John Cleese thinks Mark Twain is responsible for the ''greatest joke'' ever told.

The 80-year-old actor named the iconic writer as one of his dream dinner guests, alongside philosopher David Hume and novelist George Eliot, whose real name was Mary Ann Evans.

Asked which three writers, dead or alive, he'd like to invite to a dinner party, Cleese replied: ''For dinner, I would invite David Hume, George Eliot and Mark Twain.

''Hume not just for his astonishing insights, but because he was an utterly splendid human being. I'd love to hear how he faced death so gracefully. And we could play billiards.

''I'd invite Mary Ann Evans because her writings seem to arise from an astonishing intelligence, which I find quite daunting. I've often had this reaction to writers of non-fiction, but never before to a novelist. Also, she could tell me whether Herbert Spencer was 'hot'.''

Cleese then hailed Twain, suggesting he would bring a unique sense of humour to the occasion.

The 'Fawlty Towers' star told the New York Times newspaper: ''Twain, because he said 'Wagner's music is much better than it sounds', which I think is the greatest joke ever made.

''Twain is never witty in a fastidious way; there's always something gutsy about him.''

Despite his passion for literature, Cleese revealed that his book collection is actually ''scattered all over the planet, like [his] ex-wives''.

The comedy icon - who has been married four times, to Connie Booth, Barbara Trentham, Alyce Cleese and his current wife Jennifer Wade - quipped: ''I have books scattered all over the planet, like my ex-wives.

''When I die, I shall have all the unread ones buried with me. My grave will be called Mount Cleese.''