Peter Cook was still a student at Cambridge University when he first wrote sketches for the legendary comic actor Kenneth Williams. His earliest contributions were included in the “intimate review” Pieces of Eight starring Williams and Fenella Fiedling that had a long and successful West End run. Cook wrote more than half the show and premiered some classic sketches including “Gnomes and Gardens” and “Not An Asp” an early outing for his famous E. L. Wisty character.
The success of the show led Cook to be commissioned to write a brand new revue for Williams this time called One Over the Eight. Among the sketches Cook submitted were some he had written as teenager, including “One Leg Too Few” the classic one-legged man (Mr. Spiggot) auditioning for the role of Tarzan and “Interesting Facts” a more rounded appearance of E. L Wisty. Cook would later reuse both sketches in other shows and films over the years.
Cook also wrote a sketch called “Hands Up Your Sticks” which Williams later released (together with “Not An Asp”) on an EP single. It’s a great Cook sketch that plays around with language and class attitudes and there is certainly the essence of the routine Woody Allen developed a decade later in the bank hold-up with a “gub” in Take the Money and Run. The voice of the bank clerk is played by popular Sixties entertainer Lance Percival (one of the principal voice actors in Yellow Submarine as “Young/Old” Fred) and the new animation is by Mark Hindle.
In 1971, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore toured Australia with their new show Behind the Fridge. It was so successful that they turned part of the show into a TV special, which was recorded in Melbourne in November of the same year. It was believed the tapes of this show had been lost, but they were discovered, almost a decade ago, in “some rarely-consulted corner of an Australian television archive.” These “lost tapes” were then packaged together and shown on Australian and British TV.
Derek and Clive were foul-mouthed, devastatingly funny, lewd characters invented by the beloved British comedic duo Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in the early 1970’s. Cook and Moore were in New York in 1973 touring Broadway with their show Good Evening, a reworked live stage version of their 1964-1970 BBC television show Not Only…But Also (many episodes of which were unfortunately erased by the shortsightedly thrifty BBC).
At Cook’s request Island Records co-founder and music industry mogul Chris Blackwell provided the two with time at Electric Lady Studios in New York simply to hang out, drink, improvise, and riff off each other, mainly to relieve the tension and frustration that had built up during their time working together in New York.
The resulting surreal improvisation birthed working class British Trade Centre bathroom attendants Derek and Clive, updated and ruder variations of their earlier Pete and Dud characters. As usual Cook managed to make Moore dissolve into helpless laughter. No plans were initially made to release the recordings of their uproarious, stream of consciousness dialogue, but Blackwell passed around bootleg copies to his friends in the music business for years.
Eventually Cook decided that the tapes should be released properly, something Moore was unsure about, not wanting his newly popular, cuddly image in America to be tainted by the taboo topics and copious profanity of his alter ego. Extra live material from an appearance at the Bottom Line was added and Derek and Clive (Live) was released in 1976 on Island Records. There were two follow-up albums on Virgin Records, Derek and Clive Come Again and Derek and Clive Ad Nauseum. During the recording of Ad Nauseum in 1978 Virgin founder Richard Branson arranged for a prank involving a fake drug bust to take place in the studio.
Director Russell Mulcahy’s documentary Derek and Clive Get the Horn, chronicling the recording of Ad Nauseum, shows the disintegration of Cook and Moore’s relationship. Cook’s cruelest, snarkiest remarks aimed at Moore played a hand in their resulting estrangement. This album, during which Moore walked out, was their last collaboration of original material.
It’s hard to believe now that jokes about erections (“getting the horn”), blasphemy, masturbation, and liberal use of the epithet “cunt” was so shocking, but at the time British officials were so outraged at the language on the Derek and Clive albums that a concerted effort was made to suppress them. A UK gas station attendant was actually fired just for owning a copy of their second album, Derek and Clive Come Again. Peter Cook testified at the man’s tribunal. A zealous member of the Greater Manchester Police confiscated and impounded several hundred copies of the original video release (it had been denied a cinematic release by the British Board of Film Classification) of Derek and Clive Get the Horn, forcing the company that released it into bankruptcy. Four years ago it was discovered that three separate branches of British law enforcement in the late 1970’s had planned to bring formal obscenity charges against Cook and Moore.
In 1964, The British Labour Party was elected into government with a slim majority of 4 seats. Such a small majority made governing the country difficult for canny Prime Minister, Harold Wilson. Therefore, after 17 months in power, Wilson called a second election. In support of winning re-election, the Labour Party’s magazine, Tribune asked a selection of writers and artists who they would vote for in the 1966 General Election. In response, sensing Labour might not hold to their socialist ideals, poet Christopher Logue wrote the poem “I shall vote Labour.”
I shall vote Labour
I shall vote Labour because
God votes Labour.
I shall vote Labour to protect
the sacred institution of The Family.
I shall vote Labour because
I am a dog.
I shall vote Labour because
upper-class hoorays annoy me in expensive restaurants.
I shall vote Labour because
I am on a diet.
I shall vote Labour because if I don’t
somebody else will:
I shall vote Labour because if one person
everybody will be wanting to do it.
I shall vote Labour because if I do not vote Labour
my balls will drop off.
I shall vote Labour because
there are too few cars on the road.
I shall vote Labour because I am
a hopeless drug addict.
I shall vote Labour because
I failed to be a dollar millionaire aged three.
I shall vote Labour because Labour will build
more maximum security prisons.
I shall vote Labour because I want to shop
in an all-weather precinct stretching from Yeovil to Glasgow.
I shall vote Labour because
the Queen’s stamp collection is the best
in the world.
I shall vote Labour because
deep in my heart
I am a Conservative.
Christopher Logue was a poet, writer, journalist, dramatist, screenwriter, actor and performer. Born in Portsmouth, in 1926, Logue was an only child of middle-aged parents. After school, he served in the Black Watch regiment, from which he was given a court-martial for selling stolen pay books, and given a 16-months’ jail sentence.
‘It was so drab. There was nowhere to go. You couldn’t seem to meet any girls. If you went up to London in 1951, looking for the literary scene, what did you find? Dylan Thomas. I thought that if I came to the place where Pound flourished, I might too.’
In Paris, Logue met writer Alexander Trocchi (who saved Logue from an attempted suicide), and the pair set-up and edited the legendary literary magazine Merlin, which premiered work by Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Chester Himes, as well as Logue and Trocchi. The pair also wrote pornographic novels for Maurice Girodias’ Olympia Press, and briefly met William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso in the late 1950s.
George Whitman, propietor of Shakespeare and Co., described the pairing of Trocchi and Logue as:
‘True bohemians, Beats before Beats officially existed. Christopher was the scruffy poet, quite down and out most of the time. He definitely fancied himself as Baudelaire or somebody like that.’
In Paris, Logue toyed with Marxism, and was once famously put down by the author Richard Wright.
‘You’ve got nothing to fight for, boy—you’re looking for a fight. If you were a black, boy, you’re so cheeky you’d be dead.’
But Logue lost none of his mettle, or his socialist convictions and he continued to be a gadfly throughout his life. In the 1960s, he collaborated with Lindsay Anderson, giving poetry readings at the National Film Theater between features. He was a pacifist and a member of Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, taking part with Bertrand Russell on the marches to Aldermarston.
He appeared at Peter Cook’s club The Establishment and wrote songs for jazz singer Annie Ross, and had one recorded by Joan Baez. He also appeared at the Isle of Wight Rock Festival, and contributed the wonderfully bizarre “True Stories” to Private Eye magazine. He acted for Ken Russell in The Devils, wrote the screenplay for Russell’s Savage Messiah, and acted in Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky. Logue’s poetry was incredibly popular, even appearing in posters throughout the London Underground. His most famous works were Red Bird, a jazz colaboration with Tony Kinsey, and War Music, a stunning and critically praised adaption of Homer’s Illiad. He was awarded the 2005 Whitbread Poetry Prize for his collection Cold Calls.
Logue died in 2011, and Wilson won the 1966 election with a majority of 96 seats.
This is Christopher Logue reading “I shall vote Labour” in 2002, as filmed by Colin Still.
1976 was a difficult year for the satirical and current affairs magazine Private Eye.
This was the year its then editor, Richard Ingrams received over 60 writs from disgruntled billionaire businessman Sir James Goldsmith (aka Sir Jams Fishpaste, as the Eye called him). Goldsmith had objected to 3 stories the Eye had published about him—one in particular that suggested Fishpaste had helped his friend, Lord Lucan escape Britain from a murder charge.
Goldsmith and Lucan were bonded by several things, one in particular was a belief Communists had infiltrated western media, and Britain was on the verge of a Communist revolution. It led Fishpaste and Lucan to discuss the pros and cons of a Fascist military coup over “smoked salmon and lamb cutlets.” Their conversation reflected the paranoid, Boy’s Own fantasies of a very privileged and ruthless class.
“[Goldsmith] set out to destroy the little magazine that had presumed to offend him. He sued….But he spread the net far beyond Private Eye. In a novel exercise in overkill, he issued separate writs against all the distributors and wholesalers of the magazine. There were over 60 writs. Private Eye faced a huge financial burden. It was liable to indemnify all those whom Goldsmith had chosen to sue.
The first task was to reassure the recipients of these writs that the indemnity would be honoured. Private Eye lacked the resources but had a lot of supporters. A drive to raise money began, inspirationally named the Goldenballs Fund.
Peter Cook and Richard Ingrams check an early edition of ‘Private Eye’
The legal action brought considerable media attention, and in October, the BBC made a documentary about Ingrams and Private Eye:
“Richard Ingrams’ offices are at 34 Greek Street. A former haunt of prostitutes and drug addicts. Now the main problem is writ service. Rented at sixty-pounds-a-week, the building is small and dilapidated, but it’s all that Private Eye can afford. The magazine runs on a shoe-string budget. It comes out once a fortnight, price 20 pence, and has a circulation of 90,000.”
Ingrams may have looked like an unassuming university lecturer—dressed in a corduroy jacket, with a Viyella shirt and tie, but he was (surprisingly) a reformed drinker and smoker, who believed in God and played the organ at the local church. He was, more importantly, a superb and strongly principled editor, who understood Private Eye‘s role:
“It has to be anarchic. It has to be prepared to hit everyone—even its friends. As long as you attack everybody indiscriminately, completely indiscriminately you are safe. Immediately you start taking sides, or sticking-up for somebody, or keeping quiet, then you get into difficulties.”
Under his editorship, Private Eye had a golden decade in the seventies. It attracted some of the very best writers, journalists and artists, who brought an excellence other magazines (Punch) could only dream about. There was Auberon Waugh who produced an hilarious and corruscating diary; Paul Foot who delivered brilliant investigative reports; Peter Cook offered memorable comic contributions; and “Grovel” the Eye‘s (in)famous gossip column written by the late, Daily Mail diarist, Nigel Dempster, who claimed:
“We live in a banana peel society, where it gives no-one greater pleasure than to see someone trip up.”
Not all of the Eye writers were happy with Dempster’s column, Christopher Booker thought it edged too close to exaggeration, without thought of the damage done.
This lack of thought had led a 100 people to sue Private Eye by ‘76, which had depleted much of the magazine’s profits. But then the Eye was never really that interested in profits—it was a product of those patrician attitudes Public Schools can afford to inspire.
The magazine’s original quartet Richard Ingrams, Christopher Booker, Paul Foot and William Rushton had all met at Shrewsbury School, where they had produced their own teenage satirical magazine—a first issue was covered with hessian and embedded with free seeds. After school, university, where Ingrams hoped to become a leading comic actor. It didn’t happen, and the Famous 4 regrouped to produce the very first Private Eye in 1961, from typescript, Letra-set and cow-gum. It is interesting to note how this amateur, home-made style has remained very much the template for the Eye ever since.
This new magazine chimed with the so-called satire boom, in which Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller conquered the world with Beyond the Fringe, and producer Ned Sherrin made a star of David Frost (who Booker later described as a man with “..a peculiar ambition to be world-famous simply for the sake of being world-famous”) on the highly successful That Was The Week That Was—which proved so successful it was canceled after 2 series.
The Eye continued long after both these shows and the satire boom had run out of laughs, in part much aided by the backing of Peter Cook, who helped finance the magazine until his death in 1995.
What makes Private Eye essential is the ephemeral nature of its exceedingly good journalism. As Auberon Waugh once wrote (in the introduction to Another Voice—his essential collection of writing for The Spectator), “Timeless journalism is bad journalism”:
“The essence of journalism is that it should stimulate its readers for a moment, possibly open their minds to some alternative perception of events, and then be thrown away, with all its clever conundrums, its prophecies and comminations, in the great wastepaper basket of history.”
Though it has been occasionally wrong (MMR comes to mind) and wrong-headed (comic attitudes towards race, women, and gays have been questionable), Private Eye is indispensable and essential reading for those with an interest in the follies of politics and business of contemporary life, or the strong tradition of good investigation journalism, which most newspapers appear to have abandoned long ago. This is what made, and still makes Private Eye truly great.
Sir Jams Fishpaste launched his own magazine Talbot!, which soon disappeared without trace, before forming the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Margarine Party, a popular movement that failed to be..er..popular. He died in 1997.
Richard Ingrams quit Private Eye in 1986, and appointed alleged schoolboy Ian Hislop as Editor, who has managed the magazine with great success ever since.
Ingrams started a new magazine The Oldie in 1992, which has been described as “the new Punch and the new New Yorker,” which he continues to successfully edit today. Richard Ingrams is 94.
‘There is a nude orgy scene, but I don’t actually strap myself on to anything of the female nature,’ Dudley Moore tells Valerie Singleton about his latest film 10 in this interview from Tonight in Town in 1979.
While his comedy partner, Peter Cook has little to do but smoke cigarettes and rehearse the sidekick role he’d soon be performing, a few year’s down the line, for Joan Rivers’ chat show in 1986.
Thankfully, after a brief chat, Cook is allowed show off his mercurial, comic talents in an improvised sketch with Moore. It’s not classic Pete ‘n’ Dud, but it’s still worth watching, as so much of what these two comedy greats made has been sadly lost.
Bonus - seldom seen ‘Not Only, But Also’ sketch, after the jump…
Britton approached Fielding in 2002 to record extracts from J. G. Ballrd’s novel Crash. At first, Ms. Fielding demurred, but Britton’s persistence paid-off and a thrilling creative partnership began.
Fielding recorded Britton’s La Squab, as well T. S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, and selection of work by Collette - which Ms. Fielding had originally performed on stage in 1970.
Ms. Fielding is perhaps best known for her role as Valeria, the delightful, kooky vamp to Kenneth Williams’ Dr. Orlando Watt in Carry on Screaming, which tends to greatly over-shadow her legendary career in theater and revue. She was hailed by Noel Coward and Kenneth Tynan as one of theater’s greatest actresses, her performance as Hedda Gabler was described by The Times as “one of the experiences of a lifetime”. She was a versatile comedy actress and had performed in a series of successful comedy revues, including Pieces of Eight (co-starring Kenneth Williams, written by Peter Cook and Harold Pinter), and her celebrated one-woman show at Cook’s Establishment Club. Ms. Fielding also provided the announcer’s voice for The Village, in Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner. And if this weren’t enough, she was adored by Frederico Fellini.
In 2006, Britton invited Fenella to a studio in Rochdale, where she recorded a selection of popular hits - including PiL’s “Rise”, New Order’s “Blue Monday”, Kylie Minogue’s “I Can’t get You Out Of My Head”, and even Robbie Williams’ “Angels” - re-interpreting them through her own unique and distinct style, which Kim Fowley described in 2009:
Her Succulent/Velvet-Blue-Saloon vocal tones made me believe I was having Naked Lunch in a Berlin bubble-bath, next to Marlene Dietrich… Somewhere in Berlin, circa 1928–1932.
Hence, we have a message in an aural bottle, from a 21st Century, Axis Sally/Tokyo Rose: Fenella Fielding.
Bring on the smelling salts! Then give me the Silver-Spoon and Golden Needle, so I can blend into the Wonder-Word Void, where Ms Fielding must surely reside.
Fenella’s delivery of the following titles places me squarely at the foot of her bed, on my knees, in a position of worship!
Find your copy of Fenella Fielding’s The Savoy Sessionshere.
Here then, for your delectation and delight is the beautiful Ms. Fenella Fielding and “Rise”.
Bonus video clip of Fenella in the Studio, plus taster clips, after the jump…
Half the episodes of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s 1960’s sketch comedy series, Not Only… But Also were wiped by the BBC in order that the videotape stock might be used again. Doctor Who episodes, Spike Milligan’s Q5 series and many other significant moments of British television history were lost to this short sighted “penny-wise, pound-foolish” policy.
Thankfully, this classic sketch, “The Glidd of Glood” did survive. It’s one of my favorite, favorite things ever. This would be a great short to show before a screening of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Very much in the same vein and very, very funny.
John Lennon made three appearances on Not Only… But Also, the mid-1960s BBC sketch comedy show starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.
Also seen here is British actor Norman Rossington, who was in A Hard Day’s Night and the first British “New Wave” film Saturday Night and Sunday Morning with Albert Finney. You’ll also catch a glimpse of a young Diahann Carroll at the end.
Roger Mellie - the Man on the Telly first appeared as a cartoon strip in Viz magazine, a Derek ‘n’ Clive piss-take of more mainstream comics, set up by brothers Chris and Simon Donald in 1979. Like many of the Viz cartoon characters (Sid the Sexist, The Fat Slags), Roger Mellie was rude, obnoxious, foul-mouthed, sexist, racist with serious drink and drug issues. A CV like that today would make Mellie perfect TV fodder.
Born Roger Edward Paul Mellie in 1937 in North Shields, Roger was educated at Fulchester Mixed Infants, Bartlepool Grammar School, and the Oxford Remand Centre. Roger was hopeless at school, and was bottom of the class for every subject. He began his broadcasting career as a cub reporter on the news with Robert Dougall and shot to fame doing genital mutilation routines at the London Palladium. He was soon recruited by Fulchester Television, and became a popular TV personality. He also established his own production company, MellieVision, and it snowballed from there. He now spends most nights in Acton, where he often stays at his favourite lap-dancing club until gone three in the morning. He now lives in Fulchester with his 17-year old Thai wife, and 15 Staffordshire Bull Terriers. Roger is quite a colourful character: He has had five past wives (Two of which were ‘accidentally’ murdered), is an undischarged bankrupt; a convicted rapist; a hopeless alcoholic; a right-wing bigot, and a recovering cocaine addict, among other things. On one occasion in 2006, while requiring a liver transplant (due to chronic alcoholism), Roger became a hit-and-run driver: he ran over and killed a motorcyclist without stopping, later receiving the dead man’s liver for himself, then celebrating the successful liver transplant with a booze-up at the nearest pub.
In 1991, Mellie made the jump from comic strip to TV series, with Peter Cook providing the voice to the foul-mouthed TV star and Harry Enfield as everyone else. It works in places, but like many of Cook’s straight acting roles, there is a sense that Mellie would have been better if Cook had improvised more. But then that would have been Peter Cook and not Roger Mellie - the Man on the Telly.
In the late 1970s, while Dudley Moore was off starting his career in Hollywood, Peter Cook entertained himself and a new generation of fans by hosting one of British TV’s first Punk Rock music shows, Revolver.
Produced for ATV by famed impresario, Mickey Most (best known for producing Herman’s Hermits, Suzi Quatro and Jeff Beck) Revolver had Cook introducing acts like Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Buzzcocks, The Jam, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, who all played live in front of a studio audience. There was also a twat of an in-house DJ, but the less said about him the better. Of course, there was the occasional roster of crap record company acts, but this was the 1970s, when there were only three TV channels in the UK, and the national anthem ended proceedings every night on two of them. It was a new style of program-making, chaotic, rude, funny and at times required viewing - as the BFI explains:
Revolver‘s most innovative element was designed to evoke the confrontational atmosphere associated with punk gigs. Peter Cook was invited to guest on the programme on the strength of the notorious Derek and Clive recordings, which shared with punk a kind of adolescent, deliberately puerile nihilism. In the guise of the seedy manager of the rundown nightclub rented out to the TV company, Cook would appear on a video screen, sneering at the acts and antagonising the studio audience. One guest, Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley, recalled Cook distributing porn magazines, which he encouraged audience members to hold up during sets to put off the bands. Not surprisingly, Cook’s contribution is better remembered than that of nominal host Les Ross.
For all its punk credentials, the show’s music policy was often bewildering - appearing alongside the likes of X-Ray Spex, Ian Dury and Siouxsie and the Banshees were Kate Bush, Lindisfarne, Bonnie Tyler and the avowedly anti-punk Dire Straits.
Revolver‘s engagingly chaotic presentation makes it perhaps an ancestor of Channel 4’s controversial The Word (1990-95), but in 1978 it drew critical derision and failed to impress ITV managers. Unpromoted and buried in a late night Friday slot (ironically the exact post-pub slot in which The Word thrived), the series was starved of an audience and was pulled after just seven editions.
Bonus clips of Siouxsie and the Banshess, The Jam, Ian Dury and The Buzzcocks, after the jump…
At least once a year, I find myself watching the Peter Cook-Dudley Moore version of Bedazzled, a film I find both uproarious and poignant in equal measures. Peter Cook, playing perhaps the most charming devil figure in cinematic history, strikes a deal with hapless fry cook Dudley Moore: seven wishes for Moore’s soul (seeking reentry into heaven, Cook’s working his way to a hundred billion of ‘em). The humor is dry (Cook walks in during a Moore suicide attempt and says, “I do hope this isn’t an awkward moment.”), the direction comes via Singin’ In The Rain‘s Stanley Donen.
The Cook-Moore comedy partnership started in England in the early ‘60s with Beyond The Fringe, and then went on to reach even greater absurdist heights with Not Only…But Also. Many of those early clips have migrated over to YouTube, but just today I stumbled across a Not Only… clip I’d never seen before (above), one claiming to be part of a “prize-winning documentary made for Idaho television.”
In it, Cook and Moore perform their faux Beatles diddy, “The L.S. Bumble Bee,” a song described by the 365 Days Project thusly:
The story goes that a few DJs played the record, “The L.S. Bumble Bee,” claiming that it was an unreleased Beatles’ track, or else an advance from their forthcoming, highly anticipated masterpiece “Sgt. Pepper’s.” True or not, the song managed to sneak its way on to several Beatles bootlegs throughout the 1970s, convincing many more that it was an authentic outtake.
In a letter from December of 1981, Moore offered a bit of insight: “Peter Cook and I recorded that song about the time when there was so much fuss about L.S.D., and when everybody thought that “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” was a reference to drugs. The exciting alternative offered to the world was L.S.B.!, and I wrote the music to, in some ways, satirize the Beach Boys rather than the Beatles. But I’m grateful if some small part of the world thinks that it may have been them, rather than us!”
But what really sticks with you is how perfectly this song captures the lollygaggery of the wondrous hippie fantasy machine that was the late 1960s. Its sparse instrumentation, with distant shimmering pianos, screaming babies, and jangly, seagull-like guitar effects set it apart from other psychedelic satires, but it goes further still. Its inviting lyric is more genuinely hallucinogenic than much of what has been labeled “psychedelic” throughout the years.
Don’t miss the “surprise” guest that pops up at the end. Below you can watch Peter Cook, whom Stephen Fry called “the funniest man who ever drew breath,” singing the Bedazzled theme song.