While I was researching for a fun blog to write, I came across a uniquely named rubbish dump and thought the story behind it was worth writing about.

Known to Kiwi audiences for playing eccentric characters in the Monty Python movies, “Life of Brian”, “Meaning of Life”, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” as well as his most successful comedy, “A Fish Called Wanda”, British comedian John Cleese is known for speaking his mind no matter if his comments insult or praise. In the case of Palmerston North, he suggested that the North Island city was a good place to kill yourself.

In November 2005, Cleese, hugely popular at the time for playing Basil Faulty in the hit 1970s TV series “Faulty Towers”, (which had a number of repeat screenings) came on a stage tour of New Zealand. His comments about the country were mostly positive. He called Invercargill “delightful,” described Christchurch as “a very nice town,” and Wellington as “sophisticated, fun and lively.” The comments he made about Palmerston North, however, did not impress the people of this landlocked city. A few months after visiting it John declared during a podcast about his New Zealand tour, Palmerston North to be “the suicide capital of New Zealand.” If that wasn’t harsh enough, he had more derogatory remarks. “We stayed in a little motel. The weather was grotty, the theatre was a nasty shape and the audience was very strange to play to.” He concluded by saying that he had a “thoroughly bloody miserable time” in the city, and suggested that “if you wish to kill yourself but lack the courage to, I think a visit to Palmerston North will do the trick.”


Initial reaction was fairly good humoured. The mayor of Palmerston North at the time, Heather Tanguay, suggested the Monty Python star “may need some more medication,” light heartedly referring to the name of his tour, “My Life, Time and Current Medical Problems.” But it was a suggestion by New Zealand comedian John Clarke, better known in New Zealand as his farmer character, Fred Dagg, that set things in motion. John was born in Palmerston North, and his response to the Cleese insults had quite an impact on Kiwis. At the time, John suggested renaming the local Awapuni Landfill as the John Cleese Memorial Tip, with the catchy tag-line “All manner of crap happily recycled.” After 18 months of debating the issue, the Palmerston North council decided to re-name their city rubbish dump with the catchy title of Mt. Cleese.

Mt. Cleese is no longer the city’s main rubbish dump. It is currently used as a waste minimization centre and for large deposits of compost with the mound of rubbish reaching the impressive height of 45.2m (147ft) above sea level, an altitude that shifts depending on how much crap they dump on Cleese.


One person who certainly got a kick out of the rubbish dump joke was John Cleese’s fellow Monty Python actor and long-term friend Eric Idle who appeared alongside John in the Monty Python movies. He visited Palmerston North’s rubbish dump in March 2016 and posted a photo of himself on Twitter standing beside the Mt. Cleese sign. “I summited without oxygen,” he wrote, laughing whole heartedly at the fittingly zany tribute to his friend.

Those born this century don’t know about the unique antics of Monty Python or who John Cleese is so the Mt. Cleese sign means nothing to them. However, those who remember the comedian’s savage comments about Palmerston North also know the story behind the sign which when they see it, reminds them that his comments were nothing more than a pile of rubbish!

Today, 80 year old John Cleese has given up comedy and instead travels to various countries attending motivational seminars. In 2019, he undertook 44 weeks of live shows around the northern hemisphere. He admits he finds the constantly changing content of these seminars stimulating, unlike comedy where the same gags are repeated over and over. As for his home country, he got so fed up with all the “lying and triviality” in the British media over Brexit that he abandoned England and in 2019 he moved to the island of Nevis in the Caribbean with a population of just 11,000. “It’s one of the most beautiful islands I have ever been to. The relationship between the races is absolutely superb. The people there are really kind.” he said, adding that he enjoys life there where it is ‘safe and beautiful.’ Seems the grumpy old man who rubbished Palmerston North 16 years ago has found peace and contentment. It would be safe to say, with these flattering comments, he is in no danger of the local dump on Nevis being named in his honour.

Ceidrik Heward

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