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Peter Cook: A Biography [Paperback]

Harry Thompson
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)

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Book Description

28 Dec 2006

There are those who say - and Peter Cook himself was among them - that most of his humour was autobiographical. Others - and Peter Cook himself was among them -contend that this simply isn't the case. The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle.

Peter Cook made President Kennedy wait in line to see him and visited Elizabeth Taylor in her dressing room. He befriended tramps and fundraised for CND. He was capable of extraordinary kindnesses and occasional cruelties. He helped define comedy and satire for a generation, but ended his life a recluse. Harry Thompson has produced the first ever comprehensive biography of this influential and fascinating subject who came up with some of the funniest sketches and greatest jokes of all time.

Product details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Sceptre (28 Dec 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0340936428
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340936429
  • Product Dimensions: 19.4 x 12.8 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 529,643 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'Lively and penetrating' ( Independent on Sunday )

'At last, this book explains the mystery of Peter Cook - how someone so funny, so loveable, so handsome, could make such a total hash of his life. Harry Thompson's pedigree in television comedy makes him an authoritative commentator on Cook's performances' (Lynne Barber, Daily Telegraph )

'Unputdownable, level-headed and intelligent' (Nicholas Lezard, Guardian )

'This definitive heartbreaking as it is entertaining' (Jessica Berens, Times Literary Supplement )

About the Author

Harry Thompson was the inventor and editor of many TV comedy series including Have I Got News For You and Never Mind the Buzzcocks. He was the author of acclaimed bestsellers, including Peter Cook: A Biography. His most recent book was a historical novel, This Thing of Darkness. He worked as a producer at Talkback TV and in his spare time ran an infamous cricket team, the Captain Scott XI. He died in November 2005.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly compelling biography 14 Feb 2003
By A Customer
On the presumption that it will mainly be fans of Peter Cook's comedy who pick this book up, I can assure potential readers that you will often laugh out loud at the stream of reproduced work from his long career and anecdotes from his strange life.
More than that though, you get a thoroughly convincing assessment of Cook's long, slow descent into alcoholism (and most other vices you care to name), depression, loneliness, and fear of failure. It is perhaps a testament to 'Cookie' that he could sink so low, and so slowly, and yet remain so loved and admired by anyone, star name or not, who came into contact with him.
It is quite astonishing that a book could be this funny and at the same time so sad. The best biography I've ever read.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent 11 April 2000
A top-notch biography of a great comedian, one whose gift for comedic improvisation was too specialised. Like Peter Sellers, Cook comes across as a melancholy, introverted man who constantly felt the need to wear a mask, to act the part of 'Peter Cook'. His life story comes across as a greek tragedy - his rise is meteoric, and his decline and fall are inevitable, and entirely self-inflicted. The imagine of Peter Cook's talent languishing at home, telephoning late-night radio phone-in shows, is extremely depressing. That said, there's an unexpected upturn near the end (his classic appearance on 'Clive Anderson Talks Back'), and the book thankfully doesn't gloss over the brilliant, brutal 'Derek and Clive' LPs.
It would make an excellent film, too.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Well Researched 23 July 2005
Most people will be aware both of just how funny Peter Cook was and how his life fell apart in the late 70's and never really recovered. This excellently researched biography provides us with a great deal of detail about his entire life and the author has clearly spent a great deal of time interviewing various people who knew him.
For myself I did not realise just how many people he influenced and worked with in the early part of his life. There is a good amount of transcribed scripts which make the book extremely funny to read in places. It does however become moving towards the end as it is covering the times when Cook's life fell apart. It is truely tragic just how much of a mess he got himself into.
The one thing that slightly lets the book down is that the author is clearly somewhat in awe of Cook and seems unable to be critical of the bad aspects of his character. There were several instances of Cook being truely horrible to various people (frequently to Dudley Moore) and the author seems determined to make excuses for Cook when the fact is, he was just being horrible.
All in all though this is a great biography of one of the funniest men there has ever been.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A well-researched and understanding biography 9 Feb 2003
By T. D. Welsh TOP 500 REVIEWER
Peter Cook was a man of contradictions: an amazing talent who eventually failed in the harsh world of show business; a kind, friendly, good-humoured man who destroyed his marriages and repelled his best friends through drunkenness and cruelty. Now that is a challenge for a biographer - and Harry Thompson has risen superbly to the occasion. This 480-page blockbuster, crammed with detailed reminiscences, gives an unparalleled insight into the personality of this most English of comedians.
What a long way it is from Peter Cook's grandfather, a railway official in Kuala Lumpur who shot himself under the stress of a big promotion, and his father - a "sea-green incorruptible" colonial administrator - to the party he threw at the Cobden Working Men's Club in 1993, where the Rolling Stones rubbed shoulders with the Monty Python crew, two England cricket captains, Julian Clary and a mass of other celebrities. So tight was the scrum that Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller never managed to greet their host at all.
Like a stock market boom/bust cycle, the ups and downs of Cook's career were hugely amplified by the dictates of fashion. He was lucky enough to catch the early 1960s satire wave, and quickly became so sought-after that President Kennedy and his wife actually had to go and meet him, after he declined an invitation to the White House. Other than becoming global dictator, there was hardly anywhere to go after that but down - and Cook's perfectionism and lack of ambition conspired to make the descent almost as fast as the rise.
Cook's attitude to alcohol may have been at the root of his downfall. He simply wasn't prepared to give it up, and - like many people to whom money is no object - found himself drinking more and more.
Read more ›
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thoroughly compelling read. 3 Sep 2002
I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderfully fascinating biography by Harry Thompson. He has certainly managed to get to grips with his remarkably gifted and complicated subject. The anecdotes and quotes peppered throughout are truly memorable - as are the sad episodes of Peter Cook's life. I particularly enjoyed the account of Cook and Hislop's raid on the Mirror building while its proprietor, Robert Maxwell, was away with his mistress. I found myself laughing out loud on numerous occasions. The book is beatifully written, too. A must for anyone who has an ounce of interest in British comedy, or for that matter, impeccably constructed biographies.
It was some years after reading this book that I learnt with great sadness of Harry Thompson's untimely death from cancer in his forties. He was clearly an exceptionally gifted writer.
Alex Pearl, author of 'Sleeping with the Blackbirds'
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Sad, insightful.
A good biography. Gives a good picture of the heady days of 60s satire and his place in it. Then his slow descent into drinking and eccentricity. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Dara Monahan
5.0 out of 5 stars The best biography of the 20th centuries finest satirist
Peter cook
god father of modern comedy
the comedian's comedian
and truly one of the funniest men to ever draw breath. Read more
Published 5 months ago by dregj
5.0 out of 5 stars what a life!
I started to read this book on holiday but never finished it-i couldnt take it home being villas property so elated that i can now finish it
Published 12 months ago by karen bateman
5.0 out of 5 stars Oh yes!
Just great, a rivetting story of a genius. I relate to everything about him from his drin king to his superstitions, to being so bored with it all. Highly recommmended read.
Published 18 months ago by Rupe from London
4.0 out of 5 stars A must for all Peter Cook fans
Very readable and full of interesting insights into the complex personality of a comedy great. What a pity so little of his BBC work is available.
Published 19 months ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Overwrought and overwrit
Stephen Fry says Peter Cook was the funniest man ever to draw breath. Recommendation enough to want to know all I can about the extraordinary Peter Cook. Read more
Published 19 months ago by David Wineberg
5.0 out of 5 stars Bitter sweet genius
Thompson's account of Peter Cook is near flawless which is more than can be said of Cook himself. It's lengthy, but never ever dull. Read more
Published on 13 Feb 2012 by Beefcake Pantyhose
5.0 out of 5 stars The Extraordinary Life of Britain's Best Comedian.
The late Harry Thompson epitomised what it is to be a brilliant biographer, from the opening page Peter Cook's extraordinary life is revealed in vibrant and engaging prose which... Read more
Published on 18 Aug 2011 by SarahMcB
5.0 out of 5 stars Peter Cook - A Biography
This was purchased as a present and has been very popular - in fact I hope to read it sometime! Delivery was very good.
Published on 3 Nov 2010 by Mrs. M. Ivory
5.0 out of 5 stars Not too many Cooks like that one...
Superior biography, well researched and written with a degree of humour. Of course, as an Irish Catholic bishop I didn't understand many of the swear words used in his later... Read more
Published on 3 Sep 2010 by Bishop of Galway
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