Fry hails Cook's 'extraordinary genius'

Tributes at Establishment Club

Stephen Fry has paid tribute to the ‘extraordinary genius’ of Peter Cook, saying he is ‘part of the DNA of all British comedy that came after him’.

The QI host was speaking at London’s Establishment Club last night – the revival of Cook’s groundbreaking Sixties satire venue – where he eulogised over ‘the most influential comedian of his generation.’

‘For him, comedy was like beauty - he couldn’t turn it off,’ Fry said. ‘Peter would be as funny with the guy selling him a newspaper as he would with a chat-show host.’

He added that part of Cook’s genius was ‘the ability to repeat – which is fantastic’, citing his early EL Wisty routine about the ‘rigour’ of judging exams.

He also recalled Cook spontaneously improvising a routine about Elizabeth Taylor's glands, after the actress blamed them for her weight gain. He imagined her glands to be ‘ordering a tray of eclairs and a bottle of Courvoisier’ and force-feeding them to her in her hotel room.

That story took place when Fry was taking a holiday on the Nile with Cook, Eric Idle and John Cleese – which included ‘the most magical day anyone there would ever experience’, thanks to Cook’s playfulness.

Most of the party were sitting around on sun loungers at a hotel in Abu Simbel, reading under parasols, when they noticed Cook rolling a ball along the side of the swimming pool. He got it through the handrails of the steps leading into the water, bouncing off the metal, and shouted: ‘Stoddard! Five points’. Going back along the other length, the ball fell into the pool and Cook declared: ‘Ashmolean - minus ten’.

He then created full list of labyrinthine rules for what he called The Royal & Not Noticeably Ancient Game Of Abu Simbel – which grew over the afternoon into a full championships, with Britons vs Americans, then staff vs guests.

Fry also reiterated the comments he made immediately after Cook’s death in 1995, when the media portrayed him as having ‘wasted’ his genius and ‘didn’t achieve what he should have’ – especially after his comedy partner Dudley Moore became a Hollywood star.

‘He achieved what he wanted,’ Fry said. ‘And lived the life he wanted to live. He loved his wife Lin and Lin loved him. Yes, he drank too much and yes, he smoked too much, but that doesn’t mean he was unhappy.’

Fry also recalled two of the best-known Peter Cook anecdotes: the first when he met someone at a party who told him ‘I’m writing a book’ – and he shot back: ‘Oh, that’s interesting, neither am I.’ And the second when he revealed that his greatest regret in life was saving David Frost from drowning.’

The Establishment Club – where Cook first caused a stir in the early Sixties with previously unheard-of impressions of Prime Minister Harold Macmillian – has been revived as a monthly late-night showcase at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in Soho.

Cook’s widow Lin, who was in the audience last night, is backing the idea, which is spearheaded by Keith Allen, Victor Lewis Smith and Mike O’Brien of comedy record label Laughing Stock.

Here is Cook in action:

Published: 25 Apr 2013

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