Satire impressario dies

Luard saved Private Eye

The impresario who saved Private Eye and helped Peter Cook set up The Establishment Club has died at the age of 66.

Nicholas Luard was Cook’s business partner during the satire boom of the Sixties, and was once described as the Brian Epstein of the movement – “the only satirist to wear a suit”.

But he soon became disillusioned with the scene and became a fiction and travel writer, and was slightly irritated that this work was overshadowed by his role in changing the face of comedy.

Luard was treasurer of the famed Footlights when he met Cook at Cambridge. They’d both seen satirical cabaret in France and Germany and thought the same might work in London.

In October 1961, they opened The Establishment Club in a former strip club in Greek Street, Soho, on the back of Cook’s success at Beyond The Fringe at the Edinburgh Festival the year before.

The club played host to almost every comic of the day, including Barry Humphries, Lenny Bruce’s only British appearances (he was banned from coming back for a second run at the Establishment, costing Luard £2,000), and the performances that revived Frankie Howerd’s then ailing career.

A year after the Establishment launched, Luard paid £1,500 for a three-quarter stake in the ailing Private Eye to save it from collapse.

But less than a year later, Luard tired of satire as it started to move into the mainstream, with David Frost’s BBC television show That Was The Week That Was.

His ventures were also proving costly. Despite its success, the Establishment was losing money, and the Soho crooks were demanding protection money. In September 1963, Cook & Luard Productions was put into voluntary liquidation with debts of £66,000.

To avoid brining the Eye down with the club, Luard transferred his shares to Cook alone, and retired from the satire game. He moved his young family to Spain, where he was to write his first of 13 books.

Luard, who died on Tuesday, leaves a wife, a son and two daughters; a third daughter predeceased him.

Published: 17 May 2004

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