back to article 20 years on: The satirist's satirist Peter Cook remembered

It is 20 years since his death – and 50 years since his first comeback – but the reputation of the UK’s most influential comic and satirist, Peter Cook, is beginning to fade. Phil Strongman attempts to put the record straight ... Last year saw John Cleese receive the accolade of being voted the greatest British comedian of all …

  1. jason 7 Silver badge

    Oh god yes....

    ...the Derek & Clive video is a once only watch. Like a car crash in painful slow motion.

    Like watching a marriage break up. If you see it though, you can imagine that Cook could be a bully. He goads Moore throughout the session in a less than friendly manner. Sadness? Frustration at Moore soon to be departing across the pond leaving him behind? We'll never know.

    Also it blows a few myths too. Moore turns up to the session with nothing more than a bag of fruit. Whereas Cook has a pile of notes/material ready to go. So not surprising Moore can only react and ad-lib to what Cook says on that occasion. Not as spontaneous/off the cuff as many have alluded to.

    Don't know if that was the case for all the D&C sessions, possibly not.

    Cook was still a genius and I was mortified this day 20 years ago. I can't remember who said it (possibly Fry actually) to crush criticism that Cook had wasted the last 20 years of his life but they said (iirc) "He didn't waste the last years of his life, he had just done everything he set out to do, far earlier than planned!"

    1. Andrew Moore

      Re: Oh god yes....

      I understood he only wanted the last D&C session so he could swear repeatedly at Dud for daring to be a bigger star in Hollywood than he was...

    2. Phuq Witt
      Headmaster

      Re: Oh god yes....

      "...Cook was still a genius and I was *mortified* this day 20 years ago..."

      I don't think that word means what you think it means...

      ...or what 99% of the population seem to think it means, come to that.

  2. graeme leggett

    "greatest British comedian of all time "

    Ronnie Barker.

    1. ThomH Silver badge

      Re: "greatest British comedian of all time "

      What a blessed generation the baby boomers must be, to have had both candidates for greatest British comedian of all time amongst their ranks.

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: "greatest British comedian of all time "

      Too many to choose from. Barker was brilliant but there was also Tommy Handley, Max Miller, Spike Milligan, Tommy Cooper, Les Dawson, Morecambe and Wise, Peter Cook, etc. All of them have had me incapacitated with laughter in their time.

      It was nice to see Peter Cook get some work from later comedians: Mr Jolly Lives Next Door is, in my view, the best of The Comic Strip films; Chris Morris' heavily ad-libbed interviews of Cook as Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebly.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "greatest British comedian of all time "

        Tommy Cooper could just walk on and stand still and people would be laughing in anticipation.

        As said too many too choose from and a nod to the people behind many of them such as Barry Cryer.

        1. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: "greatest British comedian of all time "

          Upvote for this. Just reading "Tommy Cooper could just walk on and stand still and people would be laughing in anticipation." has me smirking.

          1. Jyve

            Re: "greatest British comedian of all time "

            You're not the only one. That bloke was comedy incarnate. Can't think of anyone else who could walk onto a set, stare at a chair, and get a response like he could, you yourself would have all the things going through your mind on what he was going to say, to then be surprised when he pointed out something obvious you'd not thought off.

            Even the show he died, I have to admit, I was giggling as it happened as I thought it was all a setup. Even the curtain being shaken around with his feet sticking out, you couldn't have set something like that up to be as funny. What a way for a comedian to go.

        2. Titus Aduxass

          Re: "greatest British comedian of all time "

          "and a nod to the people behind many of them such as Barry Cryer."

          And for goodness sake do not forget Eric Sykes. Massive contributions to (other people's) comedy for 40 years.

      2. Titus Aduxass

        Re: "greatest British comedian of all time "

        "Too many to choose from. Barker was brilliant but there was also Tommy Handley, Max Miller, Spike Milligan, Tommy Cooper, Les Dawson, Morecambe and Wise, Peter Cook, etc."

        Spike Milligan, the greatest British comedian of all time? I don't think so.

        He was Irish.

        1. graeme leggett

          Re: "greatest British comedian of all time "

          "He was Irish"

          Anglo-Irish, and certainly British enough to serve in the RA. Only Irish nationality after bureaucracy intervened (to put it politely) and he ended up 'stateless'.

          Thinking on it. The forgotten Goon was Anglo-Peruvian.

          And Sid James was South African born English, which with Bill Kerr the South African-born Australian made Hancock's Half Hour quite international.

          1. DocJames

            Re: "greatest British comedian of all time "

            "He was Irish"

            Paraphrasing the man himself.

            Fan [approaching]: can I shake the hand of the greatest living Englishman?

            Spike: I'm Irish.

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: "greatest British comedian of all time "

        "Tommy Handley, Max Miller, Spike Milligan, Tommy Cooper, Les Dawson, Morecambe and Wise, Peter Cook"

        And let's remember Lance Percival as another of the greats of that time.

        Then there were some great singers who appeared on those shows, Millicent Martin, Cleo Laine, Marion Montgomery, Annie Ross...Duds reduced a few of those to laughter if they were brave enough to duet with him.

        We just didn't realise how lucky we were.

        1. Kristian Walsh

          Spike, Re: "greatest British comedian of all time "

          "British enough to serve in the RA". Milligan was born in India, but his father's place of birth was in Ireland, then (1918) a part of the United Kingdom. The family moved to England in the 1920s, so as a British resident, he was conscripted into the British Army in 1939 and served for six years.

          However, Milligan was never entitled to automatic British citizenship, and once India became an independent country, his automatic right to a British passport was cast into doubt, and he eventually became stateless. After a long, long battle around his refusal to swear the Oath of Allegiance (out of stubbornness, and the not unreasonable argument that six years service in the Army should count as prior proof of allegiance to the Crown), he exercised his right to Irish citizenship: Ireland's law gave him an automatic right to citizenship as the child of a British citizen born in Ireland before 1922, but British rules required him to have been born in the UK too.

          Spike always considered himself Irish, but never lived in Ireland. However, his grave carries the Irish inscription "dúirt mé leat go raibh mé broite" ... "I told you I was ill" (the council refused to allow the English version)

      4. Deryk Barker

        Re: "greatest British comedian of all time "

        That's Streeb-GreebLING (or possibly Greeb-Streebling).

      5. Mark 65

        Re: "greatest British comedian of all time "

        Yes who could forget Les Dawson's little dittys and those wonderful piano pieces full of majestically ballsed up notes.

  3. Amorous Cowherder
    Pint

    Born a little too late to really appreciate Cook my first recollection of seeing him was in the Comic Strip's "Mr Jolly Lives Next Door", Cook playing the psychotic murder/assassin of the title.

    I think a lot of people must have really appreciated Cook's talent, even the so-called at the time, alternative comedians of the Comic Strip obviously thought a lot of his comedic talent to ask him to take on a title role in one of their plays.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      2000 Gin and tonics

      Mr Jolly Lives Next Door - Cook at his sneering best somehow managing to shine amongst the Dangerous Brothers.

      The man was an absolute genius.

      Make them large ones!

      1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: 2000 Gin and tonics

        A great script, and great directing from Stephen Frears made the ensemble piece work: Peter Richardson's portrayal of Mr Lovebucket was outstanding but it all clicked. But really, with the premise of getting Nicholas Parsons to fly in by helicopter to open Heimi Henderson's off-licence, what could go wrong?

        "Do you know Mr Jolly?"

        "Know him? He borrows our Fairy Liquid!"

  4. Jim Lewis

    I'd suggest Ad Nauseum as the best insight into just how far Derek and Clive pushed the comedic boundaries. I still quote from D and C today, (to blank looks of course).

    'I said you C*nt', etc...

    Classic stuff. Everything else is tame by comparison.

    1. jason 7 Silver badge

      My girlfriend and I have taken one as one of our most used phrases.

      "And I said...with all the dignity I could muster...is this any way to run a f****ing (insert whatever here)?!

      However, Cook was quite the visionary. How long before we actually have a reality TV show called 'Celebrity Suicides'?

      1. Lapun Mankimasta

        "However, Cook was quite the visionary. How long before we actually have a reality TV show called 'Celebrity Suicides'?"

        YES!!! Exactly what the world needs! And "Blow Your Tits Off" too! I can't wait until the US Presidency is decided by which presidential candidate's tits go highest!

    2. Andy 66

      And The W*nker's coming with a late run!

      ...and now it's back to topless darts at Roehampton.

  5. AbelSoul

    Lobsters...

    From Jayne Mansfield's arsehole.

    As performed by a pair of chimpanzees

    "Worst job I ever 'ad..."

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: Lobsters...

      Thanks for the link.

    2. Barry Rueger

      Re: Lobsters...

      More years ago than can be counted a bartender pal played me that record. I have never forgot that line....

  6. Christoph Silver badge

    And don't forget

    The Impressive Clergyman

    Mawaige!

  7. Steve Mann

    Bah!

    Not foam, but "a vat of BBC gunge".

    I remember the John Betjeman/Dudley Moore improvisational poem-off that ended with everyone dumped in the gunge (as the sessions always did), with Dudley Moore hurtling in in mid-spate and surfacing still continuing his poem.

  8. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Joke

    Hello *

    My lifelong wish remains a Frobisher and Gleason raspberry flavour ice lolly.

    * "What do you mean, "Hello"?"

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hello *

      I'd have bought you one but I only have a million pound note.

  9. Snar

    Our cats are named Derek and Clive :)

  10. Gannettt

    My brother gave me a copy of Harry Thompson's biography of Peter Cook, a genuine must-read for Cook fans. My take-away was that Dudley Moore was the star, really, but Peter Cook, being tall and handsome, was a formidable presence. It was sad to read about Cook's decline in the 70s and into the 80s, with a disastrous chat show called "Where Do I Sit?", and his tragic death just as he was bouncing back in the 90s.

    I love the 1967 Bedazzled. I had the DVD at work, and put it on while doing some envelope stuffing. The mail man came in just as the scene where Dudley Moore ineptly tries to seduce Eleanor Bron started - he must have wondered what the hell i was watching!

    1. jason 7 Silver badge

      One of the most memorable things I remember from TV in the 80's was watching the night Joan Rivers had Bernard Manning on that chat show with Cook as her weekly 'stooge' sitting on the end of the sofa.

      Manning walks on, sits down, turns grinning to a grimacing Cook and says "What's the matter Peter? You're not being very funny tonight!"

      Cook....crushed. I think it's in YouTube.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Cook's decline in the 70s and into the 80s

      He did come back from that though. Cook did some low-key but still brilliant stuff later. His "Sven from Swiss Cottage" phone calls to LBC were hilarious.

      In the early 90s one of last appearances was on the Clive Anderson show where he played all four guests. I watched again it a couple of weeks ago and it's still excellent.

      1. Ed

        You can hear one of the calls here: http://www.lbc.co.uk/peter-cooks-sven-from-norway-calls-clive-bull-76357

  11. Alfie Noakes
    Coat

    Er, i'm keeping quiet here ;)

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The original Bedazzled

    It's a sign of how the intellectual content of films has declined over the years. The original film stuck pretty close to Catholic theology - the Devil as the father of lies - so that you could read it equally as a send up of religion or a modern reinterpretation of it. (The same is true of the Life of Brian, which can be read two ways.) Modern films seem much cruder.

    1. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: The original Bedazzled

      Absolutely. One of my favourite films. I love the brilliant little touches in each vignette, such as Peter Cook offering Dud a long spoon when they sit down to eat, and Pete pointing out that the "innocent, sweet little old lady" was quite happy to participate in fraud.

      Some days, just reading the news makes me want to blow a raspberry and shout "Julie Andrews" in the vain hope of something better.

      I've never understood why the so-called profession film critics seem to rate this film so poorly. They're all f****** c**** I suppose.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The original Bedazzled

        Probably no brown envelopes in it. (I can't speak with certainty for film critics, but a former colleague who worked for EMI for many years had hair raising stories of the bribery and corruption in the music industry, including assistants being sent out to buy cocaine for influential DJs, and large amounts of cash being stuffed into envelopes before parties.)

    2. keithpeter
      Windows

      Re: The original Bedazzled

      Yup, I was actually reading Dr Faustas (the Marlowe) play when I first saw a (repeat) of Bedazzled. Very close. The postbox adulation scene had me in stitches...

  13. bert_fe

    We humans are driven by art, music and philosophy to think about our current condition. Satire is part of this. The absurdity of our existence is reflected in the musings of Derek and Clive.

    The only thing that really works is science. Not much inherent humour there though just hard work.

    I find any organised religion a pathetic cop out to our real job i.e. to understand ourselves and the rest of the Universe.

    We are all groping in the dark for understanding and meaning to our lives. Peter Cook was one of many beacons that shone some light in my youth.

    Life is a sexually transmitted terminal disease or a journey to be enjoyed not endured. Remember it is NOT the destination. We all know what that is! Bert

    1. jason 7 Silver badge

      And remember, the considerate lover always spits up the c....

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cook had that self-destructive edge that makes a comedian more unpredictable and so both funnier and scarier (see Bill Hicks, Andy Kaufman).

    That makes them big box office for a short period before they scare/offend the networks and become fringe cult viewing while the Dudley Moores and the Steve Martins of this world become film stars.

    I do think that the latter group are often as quick witted but are ultimately less compelling viewing because they're less likely to go off on a complete tangent that either sets the audience on fire or burns the house down. It's also why Paul McCartney is inevitably less rock and roll than Jim Morrisson, but why he's lived to a ripe old age and made a fortune.

  15. Scroticus Canis
    Unhappy

    Jump into this 'ere blanket, we'll catch you.....

    ...laugh? I nearly shat!

    Those were the days.

    1. Bloodbeastterror

      Re: Jump into this 'ere blanket, we'll catch you.....

      I think you'll find that was Dud - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZEEgIti8sM

      Blasphemy - I never ever got Cook. He seemed a self-absorbed man who made me laugh only once, in the Tarzan sketch: "I've got nothing against your right leg..."

  16. Trollslayer Silver badge

    Cracking up

    They used to try and get each other to crack up and that made things even better.

    Painfully funny and brilliantly observed.

  17. The Mighty Spang

    brilliant things you forgot to mention

    Cook on Clive Anderson talks back

    Cook in the Rik & Ake film 'Mr Jolly Lives Next Door', with the classic lines:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zs3s30t5duw (language, Timothy!)

    oh and BTW greatest british comic - Spike Milligan. Influenced everybody bloody else that has been mentioned here....

    1. Mike Bell

      Re: brilliant things you forgot to mention

      Yeah, he was brilliant on Clive James' show, appearing on TV after quite a long hiatus as a trio (IIRC) of alter egos. He pretended to be some crazed UFO spotter as well as a completely useless football manager with the catchphrase 'Dare to Fail', so funny. His 'diseased penis' also had me in stitches. Apparently, it needed 'regular massage to get rid of the pus'. Genius.

  18. hitmouse

    There's a great radio interview with Brian Eno where he claimed that he hasn't had a phone conversation with David Bowie in 20yrs which wasn't carried on as them doing Pete and Dud. Eno provides spot on impersonations to illustrate.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cook was good but Morris is better

    I think he edits the wiki as well

    'Minister for Child Protection Beverley Hughes described the show as "unspeakably sick" but later admitted she had not seen the episode. Home Secretary David Blunkett said that he was "dismayed" but had also not seen the episode, because he was on holiday in Majorca at the time and is blind'

  20. paulf Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Whoops Apocalypse

    I'm glad you mentioned Whoops Apocalypse as it is one of the finest and funniest British films made (IMO etc). Cook's portrayal of Rt Hon Sir Mortimer Chris MP - a ruthless and mentally deranged Conservative Prime Minster from the 1980s* who will stop at nothing to achieve his aims - is chilling when you realise he is, quite calmly and seriously, doing some utterly outrageous things** as if they're perfectly normal while a sycophantic populace cheers him where ever he goes.

    It takes a satirical look at the Falklands and the Cuban missile crisis (among others), while the USA pokes it's nose in at every turn making things worse. David Renwick co-wrote the film so a pre-One Foot in the Grave Richard Wilson makes an appearance too.

    "It is the policy of this Conservative government that it is morally wrong to spend billions of pounds on Nuclear weapons that are never used".

    "You can't show you're strong, without showing you're tough. And you can't show you're tough, without blowing people up."

    * And of course entirely fictitious...

    ** One of the best being when Sir Mortimer publicly crucifies two of his ministers in Wembley stadium for their failures.

    Icon: Plot spoiler alert...

  21. Deryk Barker

    And nobody has mentioned his fabulous appearance as Richard III in The Black Adder.

    I can still remember cracking up at the great E.L Wisty on The Braden Beat, over fifty years ago now.

    "Hello, we're from the World Domination League, may we dominate you?"

  22. ecofeco Silver badge

    Superthunderstingcar

    Nailed it. Wow. Very impressed with their ability to recreate the puppet action, let alone the entire pace and style of Thunderbirds.

    Real talent there. (seriously)

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