Peter Cook (1937-1995) is now seen as an icon of British comedy. Ten years after his death, Cook was ranked at number one in the Comedians’ Comedian, a poll of 300 comics, comedy writers, producers and directors. In a varied career he was seen as the prime mover in the 60’s satire boom and of anti-establishment comedy. He has been described as “the funniest man who ever drew breath” even though large chunks of his work could be considered controversial. I consider him to be such a comedy demagogue for the common man that his death should have been celebrated by burning down the Houses of Parliament and replacing them with a large pyramid in which he could have lain in state.
But it’s with his partnership with Dudley Moore that he’s probably going to be most remembered. A fact that may grate with Cook at times, as that relationship could be a strained one. However it was through the professional and artistic jealousies of the pair that their greatest and downright dirtiest works and dialogues were brought to us, under the guise of the now infamous…Derek and Clive.
Between 1973 and 1978 Derek (Dudley Moore) and Clive (Peter Cook) recorded three albums and one film of unscripted comedy dialogue that were not only breathtakingly obscene but also disconcertingly erudite and blisteringly funny. There were no taboos. Their material plumed depths that no other mainstream popular celebrities have ever dared to go near since. Typical routines involve aggressive and frequent use of the verboten C word combined with brilliantly surreal imagery and subject matters. The chosen subjects could move from the cleaning out of Joan Crawford’s nether regions, which Cook declares “A fucking disaster zone full of ships and light aircraft” to brilliant parodies of northern entertainers or the Scots obsession with farting. And that’s them only getting warmed up.
Still considered controversial today the sketches performed on their three LPs and documented in the movie Derek and Clive Get The Horn primarily took the form of bizarre, sometime drunken streams of consciousness led by Cook, with interjections from Moore. In a few sketches the pair are so trousered you can hear them slurring their words. However it is a misconception that all material was recorded under the influence of alcohol. In the “Horn” documentary they can clearly be seen drinking coffee and water. But in no way does that dilute the venom in some of the sketches. If anything it may have put Cook on a sharper footing.
It has been generally believed that the first of the recordings of Derek and Clive emerged due to the boredom of touring their review show Good Evening in Broadway. But recent unearthed scripts may suggest the idea for Derek and Clive being conceived earlier in England.
The characters of Derek and Clive are supposed to be those of two toilet attendants. They are to all intents and purposes a revamped and turned up to number 11 version of Cook and Moore’s Pete and Dud personas, made famous in their TV show Not Only but Also.
The first recordings were never intended for commercial release but to be circulated among showbiz friends. But they grew in popularity in boot leg format. Eventually Cook felt they might as well be released commercially and money be made. Moore was initially reluctant as he was now pursuing a successful Hollywood career and was concerned the vulgar content may undermine his progress. It was once he realized that his Hollywood contemporaries were actually fans that he agreed for the first recordings to hit the public domain.
Two more records were made. But these were less like dialogues and more like vindictive attacks on the increasingly successful Moore by Cook, whose career had stalled somewhat in comparison. One such merciless assault was in a cancer themed diatribe and song. Cook at the time was fully aware that Moore had recently lost his father to the disease. The same love-hate relationship between them is evident in the Get the Horn movie. At times the viciousness of Cooks assaults can make for uncomfortable listening. It’s a good job they’re so bloody funny.
The film Get The Horn is a documentary covering the recording of the Ad Nauseam LP. The film was intended for cinematic release, but in October 1980 the British Board of Film Classification rejected it outright on the grounds of its sustained and excessive use of bad language and blasphemy. Blasphemy we hear you ask? Err…yes well in one routine Cook remarks about the recently deceased Pope who was that week lying in state, “That there Pope all lying there prostrate…That gives me the Horn.” Are you starting to get the idea of how far boundaries were being pushed? The film was eventually granted an 18 certificate and released in 1993.
Get The Horn was actually produced by a certain Richard Branson who can be seen in the movie. At one point Branson decided to stage a “prank” involving the recording being invaded by the police who then began to search the ashtrays for illegal substances. Moore and Cook look genuinely disconcerted as the scene unfolds. One can only guess that Branson was lucky Cook was sober. Had he had a tipple he might have found himself on the end of a tongue lashing that would’ve prevented the Virgin Empire from ever coming into existence.
There are softer Derek and Clive routines that I could publish here. But where would be the fun in that? Instead I urge you to go out and find the recordings, (they’re probably hidden among your dads porn collection) have a drink to fortify your sensitivities and let a music festivals worth of outdoor latrine filth wash over you. As a wee taste of their “vibe” I’ve included here the sleeve notes for Derek and Clive Go live. And The full Ad Nauseum LP.
Derek and Clive Go Live.
“Peter Cook and Dudley Moore were appearing on Broadway in the show “Good Evening” when they first happened upon two brilliant new talents. Derek and Clive were working at the time in the toilets of the British Trade Centre. Cook and Moore were quick to see that they had made a major discovery and after much persuasion, including a packet of Craven A and a bottle of Tizer, Derek and Clive agreed to perform at the Electric Lady Studios. With growing assurance they appeared in front of a small, invited audience (Dudley Moore). The record you have bought is a mixture of the two evenings. Once they had mastered which end of the microphone to talk into, Derek and Clive gained enormously in confidence. Their method is basically a stream of unconsciousness, a mixture of Dylan Thomas and Mae West, with overtones of Goethe. At a time when British influence is declining throughout the world, Derek and Clive represent welcome evidence of what this great country could be. They are a ray of hope on a darkening horizon. Their philosophy is both an inspiration to youth and hope for the senile. On this record they discuss fully and frankly the major problems confronting a confused world. Not since Isaac Newton sat in a bath and discovered that apples could stun Archimedes, has such a fully fledged Weltanschauung emerged. Since the recording, Derek and Clive have been besieged by offers, Vegas, The London Palladium, Fiji but they prefer the simple, natural life of the toilets. “There’s a certain rhythm there”, says Derek. “You know where you stand”, states Clive. One cannot but sympathise with them. The seemingly glittering world of ‘Show business’ with its broken marriages, drugs and enormous rewards leaves them uninterested. We can only admire their straightforward point of view. Poets? satirists? philosophers? comedians? social commentators? Derek and Clive sum it up more succinctly. “Just a couple of cxxts” is their frank self-appraisal.”