“I ran out of ambition at the age of 27…”

It was very pleasing to read this article on the BBC website.

Comedian Peter Cook has been honoured with the unveiling of a plaque at the central London club he opened, kick-starting the 1960s satire boom.

Cook – who died in 1995 – became one of the UK’s most influential comics of the last 50 years, through his work with Dudley Moore and in Beyond the Fringe.

The Establishment Club, in Soho, was seen as a symbol of swinging London.

A Westminster Green Plaque was unveiled at the building by the city council and the Heritage Foundation.

I have many favourite comedians but Peter Cook has always been amongst them ever since I saw him as E L Whisty on TV in the early 1960s.

Occasionally surreal, and nearly always set in some slightly skewed parallel universe, Cook’s comic structures were one factor in the development of comedy from a gag-based, catchphrase-linked entertainment to something less formal and more thoughtful. Although he was a satirist, Cook tended to find humour in the various individuals he observed, so you got characters ranging from the Tourette’s inclined Clive (of Derek and Clive fame) to Sir Arthur Streeb Greebling (or is that Greeb Streebling?) – a gentleman-adventurer of questionable morals, truthfulness and, indeed, sanity.

In many ways, Cook was like Eddie Hazel – blogged about below – in that he died too early and in a booze-sodden state without really having got the recognition he deserved. His laziness frustrated those around him who knew that he was a comic genius and could have been really big, but Cook wasn’t interested and preferred to live the life of an alcoholic, only surfacing when the whim took him. I suppose you could say that in this respect he was a true artist, even entertaining listeners to a late night phone in on LBC in London, where, using the pseudonym “Sven from Swiss Cottage” he would complain and muse about herrings and relationships – and all because he loved to be a comedian. No money changed hands for this and Cook wasn’t rumbled at first.

The article header above sort of says it all and maybe, in retrospect this reluctance to follow a conventional career path – TV shows, Hollywood, mega-fame, hounded by the paparazzi – preserved a lot of the maverick in his character.

If he’d taken bit parts in Disney films and done the Royal Variety Performance we’d never have had something like the splendidly foul-mouthed Derek and Clive, which was possibly the best comedy he was involved in.

The video from which this clip is taken is at the same time the funniest and also the most poignant thing I think I’ve ever seen under the broad heading of comedy. Cook mercilessly goes for Moore – who was very vulnerable following the death of his mother – and the spectacle is genuinely disturbing. This is where the duo really split, although they did work together afterwards, with the relationship never fully reviving after this on-camera spiritual death.

On the other hand, it’s also howlingly funny – although it’s a bit of a rollercoaster to watch.

Not for the easily-offended or someone who just wants to laugh.

File under ‘intense’.

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