having spent decades away from British sitcoms, veteran comedy performer John Cleese is returning to television for a starring role in new retirement comedy, Hold the Sunset.

Cleese’s last major work on a British sitcom was back in 1979, when he wrote and starred in the second series of Fawlty Towers.

He’s mellowed out in the 40 years since then, and it’s the softer, ‘sunset years’ of life that Hold the Sunset is based around.

The set-up is simple. Seventy-somethings Edith (Alison Steadman) and her neighbour Phil (Cleese) live a simple life. She’s been a widow for some years, but her children drop round regularly, and daily visits from old boyfriend Phil make each day a pleasant one. P

hil has ambitions of marrying Edith, whisking her away and emigrating to sunnier climes together; but she’s been turning down his offers for months.

She eventually agrees to a rekindling of their romance, but shortly after saying “yes” to Phil, there’s a knock at the door.

It’s her 50-year old son Roger (Jason Watkins), with an announcement that he’s left his wife and kids, as well as his stable job at the bank. He’s here for a soft reboot on his life, and to find his lost happiness – for Phil and Edith, plans are put on hold.

The show – which will air on Sunday evenings – features a central cast with an average age of 67. And it’s a far cry from the kind of highly-strung, madcap physical comedy you’ll remember from Cleese’s iconic Basil Fawlty character.

But if there’s one actor capable of delivering mocking lines towards people he despises through gritted teeth, it’s John Cleese.

The series – which will run for six half-hour episodes – has worryingly been described by Radio Times as starting “terribly”.

But stick with it perhaps: “once it gets going, there’s a good premise”.

With Oscar-nominated writer Charles McKeown penning the scripts – he co-wrote the screenplays for fellow Python Terry Gilliam’s films Brazil and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – this sleepy-sounding twilight comedy could be a surprise hit.

Though whether it will be as abstract and surreal as those films, remains to be seen.

Hold the Sunset begins on BBC1 tonight (Sunday, February 18), at 7.30pm