I couldn’t believe how excited I was when my book on Peter Cook arrived. It was little girl excitement, wanted to drop everything and look through it, start reading. So I did. The joy only elevated when I learned some of his sketches were in the book. I could really study the guy now. Then I realized this is how excited some people must get over the Beatles.
I get excited over Peter Cook the way some people get over John Lennon. Peter is often compared to Lennon to start to explain him and his work, something so people can get a quick grasp. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore are to comedy as John Lennon and Paul McCartney are to music. Peter is the one to look out for and Dudley is the cute, cuddly one. Someone said Dudley’s presence made Peter palatable and permissible as Paul made John permissible. I move to say “balance”.
There was a razor edge to Peter’s comedy. When he fixed his sights on something and focused his words to say how he felt, it really hit people (and the targets, I think that’s what really got people, the targets got nervous). When you have that power and extreme, you need someone to smile and say, “We’re having fun. We’re here to entertain.” He was able to say it without taking away from the satire. Dudley Moore was hilarious and very talented too so to say he was there to balance Peter is a slight to him as to say Paul’s there to reign in John.
Peter Cook like John Lennon is difficult to talk about because you can’t pigeon-hole them. You can’t say “punk comedy” and “working class hero” because that doesn’t capture them in their entirety because they were these living breathing geniuses that produced unnaturally life changing works naturally. Both men worked hard but gave off a mystique of not caring and aloofness that infuriated people. But they did care and care passionately and used their given talents that they had fine tuned and developed over the years to do something about what they cared about. (Quick side note: Peter Cook is known for his impersonation of the prime minister and many people though this was a critical impersonation. Many others say he liked the prime minister even thought he was “adorable”. Peter’s focus many have said was on making people laugh).
Like any organic thing their talents changed over time. There was an ebb and flow. Like anything, there will be great moments, then differently great moments. Others place expectations on the artist to hit that brilliant mark every single time. It’s unreasonable.
To our generation, Cook and Lennon have risen to a god-like stature. I may have heard Peter Cook’s comedy once or twice before, but it was hearing it as I had heard the Beatles before I had discovered the Beatles. I heard their music with my ears in the background.
I discovered Beyond the Fringe by happenstance; it was in Netflix recommendations, if you like this, you might like this. And worlds opened for me. I saw the type of writing I wanted to do performed before me and working out. That started my Peter Cook searches which brought me to the “Not Only… But Also” episode that features Peter Cook and John Lennon. Fate. Thank you, YouTube.
I’m hungry to devour everything about Peter Cook the way some people crave Lennon. We hope by imbibing the man and his work we will pick up fractals of their talent. I hope to pick up Cook’s comedy by osmosis so it will fuel, increase performances and the talent in my work.