Peter Cook voted best comedian by fellow humorists

Peter Cook, whose irreverent satire shocked post-war Britain, has been voted the world's greatest comedian by fellow professionals in this country and the US.

Best known for his partnership with Dudley Moore in the BBC show Not Only ... But Also, Cook is credited with changing the face of British humour, bringing cutting-edge comedy to mainstream audiences for the first time.

More than 300 writers, directors and humorists were asked to nominate their favourite comic for Channel 4's The Comedians' Comedian, broadcast last night.

Cook, whose overnight rise to fame gave him iconic status in the 1960s, left a wide and varied legacy, from the "satire boom" of the Soho comedy clubs to Hollywood.

Cook and Moore first worked together in 1960, performing in Beyond the Fringe at the Edinburgh Festival along with Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett. Cook's parody of the then Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, though relatively harmless by today's standards, was the first occasion a major establishment figure had been so mercilessly, and so publicly, mocked.

Cook was also responsible for many of the long-running characters in the magazine Private Eye, which he owned and nurtured through its early days. These include Ron Knee, ashen-faced supremo of Neasden FC, and Spiggy Topes, leader of the popular singing group The Turds.

Not Only ... But Also was a huge hit in the 1960s and Cook and Moore soon moved on to the big screen, making films that included the cult hit Bedazzled.

The partnership fizzled out in the late 1970s as Moore built a film career of his own and Cook slowly subsided into alcoholism. He died 10 years ago this month.

John Cleese, star of Fawlty Towers and the Monty Python films, comes second in the poll, with the film-maker Woody Allen third. Eric Morecambe is fourth, but there is no place for his sidekick, Ernie Wise.

There are only five women in the top 50 - Victoria Wood is the highest-ranking female at 27.

THE 20 FUNNIEST COMICS

1 Peter Cook

2 John Cleese

3 Woody Allen

4 Eric Morecambe

5 Groucho Marx

6 Tommy Cooper

7 Laurel and Hardy

8 Billy Connolly

9 Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer

10 Richard Pryor

11 Chris Morris

12 Tony Hancock

13 Bill Hicks

14 Peter Sellers

15 Steve Martin

16 Ronnie Barker

17 Steve Coogan

18 Charlie Chaplin

19 Eddie Izzard

20 Paul Merton

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