PETER COOK Biography - Theater, Opera and Movie personalities


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Peter Edward Cook (November 17, 1937 - January 9, 1995) was a British satirist, writer and comedian who is widely regarded as the father of the British satire boom of the 1960s. He is closely associated with an anti-establishment style of comedy that emerged in the late 1950s in the depths of the Cold War. Cook was himself ‘establishment’ educated, at Radley and Pembroke College, Cambridge, and it was at the latter that he first performed and wrote comedy sketches.


On graduation, he wrote professionally for, amongst others, Kenneth Williams, before finding fame in his own right as a star of the satirical stage show, Beyond the Fringe, with Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett and Dudley Moore.


Working with others such as Eleanor Bron, John Bird, and John Fortune, he broadened the scope of television comedy and pushed out the hitherto restricted boundaries of the BBC.


Peter Cook’s first regular television spot was on Granada_Television’s Braden Beat with Bernard Braden, where he featured perhaps his most enduring comic character, the static, dour, and monotone E. L. Wisty.


His comedy partnership with Dudley Moore, led to the popular and critically feted television show Not Only… But Also. Using few props, and with musical interludes performed by Moore, they created a new style of dry absurdist televison which found a place in the mainstream. Here Cook showcased characters like Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling and Pete and Dud. Other memorable sketches include ‘"Superthunderstingcar", a send-up of the popular Gerry Anderson marionette TV shows and Cook’s parody of silent star Greta Garbo.


Although now recognised as one of the classics of TV comedy, the BBC erased most of the videotapes of the first two series. Only fragments of these programs remain, although much of the soundtracks (which were released on record) have survived. Only the final series, most of which was shot on colour film, has survived largely intact.


With his star firmly in the ascendant he opened The Establishment Club in Soho which allowed him to associate with the big stars of the day. He became a friend and supporter of Australian comedian and actor Barry Humphries, who began his British career at the Establishment Club, and Dudley Moore’s acclaimed jazz trio (which included Australian-born drummer Chris Karan) played there regularly for many years in the Sixties.


Both Peter Cook and Dudley Moore acted in films, and Cook worked with Moore in such films as The Wrong Box (1966). Their best work on film was probably the cult comedy Bedazzled (1967), now widely regarded as a classic. Directed by Stanley Donen, it was co-written by Cook and Moore and starred Cook as George Spigot (The Devil) who tempts frustrated short-order cook Stanley Moon (Moore) with the promise of gaining his heart’s desire – the love of the unattainable Margaret Spencer (Eleanor Bron) – in exchange for his soul, but repeatedly tricks him in a variety of ways.


The film features cameo appearances by Barry Humphries (’Envy’) and Raquel Welch (’Lust’). Moore’s trio backed Cook on the theme, a parodic anti-love song, which Cook delivers in a monotonous, deadpan voice, and which includes his classic putdown “You fill me with inertia". Moore went on to Hollywood stardom in the 1970s and 1980s, which was a cause of some bitterness to Cook.


In 1970 Cook took over a project initiated by David Frost for a satirical film about an opinion pollster who rises to become President of Great Britain. Under Cook’s guidance the character became modelled on Frost himself; the resulting film, The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer was not a great commercial success but is notable for the cast containing many notable names of the period.


Peter Cook also provided financial backing for the satirical magazine, Private Eye, supporting the publication through a number of difficult periods, particularly when the magazine was punished financially in the wake of a number of high-profile libel trials. Cook both invested his own money and solicited for investment from his show business friends and colleagues.


Later, the more risque humour of the Pete and Dud characters was taken to excess on long-playing records whereon the names “Derek and Clive” were used. One of these audio recordings was also filmed and the long running tensions between the duo are seen to rise to the surface.


One of Cook’s best (but least known) comedy projects in the Seventies was his tour-de-force performance (playing multiple roles) on the cult 1976 Godley & Creme concept album Consequences.


A mixture of spoken-word comedy and progressive rock music with an environmental subtext, Consequences began with a single that Godley and Creme made to demonstrate their new invention (an electric guitar effect called The Gizmo) but it gradually grew into a triple LP boxed set. The comdey sections of the album were originally intended to be performed by an all-star cast including Spike Milligan and Peter Ustinov, but after meeting Peter Cook, Godley and Creme realised that he could perform most of the parts himself.


The storyline centres on the impending divorce of the tremulous Walter Stapleton (Cook) and his French wife Lulu (Judy Huxtable), whose meeting with their respective lawyers, the bibulous Mr Haig and overbearing Mr Pepperman (both played by Cook), is interrupted by a series of bizarre and mysterious happenings that are somehow connected to Mr Blint (also played by Cook), a musician living in the apartment below Haig’s office, and which is connected to it by a large hole in the floor.


The hugely ambitious triple album was a total commercial failure and was savaged by the critics, but it gathered (and retains) a small but dedicated cult following. Interestingly, the script and storyline include many elements that appear to be drawn from Cook’s own life, including Beyond The Fringe (Walter sounds like Cook’s former colleague Alan Bennett), Cook’s alcoholism (Mr Haig’s constant drinking) and the clear parallel between the fictional divorce of Walter and Lulu and Cook’s messy real-life divorce from his first wife Wendy.


In 1978 Cook was invited to perform at the Secret Policeman’s Ball a charity event for Amnesty International. On the second night Cook largely improvised a parody of the biased summing up by the Judge in the case of Jeremy Thorpe which continues to be hailed as a comedy classic by critics.


Cook was an avid media follower, reading nearly all the British newspapers every day and following TV and radio programmes with vigour. He even gained a regular slot on a night-time London radio programme, where he would phone in using a pseudonym (Sven from Swiss Cottage) and entertain listeners with his complaints and musings.


Cook is an acknowledged influence on a long stream of comedians who have followed him from the amateur dramatic clubs of British universities to the Edinburgh festival and from thence to the radio and television studios of the BBC. Notable fans include the members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and, more recently, the controversial satirist Chris Morris with whom Cook worked briefly in his final years.


Together with Spike Milligan, Cook broke so much new ground in the 1950 to 1965 period, that some feel that later comics had relatively little ground left to break. Some have seen Cook’s life as tragic, insofar as the brilliance he exhibited in his youth did not lead to the recognition many thought he deserved.


His death in 1995 was as a result of internal haemhorraging caused by alcoholism