Snapshots from Cookyland Peter Cook, who died on Monday,has been eulogised by many an old lag. Harry Enf ield, a young lag, remembers a friend
`Something very important's happened,' he said. `Jimmy Hill's grown two inches in the course of an hour'
Sunday 15 January 1995
So began one of many answer-phone messages I received over the past few years. I would know that Cook had rung when the answer-phone screen said "one message", but the whole 30- minutes'-worth of tape was used up. I would rewind to find him skimming through the day's events as covered by the tabloids, or questioning the legal validity of Noel Edmonds's beard. Once he began by whimpering like a dog for a full five minutes before finally confessing to visiting Thresher's off-licence several times and begging me to relieve him of his post as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
If I had received a juicy bit of bad press, I could rely on Peter to ring up and relay it to me. "I think it's outrageous that everyone thinks you're a c***. Guffaw guffaw." I wish he'd ring now . . . "I think we're all consumed with grief at the news ofthe tragic death of England's greatest satirist, Mr Larry Grayson. Guffaw."
Peter Cook was one of four British post-war comedians - with Gerald Hoffnung, Peter Sellers and Rik Mayall - who didn't need to fall back on jokes to get laughs. The characters he created were so inherently funny that he could just say anything, talk to t al rubbish, to have one in stitches. Monty Python seems to have dated. The jokes have gone stale, the format and situations - after years of imitation by lesser comedians - look old and tired. But Pete and Dud are as fresh as any recent comedian, and mu c h funnier.
They didn't have to be topical, or poignant. They were too strong to need jokes. "What's the most frightening thing you can ever imagine happening to you then, Dud?" one sketch began. This was followed by 10 minutes of descriptions of huge Nazis coming round in the dead of night to Daphne Du Maurier's house, where Pete is staying, tap-tap-tapping on the door, and placing him in a huge sack full of ants with a special coagulant on their jaws so that when they bite you, you don't bleed and you die a terrible painful death being slowly eaten alive. Total rubbish. Very funny.
One of the strange things about being a comic is that many of the people you look up to are still alive. You get a bit of success and suddenly, there you are in the same room as your childhood hero, saying hullo. It doesn't happen in many other creative jobs. After The Rachel Papers was published, Martin Amis didn't get a call from Charles Dickens inviting him over for a drink. But Peter Cook did ring me, and many of my contemporaries. I've met quite a few Great British Comedians, and Peter was the onlyone without any sense of his own importance. I never got any feeling of "Me great - you junior boy. How nice it must be for you to meet me."
The first time I met him, I arrived at his house, and he hurried me in, stuffed a beer in my hand, and herded me upstairs. "Something very important has happened. Jimmy Hill has grown two inches in the course of an hour," he said, as he sat me down to watch a Match of the Day video, fast- forwarding between two shots of Jimmy Hill, who did indeed get taller behind his desk. I suggested that perhaps the height of Hill's chair had been adjusted during Arsenal v Chelsea. "That's a very confident assertion.Did you study science at university?" I was in Cookyland.
Cookyland. Downstairs, a fridge. Upstairs, the day's newspapers all over the floor, cable television on, a hairdryer at the ready - Cooky dried his hair every 10 minutes or so. A half- bottle of vodka on the table, a double-page spread from the Sun on the wall: "THE DAY PETER COOK BECAME A DRUNK by Dudley Moore". Peter found this a constant source of amusement. There was a line in it: "Then one day in 1974 Peter became a drunk" - as if he had gone from teetotaller to wino over lunch.
Peter did get drunk. Drunks are usually bores, then they go to AA and become teetotal bores. Peter's drinking affected his health more than his personality. He was never a bore.
He got immense pleasure out of the stupid and mundane things in life. He was extremely kind and supportive to many who tried to follow in his footsteps.
He had tremendous love and respect for his wife Lin. He was not the tragic figure the press are implying, because he continued to give so much to others until the end.
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