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Peter Cook

English Comedian   -   [1937-1995]


Peter Cook is born in Torquay, England on 17th November 1937. He attends St.Peter's College at Radley public school and graduates to Cambridge University, studying Modern Languages with a view to following his father into the diplomatic service. In October 1958, he joins Cambridge Footlights where he establishes himself as an original and influential humorist. In 1959, whilst still an undergraduate, Cook is already writing sketches for West End revues. In 1960, Cook is elected president of Footlights.

Jonathan Miller 'spots' Cook and passes his name to John Bassett who is assembling a team for a satirical revue. Cook joins Miller, Alan Bennett and Dudley Moore in 'Beyond The Fringe', opening on 10th May 1961 at the Fortune Theatre, London, to immediate acclaim. The show continues to run for five years. In October 1961, Cook co-founds a satirical night club, 'The Establishment', in London's Soho district. Having avoided censorship by setting up as a private, members-only club, The Establishment earns a reputation for its cutting edge material and attracts queues of would-be patrons. A second club is opened in New York.

With money raised through his club, Cook injects funds into the then struggling satirical magazine, 'Private Eye'. Other investments prove too great a strain on resources and, within three years, both Establishments close down. Only Private Eye survives the 'satire boom' of the 1960s. In 1966, Cook moves onto television in the B.B.C. show 'Not Only ... But Also' along with Dudley Moore. On the big screen, Cook and Moore write and star in 1967's 'Bedazzled' but, unlike Moore, Cook fails to further establish himself as film actor.

In the 1970s, Cook and Moore continue working together on stage and screen until heavy drinking by Cook creates rifts between them. Having drifted apart, the pair reunite to record a three collections of improvised and highly obscene material in the guises of 'Derek & Clive'. In the late 1970s, Cook appears in a number of Amnesty International fund raising shows. His 'Entirely A Matter For You' sketch, satirising Judge Cantley's summing up of the recent Jeremy Thorpe trial (written entirely on the day of its first public performance) is widely considered the pinnacle of his comic work.

Cook is ordered to give up drinking by his doctor. He continues working as a newspaper columnist and appears regularly on chat shows. When his drinking eventually resumes he becomes increasingly reclusive. In 1993 Cook re-emerges to appear on 'Clive Anderson Talks Back'. He is interviewed as four characters in a show marking a return to top form. On the 9th January 1995, Cook dies from internal haemorrhaging.

Phespirit's Hero

Peter Cook is Phespirit's hero .....

But, more than this, Peter Cook is Phespirit's hero
for his awe inspiring presence in being
the world's most spontaneously funny person
just by being Peter Cook.

John Cleese, in a posthumous assessment, distilled the essence of Cook's talent:

"Most of us have to grind away for something like six or seven hours - that's what Chapman and I used to reckon - to produce three minutes of material, whereas for the first fifteen or twenty years of Peter's professional life it took him exactly three minutes to produce three minutes of material ....."

[ More Cook ]

"Entirely A Matter For You"

(I hope you've brought a toothbrush .....)

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, it is now my duty to advise you on how you should vote when you retire from this court.

In the last few weeks we have all heard some pretty extraordinary allegations being made about one of the prettiest, about one of the most distinguished politicians ever to rise to high office in this country - or not, as you may think.

We have heard, for example, from Mr Bex Bissell - a man who by his own admission is a liar, a humbug, a hypocrite, a vagabond, a loathsome spotted reptile and a self-confessed chicken strangler. You may choose, if you wish, to believe the transparent tissue of odious lies which streamed on and on from his disgusting, greedy, slavering lips. That is entirely a matter for you.

Then we have been forced to listen to the pitiful whining of Mr Norma St.John Scott - a scrounger, parasite, pervert, a worm, a self-confessed player of the pink oboe; a man (or woman) who by his (or her) own admission chews pillows! It would be hard to imagine, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, a more discredited and embittered man, a more unreliable witness upon whose testimony to convict a man who you may rightly think should have become Prime Minister of his country or President of the world. You may on the other hand choose to believe the evidence of Mrs Scott - in which case I can only say that you need psychiatric help of the type provided by the excellent Dr Gleadle.

On the evidence of the so-called 'hit man', Mr Olivia Newton-John, I would prefer to draw a discrete veil. He is, as we know, a man with a criminal past, but I like to think - ho ho ho - no criminal future. He is a piece of slimy refuse, unable to carry out the simplest murder plot without cocking it up, to the distress of many. On the other hand, you may think Mr Newton-John is one of the most intelligent, profound, sensitive and saintly personalities of our time. That is entirely a matter for you.

I now turn to the evidence about the money and Mr Jack Haywire and Mr Nadir Rickshaw, neither of whom, as far as I can make out, are complete and utter crooks, though the latter in incontestably foreign and, you may well think, the very type to boil up foul-smelling biriyanis at all hours of the night and keep you awake with his pagan limbo dancing.

It is not contested by the defence that enormous sums of money flowed towards them in unusual ways. What happened to that money, we shall never know. But I put it to you, ladies and gentlement of the jury, that there are a number of totally innocent ways in which that £20,000 could have been spent: on two tickets for Evita, a centre court seat at Wimbledon, or Mr Thrope may have decided simply to blow it all on a flutter on the Derby. That is his affair and it is not for us to pry. It will be a sad day for this country when a leading politician cannot spend his election expenses in any way he sees fit.

One further point: You will probably have noticed that three of the defendants have very wisely chosen to exercise their inalienable right not to go into the witness box to answer a lot of impertinent questions. I will merely say that you are not to infer from this anything other than that they consider the evidence against them so flimsy that it was scarcely worth their while to rise from their seats and waste their breath denying these ludicrous charges.

In closing, I would like to pay tribute to Mr Thrope's husband, Miriam, who has stood by him throughout this long and unnecessary ordeal. I know you will join me in wishing them well for a long and happy future.

And now, being mindful of the fact that the Prudential Cup begins on Saturday, putting all such thoughts from your mind, you are now to retire - as indeed should I - you are now to retire, carefully to consider your verdict of 'Not Guilty'.