Book review: Goodbye Again - The Definitive Peter Cook And Dudley Moore

Reading a book of comedy scripts is never going to be as satisfying or as funny as watching them being performed, that much is obvious.

That case is even stronger when it comes to Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, with whom the greatest joy was simply watching them together, enjoying their work and each other’s company, forever on the verge of corpsing. However witty and clever the words, there is no substitute for seeing two gifted comics interacting so effortlessly and joyously – well, at least until their acrimonious split loomed large.

But thanks to what was, in hindsight, an outrageous act of cultural vandalism by the BBC, scripts are pretty much all we have now. Most of the epoch-making Not Only… But Also series was obliterated; the seemingly expensive tapes they were recorded on wiped and recycled for other programmes. The corporation even managed to lose the scripts from the first series, seemingly unaware of its role as guardian of such social treasures.

The Beeb’s carelessness and shortsightedness are points that bears repeating, and William Cook does so time and again in the notes accompanying this selection of scripts he compiled, following his success with Peter Cook solo work, Tragically I Was An Only Twin.

The other point he makes, not unfairly, is that during their combined career, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore were almost always never as good as they used to be. Beyond The Fring, which brought them together, was astonishing in its audacity, wit, and ability to capture a national mood before it broke; and the first series of Not Only… But Also generally perceived to be their brilliant best. What looked like being the foothills of astonishing careers turned out to be their peaks.

Not that there weren’t moments of genius in everything they did – but they tended to be thinner in the expletive-soaked rants of Derek and Clive than they were in their earliest mackintoshed guises of the dreary Pete and Dud. Their reluctance to rehearse, or even finish writing, their sketches was often the problem, and presumably gave William Cook (no relation) more than the odd headache in trying to establish the actual words to include here.

The book includes a selection from every era of their working partnership, including a good number of rarer sketches alongside some of the more familiar. Surprisingly, what is perhaps their best-known work, thanks to its survival of the BBC purge, is absent: the Pete and Dud sketch set in an art gallery.

William Cook’s collected all the sketches of these characters together in a chapter towards the end of the otherwise chronological tome; perhaps to give the reader a boost after the more punkishly avant garde Derek and Clive material (which, incidentally, two versions of a couple of dialogues, including the notorious Worst Job I Ever Had).

Other chapters are dedicated to Not Only… But Also, their brief ITV series Goodbye Again (which still survives), their Behind The Fridge live shows and even an American show about the Queen’s Silver Jubilee to which they contributed.

Goodbye Again doesn’t quite read as well as Cook’s solo scripts, perhaps because he was a literate, intelligent comic whereas Dudley’s contribution was more as a clown, with the silly puns and priceless facial expressions that can never be captured on paper. Of course, it’s that mixture of the supposedly highbrow and the low that made them so endearing and successful, and at least a flavour of that does come across; especially if you imagine their voices as you read.

But this collection remains an impressive one, if for no other reason than providing a worthwhile and substantial reminder of the output of one of Britain’s truly great comic partnerships, whose finest work would otherwise been confined to the dustbin of history thanks to some spectacularly ill-judged bureaucracy.

Goodbye Again: The Definitive Pete Cook And Dudley Moore is published by Century, priced £17.99

>> Click here to buy from Amazon at £10.79

Steve Bennett
October 6, 2004

Published: 22 Sep 2006

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