Peter Cook's widow has told of her struggle to raise her brain-damaged daughter, her bitter clash with Private Eye, which he co-founded, and the breakdowns she has suffered since his death seven years ago.
Lin Cook spoke, in a rare interview, as she launched the Peter Cook Foundation, a multi-million-pound charity to help his mentally handicapped stepdaughter and other young adults like her.
Mrs Cook said her troubles were compounded by what she claims was a long-running smear campaign waged against her in the years following the comedian's death.
Born in Malaysia of Chinese descent, she was likened to Yoko Ono, herself vilified in the aftermath of John Lennon's death. She says she was accused, wrongly, of trying to sell her stake in Private Eye, the satirical magazine, to one of its bêtes noires, Mohammed Al Fayed, while rows with Cook's family and friends were raked over.
Cook, who died aged 57 from a gastro-intestinal haemorrhage, is considered one of the finest British comics. His partnership with Dudley Moore is regarded by many as just about the greatest double act. He helped to found Private Eye, at one time a source of anguish for Lin Cook.
"At the time they [Private Eye] didn't defend me and that was very hurtful. But I didn't do a thing," said Mrs Cook. "I was just trying to cope with the fact Peter wasn't around.
"It was really horrible. Now there is no closeness and no antagonism either." She still owns 40 per cent of the magazine – the largest single shareholding – and has no plans to sell although she admits: "One can never say never. I cannot live in a time warp. I hope I don't sell this house [Cook's, in Hampstead, north London]. But at some point it might be too big for me. There is no reason to sell Private Eye but who knows what the future brings."
Peter Cook first met Lin in 1982 in Hampstead, where they both lived. While he affected an air of dry cynicism about most matters, he held his stepdaughter Nina in great affection from the moment he took over parental responsibility for her, when she was five.
When he died in 1995, Mrs Cook's life began to crumble. She has suffered from severe bouts of depression as she struggled with her grief and the difficulty of bringing up Nina, who has severe learning difficulties.
Nina was born with a rare disorder, affecting one in 250,000 babies, that makes protein toxic. Every time Lin Cook breastfed her daughter she was, unwittingly, poisoning her. "Because it was not diagnosed at birth, she ended up with brain damage because her body cannot break down protein," said Mrs Cook."
Nina was 17 when Cook died. "His death was difficult for her," Mrs Cook said. "She had nightmares. Being in a bad state myself I didn't look after her or help her. I was trying to sort out my own feelings and grief."
As Nina has grown older, the problem of finding her suitable accommodation has encouraged Mrs Cook to build her and other disabled adults a home and a music centre to provide much-needed therapy.
She hopes to raise £7m for the foundation, whose patrons include Stephen Fry, Sir Bobby Charlton, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Sir David Frost and Sir Cameron Macintosh.
A series of events will be held throughout the year including a benefit concert, the Geriatrics' Ball, which will take place 25 years after the original Secret Policeman's Ball, in which Cook appeared.Reuse content