The Peter Cook Tribute – A beginner’s guide to a comedy genius – Part 2 – The 1970s

“I thought up the Seven Deadly Sins in one afternoon. The only thing I’ve come up with recently is advertising.”

In many ways, the 70s proved to be a difficult time for Peter Cook professionally and mentally. With the success of the 60s came the depression of the 70s. The 70s saw the end to his partnership with Dudley Moore and Cook’s alcoholism take hold.

The 70s began with the final series of Not Only...But Also being aired, this time in colour. The series was a great success but, unfortunately, like the previous two series, the majority of the seven episodes were wiped by the BBC who recycled the film. Peter and Dudley had asked the BBC if they could buy them from them and they would even buy replacement film. However Auntie was an institution that was not aware of what it had and along with Doctor Who, Dad’s Army, The Likely Lad’s and Adam Adamant they just wiped a large number of episodes.

Peter’s solo film; The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer, was released in November 1970 and the reviews were mixed. Although critics agree there are some hilarious scenes they aren’t strung together into a story that flows easily. 

The BBC and America wanted more series of Not Only…But Also. American TV studios wanted to do 26 new episodes but Peter felt like he’d been there and done that. He’d achieved all he could in this format. The next step had been filmed but with the failure of Michael Rimmer that wasn’t going to progress.

After the unsuccessful solo film Peter turned his attention to television again but this time in 1971 it was in the form of a talk show. He hosted the short-lived “Where Do I Sit?” This was in direct response to David Frost being hailed “the king of the chat show” and so Cookie thought he was funnier and quicker-witted than Frost so why not host a chat show? Unfortunately for us (perhaps fortunately for Peter) all three episodes that were filmed, before it was cancelled, have been wiped. He also sang a song at the start of the first episode imitating Johnny Cash, which by all accounts was horrendous. Later in life, Peter sent himself up regarding the experience saying that he didn’t have enough interest in people to ask them questions, and the questions he did ask were “who are you?”. Once the show was cancelled the BBC carried on a new talk show with Michael Parkinson and the rest, as they say, is history.

“I haven’t seen you since, er, when was it? Er, that’s right we haven’t seen each other before”

Cook and Moore have reunited again in 1971 in of all places Australia. After the chat show, they both got away to film some old sketches and a few new ones for Australian TV with Barry Humphreys. This led to an offer from a promotor in Australia to tour a show. They’d had similar offers in the 60s from America but with nothing on the horizon, they jumped at the opportunity to get out of the country and do something different. They set about writing a new show, containing some quite dark material. My favourite sketch from this is “Hello”. 

They left for Australia in September 1971 for the “Behind the Fridge” tour, a pun on the title of the show which had first propelled them to fame. It included old sketches from “Beyond the Fringe”, sketches from their series and new sketches written especially for it. The show ran in Australia until February 1972 and after Cook appeared in a small cameo in The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, a film version of the cartoon character which had been created for Private Eye, starring Barry Humphries. “Behind the Fridge” then carried on with a tour of Britain from November 1972 into 1973 this time they got Joe McGrath to direct the show and the new film inserts. McGrath was shocked by the change in Peter since the first series of Not Only…But Also, and on the day of the opening night just before the dress rehearsal the worst thing could have happened; Eamonn Andrews and the ‘This Is Your Life’ team turned up with the red book for Dudley. No one knew this was going to happen. McGrath was furious and Cook got drunk. This first show went ahead but Cook was drunk, surprisingly a review at the time said Peter had been magisterial and wonderful, and that Dudley had been very, very nervous – I wonder why! Sean Connery was on the front row of the first night and said to McGrath afterwards: “Wee bit o’ trouble, Joe, eh? Wee bit o’ trouble there?”, referring to Peter. This was how the tour would continue.

They then toured American from September 1973 until August 1975 with a year on Broadway, where it was given the title “Good Evening” and had the record number of performances of 438 on Broadway for a two-man show. Cook and Moore were the comedy equivalent of rock n roll. But during this period it became apparent that Peter had a dependency on alcohol. What bought this on has been discussed in many books. The most probable cause was through the failure of his first marriage and not being able to see his two daughters as much as he would like through the constant touring. The alcoholism did put a huge strain on the Cook and Moore partnership. This led to a few last hoorahs with the comedy duo before Cuddly Dudley went on to be a “sex thimble” of films such as “Foul Play”(1978), “10”(1979) and the superb “Arthur”(1981).

Whilst touring America, Cook and Moore appeared on the first series of Saturday Night Live with Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. This would be one of the last TV appearances of them performing together.

The worst job I ever had

Moore decided he was going to settle in America and pursue a film career, but worked again with Cook on the notorious “Derek and Clive” records, an exercise in calculated obscenity. In all, there were three “Derek and Clive” records. Derek and Clive were the vulgar versions of Pete and Dud. “Derek and Clive (Live)” (1976) was the first to be released. To begin with, this was never meant to be a commercial release. It had been recorded as light relief in America when they were touring “Good Evening” in 1973. They recorded two versions of the material; one in a small club in Greenwich

Village, the Bottom Line, to a small group of invited friends, and a second at Electric Lady Studios without an audience. It would have probably have been very similar to The Dead Sea Tapes, adlibbed and recorded ten years previously, forgotten about and left to gather dust. However, a recording technician had created a recording of the mix of live and studio sketches and had given them out to other studios around New York and eventually, they were given out to bands of the time such as The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Who. One of my favourite sketches from the first album is Top Rank. Basically, Clive (Cook) goes to the Top Rank Ballroom with the lads and turns around to his surprise to see his wife having sex with a gorilla, “I said what ‘do I do? Who do I turn to?’ I pay 5 shillings to go to the Top Rank Ballroom for a civilised conversation and there’s a gorilla fucking the arse off my wife”. There are many F-words in this less- than-3 minute sketch but it is the surreal situation compounded with Clive considering who to complain to about it: “I’ve got pride; I’m not going to allow anybody, let alone a gorilla, to fuck the arse off my wife”. After being advised by his friend Sid to get in touch with the manager at Top Rank, Clive storms off to the office and knocks on the manager’s door, no reply, “Well I wasn’t taking no reply for an answer,” he then storms straight into the office to find the manager stark naked on the floor with an ant sucking his left nipple, “and I said to him, with all the dignity I could muster, I said: ‘is this any way to run a fucking ballroom?’” You have to hear this to understand how absurd and funny it, with the juxtaposition of vulgar language and then that killer line of “all the dignity I could muster”. This is what made Peter such a genius comedian. 

Peter and Dudley then decided whilst touring America through 1975 that they should release the Derek and Clive album as the bootleg was doing so well, and once released on record it became a huge worldwide hit. Two more Derek and Clive albums were to follow, which were recorded for commercial release, these were “Derek and Clive Come Again” (1977) and “Derek and Clive Ad Nauseam” (1978). The latter of the two was filmed and released on the relatively new VHS home videotape. However, due to obscenity laws, the eight hundred copies were impounded. The film was halted and it didn’t see the light of day until the 1990s.

When I first developed my interest in Peter Cook you have to remember this was the days before the internet where you can now find anything out and see clips of Derek and Clive. My first introduction to Derek and Clive was confusing. I’d read that they had recorded the adlibbed Derek and Clive tapes in a studio. But then when I was in Virgin Mega Store I happened to see a video of Derek and Clive and couldn’t understand if they had made a film of the characters. So I bought the VHS video of them in about 1996 and this was my introduction to the bawdy pair! I remember that I didn’t get the actual CDs until 1999 on a visit to London where I managed to pick up Come Again and Ad Nauseam in HMV. I remember listening to Ad Nauseam and laughing and being completely drawn in by how dark and funny it was.

“Do you think I’m gonna waste my time combing the streets of London for some old boot? This is a job for an imbecile”

Moore finally went it alone in films after the below-par “Hound of the Baskervilles” (1977) with Cook, I say below par but it’s really poor compared with their other 1960s and 70s output. With not

much work coming from Hollywood Dudley had agreed to appear in the film with Peter. Peter was to play Sherlock Holmes and Dudley Dr Watson. Despite an all-star British cast including Kenneth Williams, Denholm Elliott, Joan Greenwood, Spike Milligan and Penelope Keith it is, to say the least, a waste of everyone’s talents. It’s like a bad “Carry On” film that rehashes sketches from Beyond the Fringe including One Leg Too Few and The Great Train Robbery. The only good point I can say about this film is that Peter and Dudley committed themselves to it, but there are no redeeming qualities and the blame as to be put on Paul Morrissey for misjudging the entire project and asking everyone to shout as though this will make it funny.

On the upside in 1977 Cook is commissioned to write a column for the Daily Mail called “Peter Cook’s Monday Morning Feeling”. He did this for about a year and wrote about a range of subjects including politics, royalty and football in a quirky observational manner and jokes.

Before the first Derek and Clive album was released Peter had appeared in the film “Find the Lady” starring John Candy. But this was another box office disappointment. While Dudley’s career in films took off, Peter although having projects to work on never reached the heights of Moore. In the late 70s, Peter took part in the Godley/Crème (formerly of 10cc) Consequences album by writing and performing the story to go along with the concept album. This was released in 1977 as a triple box set. The play, which Cook wrote, was set in a solicitors’ office and Cook voiced most of the characters along with his wife Judy. Mr Haig is a solicitor who is negotiating the divorce between Mr Walter Stapleton and his wife Lulu. Obviously, something that Cook knows a lot about following his own divorce from Wendy several years earlier. There is always something surreal in Peter’s ideas though and this comes in the form of Mr Blint, an eccentric composer who lives below the office and talks to them through a hole in the floor. Only Peter would come up with this!

You are now to retire. As indeed should I

Peter did return briefly to TV in 1978 as the host of the first punk rock music programme “Revolver”. Cook was the host introducing a whole slew of punk acts. He’d been invited to guest on the programme on the strength of the notorious Derek and Clive recordings, which was a bedfellow with punk. Peter played the seedy manager of a rundown nightclub rented out to the TV company. Peter would appear sneering at the bands and antagonising the studio audience. Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks’ remembers Peter handing out porn magazines to the audience to hold up at the bands to put them off! Unfortunately due to its Friday late-night slot, it didn’t get brilliant ratings and only one series of eight episodes. 

For a few years, Peter had been taking part in Amnesty events which had been organised by John Cleese. In June 1979 the third of these, the Secret Policeman’s Ball, was performed each night over 4 days. After the first night performance, there had been mixed reviews of the show stating that there was nothing new and it was all old sketches being performed. Peter wrote a new satirical piece based on the judge’s summing up in the then-recent Jeremy Thorpe Trial, the former leader of the liberal party who’d just been acquitted of all charges that he’d conspired to murder a former male model called Norman Scott (Recently made into a mini-series starring Hugh Grant).

The piece was a masterclass in acid comedy getting straight to the points of the awful verdict in a hilarious manner. It was so cutting that when ITV screened the benefit concert on television the sketch was dropped. However, the public wanted to hear Cook’s rendition of Judge Cantley’s biased summing up and so it was released as a record. It truly is a great piece and was written in 24 hours after the first show due to critics complaining the show was a collection of old sketches. Even before Cook went on stage for the performance on the second night he was still crafting what he was going to say. But Cook is just majestic and it was a great way for him to end the 1970s. Unfortunately, his life was in turmoil because of his alcohol intake. He had become reliant on alcohol and abusive towards Judy, she had put an injunction in against him being around her in March 1979. So the 1980s started with another relationship collapsing and his career at a crossroads with Dudley separating the comedy duo. Both his closest partners were leaving him…… 




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