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on 9 October 2002
At last, a collection of the musings of one of the greatest living Englishmen (albeit, now a dead one). Peter Amadeus Cook, as John Cleese referred to him. Since Peter's death there has been the odd book about him here and there. Harry Thompson's excellent Biog and Something Like Fire the collection of memories of friends and colleagues edited by Cook's last wife Lin being chief among them. This however is the nitty gritty, the dog's doo-dahs or perhaps more aptly, the bee's knees (as many of Cook's wildly inventive stream of consciousness tales included that very insect).
Here are culled examples - though not as the name suggests 'The Complete' - Peter Cook creative outpoorings, from his early reviews through to the Clive Anderson special with assorted pieces of writing in between, not quite what you might call journalism but mini works of genius every one.
Peter is dead, E.L. Wisty never managed to dominate the world but we can still help make a difference if every household had a copy of this book. Sit it in your loo and read a sketch per visit, put it by your bedside (it may help get rid of film starlets bothering you in their nocturnal lusts), just buy the book dammit, read it, injest it, spoil yourself in its healthy outlook on the ridiculous world we live in and give thanks for Peter Cook.
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on 11 March 2014
I loved Peter Cook, naughty, funny, iconic. This is a dirge of a book that really doesn't bring out any of the sparks of wit that made him so great. Very so-so. Shame.
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on 7 April 2017
great condition
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#1 HALL OF FAMEon 29 October 2003
This collection is superb- transcripts of various pieces/sketches etc that Cook made over several decades. From the classic Beyond the Fringe (& preceding work, though sadly not the short ghost story that is mentioned in the introduction)through to the collaborations with the late Dudley Moore (Not Only But Also, Pete & Dud, Derek & Clive)alongside work for Private Eye ("The Seductive Brethren")& the more recent, if no less great, pieces for/with Clive Anderson & Chris Morris. There's so much here, & you don't have to offer pious reverence to the initial audio/visual sources (especially if these don't exist, or have been binned, as much of Cook's early work)- this is a great book you can dip into. Derek & Clive does smack a bit of Pinter! This collection is a brilliant reminder of a great comic, & proof that Cook didn't blow it or anything like that...Ideally this should be read alongside Lin Cook's biography of him & the brilliant Bedazzled also!!! Peter Cook was punk rock before punk rock, he was a genius who'd achieved pretty much everything by his 30s...as Stephen Fry says on the cover "The funniest man who ever drew breath". Plus, it's great to read (where else?) on the toilet!!
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Peter Cook was someone that anyone with any interest in comedy will have heard of. His partnership with Dudley Moore on Not Only But Also included the classic Pete and Dud sketches, which later evolved into the more foul mouthed Derek and Clive, and he was rightly celebrated for his work with Beyond the Fringe.

This book is not a biography (although each chapter is prefaced by some information about Cook and his work at the time) but a collection of what William Cook considers to be the best of Peter's work. There are certainly some classic sketches in there (including 'The Worst Job in the World', which involves Jayne Mansfield and the removal of lobsters and a Pete and Dud sketch retelling their harassment by beautiful actresses), but William Cook also includes articles and transcripts of Peter's work from a variety of sources.

Personally, I didn't enjoy reading the sketches so much as I enjoyed the articles. This is mainly because I think Cook's humour works best in the delivery and Cook's was so unique that reading his work seems a very poor substitute. In addition though (and at the risk of being branded a heretic), I think that there's a certain 'sameyness' to Cook's sketches - albeit sameyness of a surreal nature. You know what you're going to get from a sketch, which kind of robs it of its magic. That aside, I did enjoy reading his articles, particularly his sports articles (and this comes from the fact that (a) I don't support his teams and (b) I have very little interest in sport). Cook was certainly more prolific than I had imagined, and I also hadn't realised that he'd worked with both the 'godfathers' of comedy (e.g. Miller and Bennett) and also some of the current comedy titans such as Chris Morris and Clive Andersen.

Although William Cook takes the approach that Peter Cook's work speaks for itself, I would nevertheless have enjoyed just a little more insight into what he was trying to do and why it had the effect that it did. Whilst he does acknowledge the furore of the foul language and brutal imagery within the Derek and Clive performances, there's very little of what Peter and Dudley themselves thought of them.

William Cook does not approach his subject with rose-tinted glasses - he does acknowledge Peter's failures as a writer and he makes a point of saying that some sketches could not be included specifically because they either did not work or only worked in a aural medium. This is to be commended and I do think that he's picked out some of the best of Peter Cook's work.

I don't think that this is a book that can (or should) be read through in one sitting. It's more something to dip in and out of and whilst there is certainly nothing wrong with that, people hoping for some insight into what Peter Cook was all about, may find that his work does nothing to solve the mystery.
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on 18 October 2008
The only bad thing I have to say about this collection of Peter Cook's work is that the cover describes it as the complete Peter Cook, and well it's not, it's would be truer to call it the best of Peter Cook. And it really is that, it's got most of the classic scripts from the Tarzan sketch to Pete n Dud. The part that I really enjoyed to the point where I was chuckling away is the latter part of the book, it would seem that Peter Cook got funnier and funnier as time passed, watch out for Sven and his fishes expecially funny given as it was from a radio phone in.

It's definatly worth a read if you have a sense of humour, if you don't I would like to recommend 'Starting to Paint With Acrilycs' by John Raynes which is not funny in the slightest.
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on 25 March 2008
There can be no arguing against the glaringly obvious fact that Peter Cook was bloody funny. Funny. Ve'y, ve'y funny. Like every single innovative humourist, not all his creations make one guffaw till vomitus projectus. But, the stuff in this block of glued together leaves is largely brilliantly funny -- ranging from the crass, to the urbanely witty. All those who say otherwise are petty little contrarians.
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on 17 August 2010
Edited by William Cook, (no relation, apparently) this is a collection of scripts from Peter Cook's 35-year working life.
Inevitably the spontaneity of Cook's quick humour is lost in print, making a lot of this stuff seem less witty and perhaps even cruder than it was originally. I think the more prepared sketches, such as the pseudo-interviews with Clive Anderson, work better here than the earlier (mostly unrehearsed) exchanges such as Not Only But Also and Derek and Clive, though both of these have their gems. As this book is in chronological order it gets better as you progress, up to a point. That point is reached when we get to a series of radio scripts called 'Why Bother', which had Chris Morris interviewing Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling (one of Cook's many characters) in 1994, a year before Cook's death. In my opinion the title was very apt, as I didn't find these in the least bit amusing, though some of the earlier incarnations of Sir Arthur could be very funny.
I was a big fan of 'Not Only But Also' and much of Cook's other work, but when someone (like Stephen Fry, according to the cover of this book) makes the grand statement that Peter Cook was the funniest man who ever lived, well obviously that's just his opinion. Surely Dudley Moore deserves much of the credit for the success of Not Only But Also.
I wouldn't recommend buying this book unless you're a confirmed Cook addict. Try and watch some old clips instead (there's a lot on You Tube) as I think they work much better the way they were intended.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 18 July 2013
With the sub-title of The Compete Peter Cook, William Cook's (no relation, strangely enough) 2002 compendium of this most innovative of British 'comedian's' (a title which seems rather too mundane somehow for Cook) work provides a marvellous collection of the work of the great man, demonstrating just how diverse was Cook's humour, from the surreal to the scathingly satirical to the provocatively obscene, and with material ranging from his schooldays (1956 at Radley College) through to his Why Bother? radio material in 1994.

Of course, Cook's unique comic delivery cannot really be translated (effectively) to the written page, albeit for the familiar TV sketches one simply imagines the man's furtive and knowing expressions (and similarly conjures up the aural delights of the corresponding radio material). It is therefore all too easy to underestimate the subtlety and understated irreverence in much of the material here - allowing for the fact that humour is, of course, one of the most subjective of topics (and, often, of its time). What is, I think, however indisputable is that Cook (being the creative force behind his partnership with Dudley Moore) was one of the most influential of all comic performers, the span of whose influence seems to me to have affected as wide a range of comedy as to include the likes of Monty Python, George Carlin, Billy Connolly, Eddie Izzard, Chris Morris, Kevin Eldon, etc - the list goes on.

Of course, it is very difficult to pick favourite moments, but if pushed I would go for Beyond The Fringe's One Leg Too Few, Beyond The Fridge's Gospel Truth and Derek And Clive's The Critics. Derek And Clive I have a particular affection for, not least because I found that sticking the (sick bag-covered) LP, Ad Nauseam, on the turntable was a good way of clearing unwanted guests out of my college bedroom last thing at night!
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on 18 June 2014
The best description of Peter Cook came from Stephen Fry, who said he was the funniest man who ever drew breath. This volume collects about as much of the short form written record as exists. Unfortunately, a great deal of Cook’s oeuvre on the BBC was systematically and deliberately destroyed – to make space, of all things. But Cook was so active in so many media, it could fill a book. And here it is.

Having it all in front of you gives you the opportunity to attempt to make sense of it, to figure out how Peter Cook was funny. A great deal of the answer is that it was in the delivery. The dry, phony, ignorant Briton, be he upper class or lower, was a natural for Peter Cook to imitate and caricature. His vehicle was repetition, constantly repeating what his friend or interviewer or random encounter would say. Cook would echo it. Repeatedly. Even “Good evening” became the basis of many a hilarious routine. Say it enough, and it becomes absurd. The works show that he could be funny differently, as needed. He didn’t tell jokes. There is no way to stereotype him. He was clever, biting, sarcastic and bombastic, as needed. He had the potential to own every medium.

Only Twin also reveals Peter Cook in media we don’t readily remember him in. Sports columns, editorials, and radio phone-in shows for example. They showed his talents but also his huge weakness. Cook never really worked at anything. His success began right in school, and he rode his wave without ever honing his gift. The result is dilettantism – trying this or that, expecting to be effortlessly brilliant. He wasn’t. Had he stuck with anything, we might have seen refinement, growth, and that brilliance adapted and expanded. But his editorials are superficial, his sports columns bland, and the call-in by “Sven” quite uninspired. His films cause consternation.

Reading the short form scripts, particularly the Dudley Moore two-handers, you can hear how Cook made dull bores excruciatingly funny. The ignorant assumptions of his characters, the tiny bit of knowledge extended far beyond its worth, the pompous self-serving assessments – are all there, but they’re there in Cook’s delivery. Very few actors could pick up these scripts and do as well with them as Peter Cook did.

So the magic remains his, but the collection of these works is enormously valuable, not to mention enjoyable.

David Wineberg
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