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CAPTION: Peter Cook: "Dudley played jazz and picked up a lot of birds".

HEADLINE: "Not only does the Melbourne Comedy Festival begin on Monday but it also means that Peter Cook is in town.
GRAHAM REILLY Spoke with him in London."


Article originally printed in "The Age" "Saturday Extra" March 07 1987.


CREDIT: Thanks to Marilyn Burge for providing us with this article.

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The Age 7 March 1987

Peter Cook, fringe-dweller.

"WE FLEW QANTAS. I was whatever it was - 24 hours in the air. People just waking up. I was sat next to quite an elderly person and this voice came over saying (adopts Australian accent) `We are now approaching the Australasian subcontinent and as a tribute we will be flying upside down for the next 20 minutes.' The poor dear was certainly taken in."

Peter Cook is sipping vodka and tonic water, smoking cigarettes as long as tent poles and recalling his first visit to Australia in 1972 when he and his then other half, Dudley Moore, toured the country in their now classic revue, 'Behind the Fridge'.

"I was mugged in Sydney. I don't know what they were trying to steal. I didn't have any money. Perhaps they were after my hair. I don't know."

The peripatetic Mr. Cook is a virtual catalogue of travellers' tales. A quick drag on a John Player extra-long, and a bite of a vacuum-packed cheese sandwich, and he reflects on his recent visit to Panama where he made a short film about a rare frog.

But is it stable down there? "Well if you don't think it's stable there are certainly a lot of men with guns convincing you that it is."

AT 49, COOK has filled out a bit. He is no longer the angular beanpole, the slim, tall teller of even taller stories, but carries a pot belly of impressive amplitude which greatly inflates an unsuspecting T-shirt. He looks as though he enjoys a drink and certainly smokes as if a blight on the world tobacco crop is only minutes away. In the large living-room of his Hampstead home, he is a charming, if slightly self-conscious, conversationalist.

The room is almost attractively cluttered, but plain disorder wins out in the end. Golf clubs and golf balls, clothing and books are strewn around the room. On the walls are photographs of Cook playing golf, the odd bit of fan mail, party invitations, and newspaper clippings, one of which details his appearance at Hampstead magistrate's court charged with driving into the back of a police car while under the influence.

Banned from driving for a year, he was asked how he planned to get about. Cook, always a wag, even under the beady eve of the law, replied: "Chauffeuse."

There is a caricature drawing of Cook with guitarist Ronnie Wood, drawn by the Rolling Stone himself. At five o'clock one morning Cook and Wood formed their own group, Baby Oil and the Sey-chelles. "We rang up Mick in New York, where he was in some f. . .ing disco - just to annoy him and to say that everything was breaking up and Baby Oil and the Seychelles were producing this mega-hit." The efforts of this new super group were terminally frustrated when the batteries in the tape recorder ran flat.

Peter Cook attracts accolades. He is rightly revered as the father figure of contemporary British satire, the first in a golden age of writer/performers. John Cleese called him the world's most quick-on-the-feet developer of comic ideas. Fellow Python Michael Palin (who came second) credits Cook with changing his life. He describes Cook's humor as a "brilliant identification of the controlled, insistent, perfectly legal battiness that is all around". And this humor, he says, did not exist before Cook.

"They're very nice to me, aren't they," says Cook quite modestly.

The extent of Cook's influence and contribution to the flavor and direction of British comedy is impossible to measure. But it goes back a long way. By 1962, before Vidal Sassoon had cut his first A-line bob, before Mary Quant had made her first mini-skirt, and when Lennon and McCartney were still just a couple of lads from Liverpool, 'Beyond the Fringe' with Messrs Cook, Moore, Miller and Bennett had played at the Edinburgh Festival and in the West End.

By that time, Cook had also become a majority shareholder in the revolutionary satirical magazine 'Private Eye' and he had opened the country's premier venue for political satire, The Establishment Club. "We had a resident team of people and did a show that was pretty topical and had guests from America, Lenny Bruce being the most notorious. Had him twice. Got thrown out the second time before he could get in really. Second City came over. Did a swap. And Dudley played jazz down-stairs with his trio and picked up a lot of birds. It was a really good place.

Cook is thoroughly middle-class. His father was in the colonial service and young Peter grew up in Nigeria, Gibraltar (where Cook senior was the equivalent of the Treasurer and introduced the lottery) and the British seaside resort, Torquay.

At Radley public school he began contributing to 'Punch' magazine, being paid five guineas a week for a commentary on current affairs. At Pembroke College, Cambridge, he joined Footlights for the 1959 revue. He soon had his own revue -'Pieces of Eight', with Kenneth Williams (later of 'Carry On' fame) - running in the West End.

"I felt terribly grand when I had a revue in the West End while I was still at Cambridge. Bought a Hillman convertible. I felt this is it. Eat your heart out Tab Hunter."

In 1960, Cook, Alan Bennett, Jonathan Miller and Dudley Moore, who was then at Oxford, were brought together to do a show for the Edinburgh Festival. The show became 'Beyond the Fringe' and the Cook/Moore partnership, and the amazing chemistry that was at the heart of it, was born.

"That was wonderful luck. The others were all terrific. But Dudley and I were the only ones who were not ashamed of being in 'showbiz'. Jonathan was wrestling with his conscience about whether he should be a doctor. Alan was concerned about whether he should continue his mediaeval history at Oxford. Dudley and I thought, 'Oh this is wonderful,' and got pissed off hanging around waiting for the others to make up their minds whether they were going to do the show in the West End."

After much soul-searching by the more academically inclined members of the troupe, the show did go to the west End for two years and then on to Broadway for a further two-year stint.

"I remember Alex Cowan, who produced the show in New York, got very excited and rushed around saying the President (Kennedy) wanted us to go and do the show at the White House. And I think I said something along the lines of, 'We're not some f. cabaret. If he wants to see it let him come to the theatre and see it.

"It was a huge security operation. Secret Service men going though the whole theatre frisking the audience. The only thing they didn't notice was the perfect replica of a (Colt) 45 on my dressing room table. Didn't notice it at all."

After their hugely successful stay in New York with 'Fringe', five films followed, including 'The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer' ("good script, not a particularly good film") and 'Bedazzled' ("That's the best. By a mile") and the television series, which made Pete and Dud household names, `Not Only . . . But Also'.

Then came the filth. Very funny filth. Arguably, Cook and Moore's finest moments were as the bombed and brutal, coarse and conversational, oafish and objurgating Derek and Clive, a duo of unique experience, of comedic technique so original and unhindered by convention or common decency, as to defy comparison and preclude imitation.

Electrifying reminiscences and obscene chatter about mother-love, masturbation, the difficulties associated with retrieving lobsters from Jayne Mansfield's bum, the blue tit on Mrs Coletart's roof and the agony of the eternal horn, took them into previously uncharted waters of stereophonic recording.

Predictably, Derek and Clive were a big hit. Cook explained the mechanics of producing the Derek and Clive trilogy - 'Derek and Clive', 'Derek and Clive Come Again' and 'Derek and Clive Get The Horn'.

"Got very bored in New York. Booked a studio for a bit of a lark and got thoroughly wasted and thought, 'Oh we can't put his out.' We didn't intend to put it out. I don't know why we did it at all. To pass the time. Then so, many pirate cassettes got out so we thought to hell with it, we might as well put it out. So we did two more the same way. Arrive straight and get stoned and bombed and say whatever comes into our heads. around for a few hours."

In 1976. Cook and Moore returned to the US with the revue, 'Good Evening'. When the tour ended, so did the partnership. "Yes, he stayed on. He wanted to do movies. Our last stop on the tour was Los Angeles and he stayed there, much to my chagrin. And he did marvellously well. I thought it was terrific he got to do what he really wanted to do. He's such a good actor.

"Yes, he came to the fore in Arthur'. He's very good acting at being pissed isn't he? "Yes, he is also very funny when he actually is pissed, which is not very often. But after each 'Not Only . . . But Also' show we'd have a small party at a restaurant and he'd always end up standing on the table, making ludicrous speeches which were very, very funny indeed."
Comparisons about their relative progress are inevitable, if somewhat irrelevant. While Moore has determinedly pursued, with great success, a career in Hollywood. Peter Cook, the team's writing force and visionary, has appeared almost lost without his former partner.

The past decade or so have seen Cook doing the odd guest appearance in charity shows like 'The Secret Policeman's Ball', an occasional commercial, hosting comedy shows and film appearances in 'Supergirl' and 'Yellowbeard'. In his new film, 'Whoops Apocalypse', he plays the British Prime Minister, Sir Mortimer Chris, an eccentric role which allows him to start World War Three.

He has also done a couple of television series, including the US sit-com, 'The Two of Us', which was cancelled after one season. There have been guest spots and chat shows (he did the 'Joan Rivers Show' with Dudley recently). "Anywhere with a chat show in the warmth. Midnight radio in Kenya. I'm all in favor of that."

He works two or three days out of every fortnight at 'Private Eye'. and writes sketches and is working on a film. He and Moore are also compiling a "best of" series of the their favorite sketches and Methuen are about to publish the scripts from 'Beyond the Fringe'.

Cook obviously deeply misses Moore and the anarchic rapport they shared. They would like to collaborate on another project. "We'd like to do something together but we don't know what it is. It's very easy to slip into Pete and Dud. I mean we can do those characters easy."

Cook lights another cigarette. He finishes his sandwhich and sips his drink. He seems slightly nervous, perhaps a bit melancholy. The telephone rings and, not wishing to interrupt our conversation, he politely ignores it, leaving the reply to his answering machine.

A series of beeps and an unmistakeable voice comes on the speaker.. "Ah, Mr Cook, it's Mr Moore here speaking from snowy Los Angeles. . ." Cook immediately grabs the phone and the transformation is immediate and astounding. The call has flicked a switch in Cook and he moves easily in and out of a variety of accents, stories, jokes and day-to-day chatter. It's Peter Cook and Dudley Moore's 'On The Phone'.

Cook, in his best pompous voice. "I beg your pardon, is that Mr Moore. I'll just see if Mr Cook can be taken out of the Jacuzzi. He is currently surrounded by nubile women and has asked to be disturbed."

(Cook is laughing, excited. Moore is a distant shriek on the receiver).

"Oh that awful f. . .ing woman. About 70 now ... trailing along her spangled dress trying to impress you with her monocle. It would be a lot better if she had an eye behind it in my view."

(Shrieks from LA).

"I don't want to see magnified sockets when I'm just trying to have some ravioli . . ."

(Maniacal laughter).

"Are you working at the moment. Is it about arm wrestling? Bloody good idea. What? You're a Welsh choirboy and decide to wrestle with everyone you meet. And I suppose you meet some tall woman and you wrestle her to the ground."

(Another shriek). '

"Yes, what can you do but hang a little bit of bread on a hook over the coal mine and hope they come out blinking into the dawn . .."

(Moore is now laughing so hard he sounds as though he is going to expire at any moment).

"I'm f. . ing off to Australia on Monday for three weeks. Yes, I'm opening a supermarket. I'll get all the Tide or maybe all the Ariel I need for life. And then I'm booked in to do cabaret in Dunedin ... No, should be nice. Melbourne Festival of Comedy. I'm there to counterbalance that aspect of it. . . Yes, readings from Goethe. . ."

(End of conversation. Exit Moore. Exit Cook. Both laughing).

© "The Age" March 07 1987

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