The Establishment
 Pub & Bed
 The Spiggott
 Rainbow Tapes
 Clive Anderson
 Derek & Clive
 Dudley Moore
Coming Soon
 Coming Soon
. . .
The Establishment

"How to buy 5 million dollars of real estate with no money down, and lose forty pounds, and improve your sex life,and destroy your enemies." - Englishman Peter Cook's idea for a best seller is as wacky as his winding up in an American sitcom.
By Bill Davidson.

We are aware of some rather obvious discrepancies and inaccuracies within this article. Please feel free to discuss these with Peter Cook and Bill Davidson.

If you can provide The Establishment with video footage of Two Of Us, starring Peter Cook and Mimi Kennedy, please contact us.

 Peter Cook Presents The Misty Mr. Wisty LP
audio files taken from the wonderful 1965 album.
 Peter Cook Docu
as we were asked to contribute 'ideas' for the Carlton TV "Legends" docu, I thought I'd make it available via the site.

 Would you like us to notify you, via email, each time we update The Establishment?

 Hosted by Yahoo!, this list is used only to announce updates at and is in no way supposed to replace the Peter Cook eMail List.


Article is © Bill Davidson & TV Guide.

In England, the closest thing to Woody Allen is satirist-writer-actor-director-producer Peter Cook, who may not be funnier than Allen, but is a head taller and considerably more attractive. It is inconceivable that Woody Allen would go to London for a vacation and get talked into starring in a BBC situation comedy that might tie him up in Britain for as many as five years. But that's exactly what Peter Cook did - in reverse - while on holiday in Beverly Hills for a month last March. In a rash moment of avarice, he agreed to star in the pilot of CBS's The Two of Us. As you now know, the show was picked up as a regularly scheduled series, and Cook is firmly in tow contractually for as long as the sitcom lasts.

Cook is rather amused by his predicament, which he chalks up to "my atrocious ineptitude with gambling odds." The British, however, are incensed at losing their comic genius, even temporarily. Referring to the shanghaiing of American sailors onto British ships, which helped the War of 1812 get going, one tabloid ran the headline: YANKS' REVENGE: PETER COOK PRESS-GANGED INTO HOLLYWOOD.

And so Cook currently is appearing Monday nights at 8:30 (ET) on CBS, with Mimi Kennedy, as the acerbic, snobbish British butler Robert Brentwood - while his own series of British hit specials, Peter Cook and Company, must wait for hiatus time.

How could such a thing happen? Says Cook "Perhaps it was monsoon fever. I was house-guesting in Brenda Vaccaro's cottage during last March's big Los Angeles storms, watching Benedict Canyon, usually a perfectly docile street, running like a brown mountain torrent of mud and rocks. I was rather enjoying the show Mother Nature was putting on. A Channel 2 helicopter flew overhead. I couldn't decide whether I should send the maid out so I could watch her on television, or whether I should run out and achieve a certain amount of stardom for myself on the evening news.

"Just then the telephone rang. An agent friend said that a producer named Charlie Hauck wanted to see me at CBS regarding a new TV comedy he was preparing. I said to the agent, 'Are you quite mad? You know I'm not interested in American television comedy, and besides, Benedict Canyon is running a river.' The agent said, `Not to worry. Charlie will send up a four-wheel-drive military vehicle to fetch you.' This intrigued me, so when this lorry-type thing arrived, I went. The script wasn't bad. It was derived from a British show called Two's Company, which Elaine Stritch had done on TV in London. I read a few lines, and about 150 people in the room at CBS immediately lied about how great I was. Then they offered me the role.

"It was just a half-hour pilot. I rang up one friend and asked him what were the gambling odds on such a TV pilot ever becoming a series. He said, 'About 50 to 1.' I rang up another friend and he said, 'About 200 to 1.' So I reasoned to myself: What the hell? I'll work for a week and make this pilot and earn a lot of American dollars, and it will be all over. With all those American dollars, I can eat myself sick and become as fat as Robert Morley. Then I can fulfill my ambition of outdoing 'Evita!' with a musical called 'Farouk!', about the monstrously fat ex-king of Egypt."

Perhaps because he is basically a satirical writer, Cook always talks like that. This sometimes makes the Peter Cook show funnier off stage, than when he's reading someone else's lines on stage in The Two of Us.

For example, Cook on the subject of American local-TV news shows: "The forced camaraderie is so patently ridiculous that I must do a skit on it sometime for England. I especially like the vegetable section of the news in which a lady and a man exchange meaningless chitchat whilst they fondle squashes and avocados. Then there's the sportscaster who must always be dashing about the news-room, lest anyone forget that he was once an athlete. This chap says that the athletes talk to him because they trust him never to say anything nasty: That's an interesting concept of journalism. They're willing to reveal to him their innermost secrets about how nice they are."

Cook on the subject of American TV commercials: "The most fascinating is the one about static cling. I had never even heard of static cling before I came to America and saw this young woman in a commercial with her dress so plastered to her body that her entire anatomy is revealed beneath. George Lucas of 'Star Wars' must have been responsible for the special effects."

Cook on the subject of his budding musical comedy, "Farouk!". "It all began when I was out to dinner in Hollywood with Mimi Kennedy and her husband, Larry Dilg, a fine actor. Charlie Hauck was there, too, and we talked about the phenomenon of Eva Peron, the villainess, becoming the heroine of a musical. They all loved my idea of doing a similar glorification of King Farouk. Larry began to sing, in the middle of Joe Allen's restaurant, 'Farouk you are a monster.' As he chanted, Mimi joined in with a sweet ballad, which she improvised on the spot, 'I know the man behind the sheet; he's really sweet.' And I added a few tidbits of my own about rapin', pillagin' and gluttonizin'. Who knows? We may all end up doing this on the London stage someday."

The lanky, 43-year-old Cook is equally outrageous when discussing his own life. He says. "I was conceived in Nigeria but born in Devon, England, because my mother had this obsession about newborn babies catching malaria in the middle of downtown Lagos. My father was in the British Foreign Service, a colonial officer who eventually ran out of colonies. So I was reared in Torquay, in the west of England, and I went to school at Radley, where the principal social event was 'The Dance Against St. Winifred's,' a nearby institution of learning for girls".

At 10, young Cook already was aware of absurdities of life in general and he began to contribute items to Punch, the world-famous British humor magazine. This would be the equivalent today of Gary Coleman writing for The New Yorker. Says Cook, "Every week I'd send an item to Punch for a column called `Charivaria,' and every week I'd get a check for five guineas -it came to about $30 in those days. I was very rich for a preadolescent. But then I was assailed by puberty, which sapped my penchant for writing Charivaria in some mysterious way. I never sold another item to Punch after the age of 14."

Cook went on to Cambridge, however, where he wrote a satirical revue for the Footlights Club, part of which a producer combined with some sketches by Harold Pinter for a successful London show called "Pieces of Eight." Simultaneously, another bright young man named Dudley Moore was writing and performing satirical sketches at Oxford. In 1959, when both were in their early 20s, they joined forces with some other Oxonians to write and star in a show for the Edinburgh Festival. This biting revue evolved into the now-renowned "Beyond the Fringe," which not only was a smash in London but also played for two years on Broadway and won a Tony.

The original odd couple, 6-foot-2-inch Cook and 5-foot-2-inch Moore became the founding father's of an entire new school of irreverent British comedy that still is flourishing with the Monty Python ensemble. Cook and Moore also transmitted their influence to Lenny Bruce and key members of Chicago's Second City group, who appeared with them in crazy routines in their London cabaret nightclub, The Establishment.

Cook and Moore went on to do wild movies together, such as "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (with Cook as a sort of rabbinical Sherlock Holmes) and "Bedazzled," a total mangling of the Faust legend, with Moore as a modem Faust, Cook as the Devil and Raquel Welch as the temptress, - Lillian Lust. The dynamic duo also did a number of hit TV comedy series in England, such as Not Only. . . But Also, winner of two British Emmys, on the BBC. In 1973, they did a second London stage revue, "Good Evening," which, like "Beyond the Fringe," also came to Broadway and also won a Tony.

To Cook's total astonishment, it also won a Grammy.

As he tells it, "I was in Detroit and I settled down to watch the Grammy Awards on the telly in my hotel room. Suddenly they announced the winner of the award for something called the Best Spoken Word Recording, It was us! They said they regretted Dudley and I weren't present to accept the Grammy, and quickly moved on to something else. Of course we weren't present. Nobody even had told us we were nominated." Then, with characteristic irreverence, he quipped, "The only other nominee was Laurence Olivier - probably for excerpts from his Polaroid commercials. The previous year's winner was the deceased Senator Everett Dirksen. It was hardly one of the major awards, but it looks rather attractive on the mantel in my house in Hampstead. My winning a Grammy was almost as unlikely as my winning an Olympic gold medal."

Although they remain close friends, the Cook-Moore combine split up when Dudley became a big U.S. movie star in "10" with Bo Derek. Peter remained behind in England to do his own TV and film stints and to found the successful satirical magazine, Private Eye, to which he contributes devastating articles, such as "Born to be Queen: a fictitious account of Prince Charles and Lady Di." He was living comfortably and happily in his Hampstead house outside London and on a 5-acre estate in Buckinghamshire with his beautiful ex-actress wife, Judy Huxtable. But then came that visit to Beverly Hills in 1980 and the ensuing entanglement with The Two of Us and Charlie Hauck.

Hauck says, "I never dreamed that a superstar like Peter would be available for such a project. I had come to Marble Arch Productions after having produced Maude, and in looking through Marble Arch's English material, I had come across Two's Company, which Elaine Stritch had done for them in London. I decided it could be modified into a good American series, and I wrote a pilot and a concept that we sold to CBS. But finding a good British actor to play the butler proved to be almost impossible. I was about to fly to London to take up the search when someone told me Peter was in town. I knew it was a long shot - the best I could have hoped for was an actor like Peter Cook - but I sent that four-wheel-drive vehicle to fetch him in the storm. I was astounded when he said he'd do the pilot."

Cook rather likes the show, now that it has settled into being a regular series. He says, "It's an amusing little spoof of all haughty British butlers, going back to Arthur Treacher. I've studied them all in my preparation for the series. Also, it's a delight working with Mimi Kennedy. Probably because of her improvisational theater training, she is much like the young ladies with whom I work back home. I am, shall we say, an idiosyncratic actor, but I've never been able to upset her aplomb with my little tricks. She always responds in kind."

Mimi remains amazed that she's working with Cook. "When I was doing the 'National Lampoon Show' on the stage," she says, "Peter Cook was almost like a god to us. I was terrified when I first met him, but he got to like me because I could sing ridiculous, obscure rock songs from the early 1960s. When we meet every morning in the makeup room, I break him up with those silly rock lyrics, and he tears me apart with his insane wit. For example, he told me he had been reading the best-seller lists in The New York Times book section, and that he had two books in mind that would make the lists overnight. The first was to be printed on rice paper and would be cal led 'Eat This Book and Lose Ten Pounds.' The title of his second proposed best seller was 'How to Buy Five Million Dollars of Real Estate with No Money Down, and Lose Forty Pounds, and Improve Your Sex Life, and Destroy your Enemies'."

Cook has an option in his contract to write episodes of The Two of Us if he so chooses. But he does not so choose, preferring to retain his crazy, aberrational imagination for his own future shows in England.

What a pity.

go to > > > TV NEWS feature

 Have you joined the Peter Cook eMail List yet? If not, this could be your ideal opportunity. To see our page giving further details of the list, please select the link below (you will not leave this site).
 Peter Cook eMail List
I run ting, Anne T'ing.