It’s well over fifty years since Peter Cook and Dudley Moore changed the face of comedy as we know it and our fascination for the duo is still as strong as ever. The story of their double act is like the story of a marriage – one that ended badly. In comedic terms they were like the Lennon and McCartney of British humour, Cook’s often cynical world view contrasting with Dudley’s down to earth-ness and like Lennon and McCartney they were so much better together than they were apart.
Cook and Moore had both made something of a name for themselves at University (Oxford for Dudley, Cambridge for Cook), in fact Cook had penned a major West End revue for Kenneth Williams before he had even finished at Cambridge and Moore’s musical prowess had made him a hot commodity. At this point the duo had never met each other, in fact it was a theatre producer who brought them together to co-star, alongside Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett, in a little Edinburgh Festival revue called Beyond The Fringe. This revue completely took the theatre scene by storm, transforming to the West End and then just as successfully to Broadway, on the back of this Peter achieved his long cherished dream of opening his own comedy club – The Establishment.
Peter and Dudley clicked immediately and right from the start the dynamic between the two was set in stone, Peter very much in charge, Dudley almost his stooge at times (cartoonist Gerald Scarfe famously drew the partnership with Dudley as a glove puppet controlled by Peter) and to the outsider it could appear that Cook was downright cruel in his treatment of Dudley.
Given that the duo were the toast of the UK comedy scene it was inevitable that television would beckon, the BBC giving them their own sketch show Not Only… But Also (officially Not Only Peter Cook But Also Dudley Moore). Mind boggling popular these shows gave birth to their legendary Pete and Dud personas (two cloth capped working class gents chatting about life and how they were continually being pestered by the female stars of Hollywood) and featuring classic sketches such as One Leg Too Few with Dudley as a one legged wannabe Tarzan. Frequently on the verge of corpsing into laughter Peter and Dudley were clearly having a ball. Sadly the BBC wiped over many of the Not Only But Also shows leaving only fragments behind.
The next step was obviously the big screen but for reasons unknown the duo’s films (The Wrong Box, Bedazzled, Monte Carlo or Bust) failed to translate their charisma although Bedazzled is now quite rightly seen as something of a classic, riffing on Cook’s obsession with Faust.
By the early 1970’s it looked like their career as a double act was on the wane, both were appearing solo as often as together although the pair did spend a lot of time in Australia both on TV and with hugely popular stage tours. A disappointing 1977 remake of The Hound of the Baskervilles and some extremely foul mouthed albums under the names Derek and Clive brought the double act to a crashing end. Cook’s drinking had become a serious issue and his treatment of Dudley became ever more uncomfortable to outside eyes, eventually Moore failed to show up for the last day’s recording on the final Derek and Clive album and that was that. Moore went to Hollywood and became a major Hollywood star thanks to roles in Blake Edward’s 10 and Arthur. A hugely bitter Cook, hurt that Moore had forsaken him and even more disgusted that Moore had eclipsed him, tried his best to compete even taking a role in a US sitcom but spent much of the 1980’s as a semi-recluse the only recipients of his humour being late night radio DJ’s who more often than not never even realised that the man on the end of the phone in was Cook.
Towards the end of Cooks life (he died in 1995 at the age of 57 from complications related to his drinking) the duo, thanks in no small part to Cook’s third wife Lin, had become reconciled somewhat. The dynamic had changed though and no longer was Peter calling the shots. Moore himself died in 2002 aged 66, he’d been suffering for years from a rare form of Parkinson’s.
A truly magical, once in a lifetime partnership Pete and Dud together were incredibly special. If one of their movies pops up on TV then make a beeline for it, they may have been under appreciated at the time but we have way too few opportunities to see them together. In the meantime we present for your delectation a classic slice of Peter and Dudley action and to see other surviving clips head on over to youtube and fill your boots!