FA blog #1: Cook & Moore
Hello Friends. Welcome to our new blog. A blog is a like special pub where the drinks are words and you're allowed to smoke (In this metaphor smoke means read).
Long before I was a brewer and pedlar of friendship, I was a comedy promoter. I've run comedy gigs in pubs, theatres and the British Museum (we were asked to leave). I even toured with the UK's smallest comedy gig (it was in a shed and sat two people. The comedian had to pop their head in the window). I've also run the UK's largest comedy gig in a shed (we squeezed four people in there once).
It's fair to say comedy is something I think about a lot. So for the inaugural Friendship Adventure blog, I thought I'd write about the funniest and greatest* friendship of all time: Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.
I love Peter Cook. My first and longest lasting comedic obsession. I’ve got this picture hanging in my kitchen. In particular his work on Not Only… But Also. Masterful and absurd stuff cherished by fans (as the original tapes of half the episodes were lost in a BBC Archive fire). Peter Cook and Dudley Moore make for a formidable double act. Frankly, I think this is sketch comedy in near purest form; structured but unstructured (they would riff and improvise in rehearsal for hours, have it typed up and displayed on huge boards off camera, then ignore it), precise but free (Cook would plan meticulously but save his best lines as an on-camera surprise for Moore, inserting them as he saw fit), so absurd but so accurate (how many of these pub bores have we all met?). This sketch is a masterclass in riffing and comic timing and it’s not a one off. Witness the way Cook plays with Moore in this next one - the look he throws his partner mid-riff: the admiration, the joy, the devilment.
Writing about comedy is much the same as writing about music - Martin Mull said you might as well be dancing about architecture, for all the effect it has. A musical comparison is apposite. ‘Good comedy is like music’ says Ralph Jones, writing in Vice ‘it's as precise and it's as difficult. Cook's comedy has always enthralled me because of how beautifully rhythmic it is, how smooth its cadences and how satisfying its beats’. Cook was a man of near totemic influence. Eric Idle, having seen Beyond the Fringe (co-written by and starring Cook) said “I simply had no idea you were allowed to be that funny”.
“Everything I've ever told you, including this, is a lie.”
Like his character, his scope of works is too much to take on in one blog; It was hard to get the measure of the man. There is little to add to a consideration of his legacy as it speaks for itself: Peter Cook invented the concept of modern satire. He is credited with making Private Eye flourish. He established the UK’s first proper modern comedy club. He was friends with The Beatles. All by the age of 27.
I’m not trying to explore his complex inner machinations - no doubt so integral to his incredible and accomplished comedic output. Cook’s comedic apologists are as widespread as the critics of his personality. He could be lazy, drunk, rude, sexist, irreverent, unfaithful, even mean. I’d like just to focus on a simple and joyous moment in time, a historic and hilarious snapshot of brilliance. So important and yet so throwaway, so silly. Much like the man himself.
Consider this, from an article remembering him in The Independent “During his random visits to the Eye (where his ceremonial chair remains, kept empty), Cook would phone up various authorities, such as the Ministry of Technology, to object to "all these bloody machines everywhere".
In his accomplished biography of Peter Cook, Harry Thompson spends a lot of time on the single most important relationship of his life, that with Dudley Moore. People occasionally mistook Cook’s attitude for cruelty towards his friend - listening to Derek and Clive (their late in life post fame anarchic shock comedy improvisation sessions) is often painful - or jealous of his later success. But Cook was open with, honest to and utterly reliant upon his dearest friend, and the feeling was touchingly mutual. Their friendship was a foundation to their writing, a solid touchstone from which to make creative leap after creative leap. Who else but your best friend would give you time to explore material about such a dreadful restaurant as The Frog and Peach? Comic chemistry like this can’t be manufactured. Cook loved his friend Moore and Dud loved his friend Pete. The characters on screen echo this. Their total belief in one another is at the centre of what makes this sketch funny. It’s Peter Cook and his friend Dudley Moore having a pint and messing about, before writing about having a pint and messing about, before messing about whilst recording a sketch about having a pint and messing about.
Upon hearing of Cook’s death (brought on by complications from alcoholism) Moore’s “first act was to pick up the phone and ring the answering machine in Peter's empty house, thousands of miles away in the middle of the night, just to hear his partner's laconic drawl once more."
Until next time,
Neil (and the rest of Team FA)
*This is my opinion, don't @ me.