When Dudley Moore died a couple of years ago, I spoke to Jonathan Miller, the renowned theatre and opera producer, who appeared for years with Moore, Peter Cook and Alan Bennett in the ground-breakingBeyond the Fringe. There they all were together, all those hundreds of evenings, in London and on Broadway. I asked Dr Miller for his thoughts on Moore and he claimed barely to know him. But, I protested, you must have all gone out for a meal many times after the show and chatted. He paused then replied: "Do you know, we never did that once."
I thought of that conversation this week, when I read that there is to be a "warts and all" film about the difficult relationship between Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. But does anyone, even the brilliant Terry Johnson who is scripting the Channel 4 film, really know how much quality time Cook and Moore spent together? Do we have a clue what they said to each other in private? Or can we only guess in the way that I guessed, wrongly, about the Beyond the Fringe quartet?
I'm not looking forward to this film. Called Not Only ... But Always, it will star Rhys Ifans (Hugh Grant's slobbish flatmate in Notting Hill) as Cook, and the lesser known Aidan McArdle as Moore. However good they are, they will be wrong, because the memory of the real Cook and Moore is too vivid.
It's strange when you think about it, but while artists' words and music can be protected by copyright for years after their death, their lives and careers can be purloined for a biopic instantly. How different things would be if there were a time limit on biopics - if you had to be dead 50 years before you could be portrayed on film? No more unsexy Marilyn Monroes, no more uncharismatic James Deans, none of the vacant-looking Princess Dianas there have already been, with many more, no doubt, to come. At least not for a while.
What I would love to see is not a semi-fictionalised drama of Cook and Moore, but a rerun of the duo's Not Only ... But Also TV shows from the 1960s. However, some bright spark at the BBC threw most of those away. There remain a few, though, on video and DVD, to show that no film will quite do justice to the pair, and no actors will be able to perform the deadpan comic dialogues between Pete 'n' Dud with the timing, tension and humour of the originals.
But I'm being hopelessly unrealistic, of course. Everyone's life and relationships are up for grabs, even before death in some cases. Rhys Ifans may well turn out to be the face of Peter Cook for a whole generation. But not in my house.
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It's a bit of an embarrassment for the producers of the Elvis Presley musical Jailhouse Rock that they now won't be allowed to use the song "Jailhouse Rock". Elvis Presley Enterprises, owner of the King's back catalogue, has refused permission for the song to be in the show, which opens in London later this month and stars Mario Kombou. The song's writers, Leiber and Stoller, have also expressed outrage over the musical using their song title.
This will come as a nasty shock to West End producers - and I have spoken to a few of them - who see rock'n'roll musicals as the musicals' milch cow for the next decade at least. It's not going to be that easy. The songs aren't just there for the taking. Perhaps the other rock musicals should rally round. The producers of We Will Rock You could remove that song from the Queen musical; the producers of Tonight's the Night could take that number out of the Rod Stewart musical. It could become a theatrical convention that the song title on the billboards is the one you definitely won't hear.
¿ I have long campaigned for cheaper theatre tickets. But I must take my hat off to the impresario Raymond Gubbay, who has gone a step further. In his season of operas which begin next month at the Savoy Theatre in London, Gubbay will be making all first nights completely free. I confess I hadn't thought of that. And if he can balance the books while making first nights free, then presumably other producers can do the same. Gubbay says he wants to get away from the "stuffy" and "inaccessible" feel of traditional first nights. I think he should be even more radical. Let the public in for free, and charge full price for the usual first-night partygoers and hangers-on.Reuse content