Peter Cook

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I've done a good deed. I gave that little twit his soul back. Wasn't that generous?

Peter Edward Cook (17 November 19379 January 1995) was an English satirist, writer and comedian who is widely regarded as the father of the British satire boom of the 1960s. He has frequently been referred to by modern British comedians as their greatest inspiration. He first achieved fame in the revue Beyond the Fringe.

See also:
Bedazzled (1967 film)
Bedazzled (2000 film)

Quotes[edit]

Stopping the GOVERNMENT from crawling up our pipes and listening to all we say.
I'd vote for any party that would say "I won't allow people to throw garbage all over me." But none of the parties seem to be particularly interested. That's why I formed the World Domination League.
  • You know, I go to the theatre to be entertained... I don’t want to see plays about rape, sodomy and drug addiction... I can get all that at home.
  • 1. Total domination of the world by 1958.
    2. Domination of the astral spheres quite soon too.
    3. The finding of lovely ladies for Spotty Muldoon within the foreseeable future.
    4. GETTING A NUCLEAR ARM to deter with.
    5. The bodily removal from this planet of C. P. Snow and Alan Freeman and their replacement with fine TREES.
    6. Stopping the GOVERNMENT from crawling up our pipes and listening to all we say.
    7. Training BEES for uses against foreign powers, and so on.
    8. Elimination of spindly insects and encouragement of lovely little newts who dance about and are happy.
    9. E. L. Wisty for GOD.
    • Aims in the Manifesto of The World Domination League by E. L. Wisty and Spotty Muldoon (1965)
  • I drift very easily into becoming E. L. Wisty. I’ve always felt very closely identified with that sort of personality. He is a completely lost creature, he never works, never moves, has no background and suspects everybody is peering at him and trying to get his secrets out of him. I've never met the man; he came out of me. I’d feel a lot easier if I’d met him and imitated him, as a matter of fact.
    • As quoted in Daily Express (7 February 1967), and in Tragically I Was an Only Twin : The Complete Peter Cook (2002) by William Cook, p. 58
  • I am blind, but I am able to read thanks to a wonderful new system known as broil. I'm sorry, I'll just feel that again.
    • "Blind", in Derek and Clive (Live) (1976)
  • I may have done some other things as good but I am sure none better. I haven't matured, progressed, grown, become deeper, wiser, or funnier. But then, I never thought I would.

E. L. Wisty[edit]

A role Cook played throughout his career, originally named "Mr. Boylett" in his college years, and then "Mr Arthur Grole" in his Beyond the Fringe years, he eventually named him E. L. Wisty for his appearances on On the Braden Beat in 1964.
Vote for EL Wisty and lovely nude ladies will come and dance with you.
I've always fancied being a tadpole expert. … You get invited to all the smart parties and social gatherings.
I saw an advertisement the other day for the secret of life...
Bleendreeble specialises in the universe. He doesn't branch out much beyond that. But he's quite interested in this limited field.
  • If there's one thing I can't bear, it's when hundreds of old men come creeping in through the window in the middle of the night and throw all manner of garbage over me. I can't bear that.
    • "The World Domination League" (1964)
  • I'd vote for any party that would say "I won't allow people to throw garbage all over me." But none of the parties seem to be particularly interested. That's why I formed the World Domination League. It's a wonderful league, the World Domination League. The aims, as published in the manifesto, are total domination of the world by 1958. That's what we're planning to do. We've had to revise it. We're hoping to bring a new manifesto out with a more realistic target.
    • "The World Domination League" (1964)
  • We shall move about in people's rooms and say, "Excuse me, we are the World Domination League. May we dominate you?" Then, if they say "Get out," of course we give up. Well, you have to give up if you're told to get out.
    • "The World Domination League" (1964)
  • Hitler was a very peculiar person wasn't he? He was another dominator you know — Hitler. And he was a wonderful ballroom dancer. Not many people know that. … Of course Mrs Hitler was a charming woman, wasn't she? She's still alive, you know. I saw her down the Edgware Road only the other day. She'd just popped into the chemist's to buy something, and I saw her sign the cheque "Mrs Hitler" so I knew it was she. I tried to go up and talk to her, but she slipped away into the crowd. I was hoping she'd be able to come to the next meeting of the World Domination League. Not many people do.
    • "The World Domination League" (1964)
  • I've had some wonderful ideas for getting the dominating going. I've got some extremely subtle advertising slogans that should get the public behind us. Things like "Vote for EL Wisty and lovely nude ladies will come and dance with you." It's a complete lie, of course, but you can't afford to be too scrupulous if you're going to dominate the world.
    • "The World Domination League" (1964)
  • I've always wanted to be part of the royal family because there are great advantages to being royal. If you're royal, whatever you do is very interesting. Whatever you do, people are very interested in it. Even if you do something very boring, people are still interested in it. If a royal person does something extremely boring, people say, "Oh, isn't it interesting that he's doing something extremely boring." If I do something extremely boring, people say, "Oh how extremely boring" — its not so good.
    • "Royalty" (1964)
  • We've all got royal blood in our veins, you know. It's the best place for it in my view. We've all got a little bit of royal blood in our veins, we're all in line for the succession, and if nineteen million, four hundred thousand, two hundred and eight people die, I'll be king tomorrow. It's not very likely but its a nice thought and helps keep you going.
    • "Royalty" (1964)
  • I've always wanted to be an expert on tadpoles. I've always fancied being a tadpole expert. It's a wonderful life if you become and experty tadpoleous, as they are known in the trade. You get invited to all the smart parties and social gatherings.
    • "The Tadpole Expert" (1964)
  • I saw an advertisement the other day for the secret of life. It said "The secret of life can be yours for twenty-five shillings. Sent to Secret of Life Institute, Willesden." So I wrote away, seemed a good bargain, secret of life, twenty-five shillings. And I got a letter back saying, "If you think you can get the secret of life for twenty-five shillings, you don't deserve to have it. Send fifty shillings for the secret of life."
    • "Are You Spotty?" (1964)
  • If I did become Minister of Nudism, I'd be allowed to be on television every evening around nine thirty. I'd come on and say "Good evening. This is the Minister of Nudism. Take off your clothes and begin to dance about."
    • "Peace Through Nudism" (1964)
  • Poor old Spotty Muldoon. He thought of splitting the atom the other day. If only he could have had the idea about thirty years ago, he'd have made a bloody fortune.
    • "The Man Who Invented The Wheel" (1964)
  • I've been reading a very interesting book recently. It's called The Universe and All That Surrounds It by T J Bleendreeble. It's an extremely good book about it. It's about seventy pages long, so it's fairly comprehensive about the whole thing and it's fairly interesting. Bleendreeble specialises in the universe. He doesn't branch out much beyond that. But he's quite interested in this limited field.
    • "Food For Thought" (1964)
  • If a dog starts biting you, you can't kick it up the throat like it deserves. People always say "Oh dear, poor little dog, he was only trying to be friendly. That's the way he tries to be friendly, sniffing at your ankles and biting you, you cruel, wicked man."
    • "Man's Best Friend" (1964)

Beyond the Fringe (1960 - 1966)[edit]

I would much prefer to be a judge than a coal miner because of the absence of falling coal.
  • I could have been a Judge, but I never had the Latin for the judgin'. I never had it, so I'd had it, as far as being a judge was concerned... I would much prefer to be a judge than a coal miner because of the absence of falling coal.
    • "Sitting on the Bench" (1961)
  • I've always been after the trappings of great luxury. But all I've got hold of are the trappings of great poverty. I've got hold of the wrong load of trappings, and a rotten load they are too, ones I could have very well done without.
    • "Sitting on the Bench" (1961)
  • I would like to like to make one thing clear at the very outset and that is, when you speak of a train robbery, this involved no loss of train, merely what I like to call the contents of the train, which were pilfered. We haven't lost a train since 1946, I believe it was — the year of the great snows when we mislaid a small one.
    • "The Great Train Robbery" (1964)
  • We believe this to be the work of thieves, and I'll tell you why. The whole pattern is very reminiscent of past robberies where we have found thieves to be involved. The tell-tale loss of property — that's one of the signs we look for.
    • "The Great Train Robbery" (1964)
  • The leg division, Mr Spiggot. You are deficient in it to the tune of one. Your right leg, I like. I like your right leg, it's a lovely leg for the role. That's what I said when I saw it come in. I said, "that's a lovely leg for the role". I've got nothing against your right leg. The trouble is — neither have you. You fall down on your left.
    • "One Leg Too Few" (1964) involving a one-legged man auditioning for the role of Tarzan.

Not Only... But Also (1965 - 1970)[edit]

I could see her knuckles all white, saying "Peter, Peter". You know how those bloody Swedes go on.
  • Well, it's always very difficult to say what prompts anybody to do anything, let alone getting underwater and teaching ravens to fly. But I think it probably all dates back to a very early age, when I was quite a young fellow. My mother, Lady Beryl Streeb-Greebling, you know, the wonderful dancer — 107 tomorrow and still dancing — she came up to me in the conservatory — I was pruning some walnuts — and she said "Arthur" — I wasn't Sir Arthur in those days — she said "Arthur, if you don't get underwater and start teaching ravens to fly, I'll smash your stupid face off," and I think it was this that sort of first started my interest in the whole business of getting them underwater.
    • "Ravens" (1965)
  • The thing that makes you know that Vernon Ward is a good painter is if you look at his ducks, you can see the eyes follow you around the room.
    • "At The Art Gallery" (1965)

Cook: I had the same bloody trouble about two nights ago. I come in, about half past eleven at night. I come in, I get into bed, you see, feeling quite sleepy. I could feel the lids of me eyes beginning to droop, you see — a bit of droop in the eyes. I was about to drop off when suddenly — tap, tap, tap at the bloody window pane. I looked out. You know who it was?
Dudley Moore: Who?
Cook: Bloody Greta Garbo. Bloody Greta Garbo, stark naked save for a shortie nightie, hanging on to the window sill, and I could see her knuckles all white, saying "Peter, Peter". You know how those bloody Swedes go on.
  • "Film Stars" (1965)

Bedazzled (1967)[edit]

Main article: Bedazzled (1967 film)
Though the entire screenplay is credited to Cook, lines quoted here are only those where he is speaking as "George Spiggott" (The Devil).
What terrible sins I have working for me. I suppose it's the wages.
Apart from the way He moves, what's God really like? I mean, what colour is He?
  • You realize that suicide's a criminal offense — In less enlightened times they'd have hung you for it.
  • What terrible sins I have working for me. I suppose it's the wages.
  • It's the standard contract. Gives you seven wishes in accordance with the mystic rules of life. Seven Days of the Week, Seven Deadly Sins, Seven Seas, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers...
  • Now, then, what'd you like to be first? Prime Minister? Oh, no — I've made that deal already.
  • There was a time when I used to get lots of ideas... I thought up the Seven Deadly Sins in one afternoon. The only thing I've come up with recently is advertising.
  • Job was what you'd technically describe as a loony.
  • In the words of Marcel Proust — and this applies to any woman in the world — if you can stay up and listen with a fair degree of attention to whatever garbage, no matter how stupid it is that they're coming out with, til ten minutes past four in the morning... you're in.
  • Tell God not to go away. I'll be back in a minute.
  • All right, you great git, you've asked for it. I'll cover the world in Tastee-Freez and Wimpy Burgers. I'll fill it with concrete runways, motorways, aircraft, television, automobiles, advertising, plastic flowers, frozen food and supersonic bangs. I'll make it so noisy and disgusting that even you'll be ashamed of yourself! No wonder you've so few friends; you're unbelievable!

Dialog with Stanley Moon (Dudley Moore) :

Stanley Moon: You're a nutcase! You're a bleedin' nutcase!
George Spiggott: They said the same of Jesus Christ, Freud, and Galileo.
Stanley Moon: They said it of a lot of nutcases too!
George Spiggott: You're not as stupid as you look are you, Mr. Moon?

Stanley Moon: I thought you were called Lucifer.
George Spiggott: I know. "The Bringer of the Light" it used to be. Sounded a bit poofy to me.

George Spiggott: Everything I've ever told you has been a lie. Including that.
Stanley Moon: Including what?
George Spiggott: That everything I've ever told has been a lie. That's not true.
Stanley Moon: I don't know what to believe.
George Spiggott: Not me, Stanley, believe me!

Stanley Moon: Apart from the way He moves, what's God really like? I mean, what colour is He?
George Spiggott: He's all colours of the rainbow, many-hued.
Stanley Moon: But He is English, isn't He?
George Spiggott: Oh yes. Very upper class.

The Secret Policeman's Ball (1979)[edit]

In "Entirely A Matter For You", a parody of Judge Cantley's summing up in the Jeremy Thorpe trial
  • "You will probably have noticed that three of the defendants have very wisely chosen to exercise their inalienable right not to go into the witness box to answer a lot of impertinent questions. I will merely say that you are not to infer from this anything other than that they consider the evidence against them so flimsy that it was scarcely worth their while to rise from their seats and waste their breath denying these ludicrous charges..."
  • 'You are now to retire, as indeed should I, carefully to consider your verdict of "Not Guilty".'

The Princess Bride (1987)[edit]

As the "Impressive Clergyman"
  • Mawwage. Mawwage is what bwings us togethew today. Mawwage, that bwessed awwangement, that dweam within a dweam.
  • And wove, twue wove, wiww fowwow you fowevah —
  • Have you the wing?

Quotes about Cook[edit]

He had funniness in the same way that beautiful people have beauty or dancers have line and grace. ~ Stephen Fry
Oh dear. I find I'm watching television that night....
He got used early to the adulation of a wide public and eventually decided that he could do without it; long before the end, fame had to chase him far harder than he chased it. But among his fellow practitioners his lustre was undimmed, unequalled. and unchallenged.
Every 10 years or so you always get a new generation of comedians but they all acknowledge their debt to Peter. ~ Ned Sherrin
  • Being British in this part of the century meant living in the country that had Peter Cook in it. There are wits and there are clowns in comedy, I suppose. Peter was a wit, it goes without saying, but he was funny in an almost supernatural way that has never been matched by anyone I've met or even heard about. It wasn't to do with facial expression or epigrammatic wit, or cattiness or rant or anger or technique: he had funniness in the same way that beautiful people have beauty or dancers have line and grace. He had an ability to make people gasp and gasp and gasp for breath like landed fish.
  • I'll leave with a story whose victim, Sir David Frost, won't mind it being told, because he tells it himself. David Frost rang Peter Cook up some years ago. "Peter, I'm having a little dinner party on behalf of Prince Andrew and his new bride-to-be Sarah Ferguson. I know they'd love to meet you, big fans; Be super if you could make it: Wednesday the twelfth." "Hang on... I'll just check my diary." Pause and rummaging and leafing through diary noises. And then Peter said "Oh dear. I find I'm watching television that night."
  • It is a sad fact that when people are really enjoying themselves and laughing immoderately, they can afterwards remember very little of the conversation, very few of the jokes. There was the famous occasion when Peter addressed a group of revellers at a lunch celebrating 25 years of Private Eye. Almost everyone who was there, myself included, will tell you it was the funniest, most brilliant speech they had ever heard. But ask us to recall the jokes and there will be a complete blank. Peter's funniest performances were generally of this impromptu, unscripted variety.
  • He got used early to the adulation of a wide public and eventually decided that he could do without it; long before the end, fame had to chase him far harder than he chased it. But among his fellow practitioners his lustre was undimmed, unequalled. and unchallenged. … Just as the astronauts riding up on their rockets all worshipped Chuck Yeager, the jet pilot who never joined them in space because he flew too well with wings, so the media millionaires all knew that Cook was the unsurpassable precursor who had done it all before they did, and done it better.
  • He wasn't just a genius, he had the genius's impatience with the whole idea of doing something again. He reinvented an art form, exhausted its possibilities, and just left it. There is always something frightening about that degree of inventiveness... He didn't lose his powers. He just lost interest in proving that he possessed them.
  • He himself is a Rorschach blot onto whose vague and indeterminate shape other people project what they would like to exist: 'Cooky' the endearing invalid, Peter Cook the extraordinary satirical genius, Peter Cook the comic inventor and so on and so forth. He was all and none of these things. People would be less promiscuously inventive about who Peter was if there had been more of Peter's own actual personality present. What there were were these people who he created for himself to appear behind.
  • Peter never had any regrets in his life. I never heard him voice any regrets. He didn't regret the fact that he lost his early facility, he didn't regret the fact that he lost his looks, which he did quite spectacularly, he didn't regret the fact that Dudley had gone on to fame and fortune in Hollywood. The only regret he regularly voiced was that, at the house we all shared in Fairfield, Connecticut in 1963, he'd saved David Frost from drowning.
  • The first time I saw Peter what made the impression was the visual content of what he and Dudley Moore were doing. It was Not Only, But Also..., and Pete and Dud were dressed up as nuns and were bouncing up and down on a trampoline. I rolled off my seat. I thought I'd ever seen anything so hilarious or so surreal or so... well... beautiful. I spent the next four or five years trying to emulate that sort of visual surprise.
  • I realised what everyone else had been talking about: the brilliance of Peter's humour. It was brilliant and it was luminous. And it was... easy. Not easy for you and me to come to... but easy for him. It just rolled out of him... almost as if he didn't need to think about it.
  • I remember being moved to tears when Peter said: "I know I was funny but I know I won't improve, I won't get any better". I was lucky to be around when he was at his peak. Verbally he was the most witty man that I have ever come across and strangely inventive.
  • He's one of those people who is completely and utterly irreplaceable. One of the things he did was to form the basis of what one would call the new comedy of the 1960s and 1970s. His achievement is absolutely extraordinary.
  • Obviously, he was the first — he was the Governor. Right from the start with those very precocious sketches for the Cambridge Footlights and through Beyond the Fringe, he was an exceptional talent... Every 10 years or so you always get a new generation of comedians but they all acknowledge their debt to Peter.

External links[edit]

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