December 31st, 2004


A life takes four score years and ten but a biography scrunches it down into something that can be consumed in a matter of hours.

Peter Cook's friends complained that the TV film about his life made him out to be a lot less jolly than he really was.

It was a good film, but it was very, very scrunched. The life was reduced to a couple of intertwined narratives, both familiar, bordering on archetypal. They were "the tragic clown" and "the fatal marriage".

Are clowns any more tragic than any other group? Is Michael Palin tragic? Is Mel Brooks tragic? The greatest clown of all- Charlie Chaplin- had a few problems along the way but wound up immensely rich, living on a Swiss mountain top with a loving wife, an adoring family and a library full of Benny Hill videos. Tragic clown, my foot!

And Cook? Well, he drank, he wasted a couple of marriages, his career wasn't as starry as it might have been, but tragic? He had a lot of friends, he was very funny (funnier in private than on stage by all accounts) and his last wife stuck by him.

Cook's fatal marriage was with Dudley Moore. Cook despised Dudley, but he couldn't do without him. Dud fired up his creativity. Without Dud, he was left staring at a typewriter with a blank sheet in it and a whisky bottle within easy reach....

Bollocks, piffle, poppycock!

Cook's greatest creative partnership was with the dudes at Private Eye. That mag is his monument. Take another look at Not Only but Also. It's OK, but it's not as good as either Spike Milligan's stuff or Monty Python. I've always found the flat-capped Dud and Pete characters a bit patronizing, a bit predictable. This is a public school oik sending up the working-class. Cheap, easy, not very clever at all. NOBA wasn't dangerous the way Cook's best work was dangerous. It was a watering down, for TV, of the ground-breaking satirical comedy that Cook had pioneered with Beyond the Fringe and the Establishment Club.

You could have made a film about Cook that reduced Dud to a foot-note, the way the Eye was reduced to a foot-note in this, and it would have been equally true.

Ghost photo

Most photographs of "ghosts" are unconvincing. They show "orbs"- which could be illuminated dust motes- or light anomalies- which could be anything.

But here's one I hadn't seen before which deserves closer inspection. Of course you have to trust in the good faith of the sponsors when they say it isn't a fake.

But it's oddness is compelling. If I were faking a "ghost photograph" I don't think I'd have come up with anything quite as peculiar as this.