Peter Cook, British comedian and founding member of the ’60s satirical revue “Beyond the Fringe,” died Jan. 9 of a gastro intestinal hemorrhage in a hospital near his home in Hampstead, London, where he had been admitted a week earlier. He was 57.
A devotee of high living, Cook had been in poor health for some time and done little writing or performing. His TV appearances were recently limited to chat shows and celebrity spots. Until his death, however, he remained the chief shareholder in the satirical weekly magazine Private Eye, with which he had become involved in 1963.
The son of a civil servant, Cook was born in Torquay, southwest England, and studied modern languages at Cambridge U., where he started as a writer of stage revues. Along with fellow students Alan Bennett, Dudley Moore and Jonathan Miller, he created “Beyond the Fringe,” a series of anti-Establishment satirical sketches first performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 1960.
In May 1961, the revue transferred to London to great acclaim. Cook also co-founded the Establishment nightclub in Soho, which became a favored venue for the new humor of the time and (because of its club status) escaped official theater censorship. Guest artists included Lenny Bruce.
From 1965 to 1971, Cook partnered Moore in four series of the BBC comic revue, “Not Only … But Also,” which established the duo as popular entertainers. Their characters – the inane park-bench philosophers Pete ‘n’ Dud, and Cook’s moronic E.L. Wisty – became national icons, and their catch phrases entered the English language.
Their two-man show, “Behind the Fridge,” successfully toured the U.K., U.S. and Australia in the early ’70s, and in the early ’80s they teamed again to create the working-class meatheads Derek and Clive. However, as Moore went on to expand his career in the U.S., Cook’s largely waned, a victim of self-confessed laziness and lessening interest, as well as changing styles.
Cook and Moore won a Grammy for spoken-word recording for their 1974 album “Good Evening” (Island).
Cook’s humor, best suited to the TV or legit sketch format, and deeply grounded in English absurdism, never really transferred to the bigscreen, though he was a frequent performer in many British comedy movies of the ’60s.
His best-known films include “The Wrong Box” (1966), “Bedazzled” (1967), “Monte Carlo or Bust!” (“Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies”) and Dick Lester’s “The Bed Sitting Room” (both 1969), and the title role in “The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer” (1970), a satire of politics and the media exec-produced by David Frost.
He also played a seedy secret agent in the 1968 “A Dandy in Aspic” and Sherlock Holmes to Moore’s Dr. Watson in Paul Morrissey’s 1978 spoof, “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” His last major role was as a louche villain in the 1984 “Supergirl.” He also appeared in “The Princess Bride” in 1987 and “Without a Clue” in 1988.
Cook married three times – in 1963 to Wendy Snowden, in 1973 to actress Judy Huxtable, and in 1989 to Lin Chong. Also survived by two daughters from his first marriage.