Tag Archives: Peter Cook

What the REAL Swinging Sixties were like – gangsters and police corruption

 (From left) Teddy Smith, Micky Fawcett, Johnny Davis, Reggie Kray, Freddie Mills, Ronnie Kray, Dicky Morgan, Sammt Lederman at Freddie Mills’ Nite Spot in the 1960s (Photograph from Micky Fawcett’s book Krayzy Days)

Faces of the 1960s. (From left) Teddy Smith, Micky Fawcett, Johnny Davis, Reggie Kray, Freddie Mills, Ronnie Kray, Dicky Morgan and Sammy Lederman at Freddie Mills’ Nite Spot. (Photograph from Micky Fawcett’s book Krayzy Days)

According to the Daily Telegraph in 2001, Mad Teddy Smith was:

“a psychopathic homosexual rumoured to have had affairs with Ronnie Kray and Tom Driberg, the former Labour MP. He disappeared the day after an argument with the Krays in 1967.”

The Kray Twins – gangsters Ronnie and Reggie – are iconic figures of the 1960s.

They were arrested in 1968, the year after ‘the summer of love’. Their associates included Micky Fawcett and ‘Mad’ Teddy Smith.

When I chatted to Micky Fawcett in June 2013, I mentioned it had been widely reported over the last 40 years that Teddy Smith was killed by the Krays. A very good article in the Daily Mail in August 2010 headlined SEX, LIES, DOWNING STREET AND THE COVER-UP THAT LEFT THE KRAYS FREE TO KILL repeated the story that the Kray Twins had killed him.

“No,” Micky told me in 2013, “I would think he’s in Australia or somewhere like that.”

Micky Fawcett (left) with son Michael Fawcett

Micky Fawcett (left) with son Michael Fawcett at The Ritz

I had another chat with Micky Fawcett and his son Michael Fawcett this week.

“When Reggie Kray was on his deathbed,” Micky told me, “he was asked if he had been involved in any unknown-of killings and he couldn’t miss the chance, knowing it was the end, of saying: Well, there was one other… and that was all he said.

“Then Nipper Read (the Scotland Yard detective who arrested The Krays) told the Daily Telegraph: Yes, we know all about it – It was Teddy Smith they killed and they buried him down at Steeple Bay (in Essex).

“But,” Micky told me this week, “there is this bloke who’s very interested in Teddy Smith – he’s got a sort of bee in his bonnet about him – and he had a chat with us and he finished up going to Australia and found Teddy Smith had died from natural causes in 2006.”

“How did he track him down?” I asked.

“We had pictures,” said Micky, “and he went out to Australia. Teddy Smith was quite a character. He used to walk around and he had a little tiny dog and a long cigarette holder.”

Teddy Smith in the 1960s, shortly before he did not die

Teddy Smith in the 1960s, shortly before he did not die

“Was he gay?” I asked.

“Oh yes,” said Micky. “He considered himself to be a playwright and he did write a play once for the BBC.”

“It was,” said Michael Fawcett, “the first TV play to be broadcast in colour on the BBC. It was called The Top Bunk. Something to do with prisons.”

The Top Bunk was transmitted by BBC TV on 30th October 1967 in their Thirty Minute Theatre series. Teddy was credited as Ted Smith and, according to the BBC synopsis:

Two old lags who share the same cell have got prison life down to a fine art. They are upset when an outsider, a public school type and a first timer, is made to live with them and bowled over when he reveals a sinister side to his nature, which makes him their natural leader, entitled to the position of prestige – the top bunk.

“He was put in Broadmoor,” said Micky. “Mad Teddy Smith was. He was certified insane. He used to be very confident.

Krayzy Days by Micky Fawcett

Micky Fawcett’s book: the title says it all

“I was talking to him one day in the house in Vallance Road (where The Krays lived with their mum) and, as we walked out, he said: Oh, they get on my nerves. They drive me mad – talking about violence all the time. If only people knew what I did to get myself certified and into Broadmoor…

“What did he do?” I asked.

“I never found out,” sad Micky. “He was an interesting character, though. This gay bloke with this dog and this cigarette holder.

“On another occasion, Ronnie said: Do us a favour, Mick, there’s a fellah called Cholmondley – he was one of Ronnie’s young ‘friends’ – I’m sending Teddy Smith to get hold of him for me. Can you go with Teddy and keep an eye on Teddy for me? So I went with Teddy Smith to Soho. I thought I knew Soho, but Teddy took me to two or three different unlicensed bars above clip joints and whatever.

Francis Bacon (Photograph by Jane Bown)

Francis Bacon, acquaintance of Mad Teddy Smith (Photograph by Jane Bown)

“We went in one and there were all these men in hacking jackets like you’d expect to find at a golf club or somewhere like that. They were obviously all gay and one of them was the painter Francis Bacon, who knew Teddy because that was his sort of style.

“We couldn’t find Cholmondley there, so then we went to The Establishment Club, which was a theatre.”

Peter Cook’s satire club?” I asked.

“Yeah. Lenny Bruce had been in there. There was a box office with a little grille. Teddy Smith said I just want to go in and have a look for a friend and the fellah said You can’t come in without a ticket.

“So Teddy Smith was getting a bit annoyed and said Could you come round here? I want to have a word with you and I thought Awww… Fuck off, I’m going to get involved in a murder here or something. But a fellah came from behind in a brown smock and with a bit of a black eye and he said: I’m Detective Sergeant ChallenorCan I help you?”

“Woo-hoo!” I said.

“You know about Challenor?” Micky asked me.

“Oh yes,” I said. “Was it Challenor?”

“Yes,” said Micky. “So I was out the door with Teddy Smith as quick as I could. At the time, I was living in fear of Challenor. I didn’t want to cross his path. He would have set me up and I’ve been set up a few times by the Old Bill.”

Richard Attenborough as Truscott of The Yard in Loot

Richard Attenborough (moustache) was Truscott in Loot film

“Truscott of The Yard,” said Michael Fawcett. “Truscott in Joe Orton’s play Loot was modelled on Challenor.”

“They put him in a mental home,” Micky said to me. “Challenor. You know – Bongo Bongo? He had a war against crime in Soho, going round punching people.”

Challenor was posted to the notoriously corrupt West End Central Police Station in 1962. It policed the Soho area. At one point, Challenor had a record of over 100 arrests in seven months. He eventually totalled 600 arrests and received 18 commendations. He achieved this by using what were, at that time, by no means unusual techniques.

On one occasion, he punched a suspect from Barbados while he (Challenor) sang Bongo, bongo, bongo, I don’t want to leave the Congo.

Various people claimed to have been beaten up or to have had evidence planted on them by Challenor, but they were still convicted.

On 11 July 1963, though, he arrested Donald Rooum, a cartoonist for Peace News, who was demonstrating outside Claridge’s Hotel against Queen Frederica of Greece.

Challenor reportedly told Rooum: You’re fucking nicked, my beauty. Boo the Queen, would you? and hit him on the head. Going through Rooum’s possessions, Challenor added a half-brick, saying: There you are, me old darling. Carrying an offensive weapon. You can get two years for that. 

The face of Harold Challenor , upholder of the law in 1960s Soho

‘Mad’ Harold Challenor – upholder of the law in 1960s Soho

Rooum, a member of the National Council for Civil Liberties, handed his clothes to his solicitor for testing. No brick dust or appropriate wear-and-tear were found and Rooum was acquitted, although other people Challenor arrested at the demonstration were still convicted on his evidence.

By the time Challenor appeared at the Old Bailey in 1964, charged with conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, he was deemed to be unfit to plead

“They chucked him out of the police,” said Micky, “and said he’d had a mental breakdown.”

He was sent to Netherne mental hospital in Surrey and was said to be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

A total of 26 innocent men were charged during Challenor’s activities. Of these, 13 were imprisoned. On his release from hospital, Challoner worked for the firm of solicitors which had defended him during his trial.

Since then, “doing a Challenor” has become police slang for avoiding punishment and prosecution by retiring sick.

Welcome to the wonderful world of British policing.

… CONTINUED HERE

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Hard core porn and political revelations at The Establishment club’s 2nd night

Something so unexpected at The Establishment – The Strypes

In my blog two days ago, I mentioned The Establishment club.

Over 50 years ago, comedian Peter Cook’s comedy club was one of the multi-media trio which created the satire boom in the early 1960s.

There was live comedy at Peter Cook’s club The Establishment; there was Peter Cook’s Private Eye magazine; and, on TV, there was That Was The Week That Was – the original pilot for the show had been a series of satirical sketches based on The Establishment Club. When Cook was in New York, performing in Beyond The Fringe, the BBC re-fashioned the show and replaced Peter Cook with David Frost. Cook later half-jokingly complained that Frost’s subsequent success was based on copying his (Cook’s) own stage persona and that his only regret in life had been once saving Frost from drowning.

The original Establishment Club started in London in August 1961 and lasted until 1964. It was at 18 Greek Street in Soho which, before that, had been the Club Tropicana boasting an All Girl Strip Revue. Cook replaced the sign with one saying London’s First Satirical Nightclub. It is now the Zebrano Bar.

And now The Establishment club has been re-started by amiable Laughing Stock record label boss Mike O’Brien, who has a treasure trove of early alternative comedy club recordings… by actor/comedian Keith Allen, with whom I worked at Noel Gay Television around 1989… and by journalist Victor Lewis-Smith who also produces TV programmes.

Victor (an otherwise entirely admirable chap) once threatened me with legal action for uploading onto YouTube a sales tape for a planned documentary by Keith Allen about comedian Malcolm Hardee’s funeral. I thought this was an over-reaction, as what I uploaded was what his company were using to try to generate interest in the suggested programme from TV broadcast companies. The documentary eventually failed to find a buyer and the full footage of the funeral and its aftermath still languishes unseen on a shelf somewhere; it had originally been planned for Channel 4 transmission but the TV station backed-out, I am told, because Malcolm was “not well-known enough”.

But, anyway, this highly creative trio have re-started The Establishment club in Soho.

According to Keith Allen last night: “We’re trying to re-open the Establishment Club at its old premises in Greek Street as a members’ club. The idea is that we will create a room where you can come in and your expectations will be undermined. Anything can happen. It might involve somebody coming up and talking about something very interesting and pertinent and you listening; it might involve you dancing; it might involve you doing anything. Anything is possible. And the time is right, now, to make sure that anything can be possible. Which is why we’re doing the Establishment Club.”

For the moment, though, there are planned monthly performances at Ronnie Scott’s Club in Frith Street.

On their opening night this week – on Wednesday – they had comedians Terry Alderton, Arnold Brown, Phil Nichol and others, plus ex-rogue MP George Galloway saying he thought Wikileaks founder Julian Assange was innocent of the rape allegations he now faces. According to the review in today’s Independent by Julian Hall, a former judge for the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards, “ultimately, this tribute to Pete was a dud”.

I was unable to go to the opening night but did go last night with low expectations and I thought they managed to pull off the almost impossible. They have re-imagined The Establishment for 2012. They have the makings of a very entertaining and potentially even occasionally controversial comedy club here. Except it is not a comedy club.

Miss Behave at the Malcolm Hardee Awards last month

At the Edinburgh Fringe this year, I saw what appears to be the rise of Cabaret with acts and shows like Dusty Limits, East End Cabaret, Lili La Scala’s Another Fucking Variety Show, Mat Ricardo’s Voodoo Varieties, and Tricity Vogue’s Ukelele Cabaret providing more laughs, entertainment and originality than, arguably, most stand-up comedy.

Indeed, the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards Show this year was compered not by a stand-up comic but by cabaret legend Miss Behave and it was more a cabaret variety show than a stand-up comedy show.

So, last night, The Establishment did have two excellent stand-ups on – Scott Capurro and Paul Sinha – but they also had their house jazz band, the James Pearson Trio plus comedian Lee Kern with a video story about Twitter and the astonishingly good (and strangely un-introduced) Dickie Beau performing a red-haired, red-costumed drag act mimed to genuine recordings of an increasingly drunken Judy Garland.

We also had Ophelia Bitz screening a sadly ineffective compilation of early 20th century hard core porn films involving fellatio and cunnilingus (neither erotic nor, to a 2012 Establishment audience, shocking) but – again on the Rise-of-Cabaret theme – performing some stonkingly good songs… In my opinion, anyone who manages to rhyme “cunnilingus” with “music by Mingus” at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club is worth the entire price of admission.

And then we come to what were, to me, the two most interesting ‘acts’ of the night.

The Strypes are an astonishingly good 4-piece rock band from Cavan in Ireland. Keith Allen introduced them as having an average age of 14 though, on Irish TV’s Late Late Show in April, they were said to have an average age of 15. But, whatever, they are very young and very, very talented. Like all starters, they are copying. There are bits of the Rolling Stones, bits of the Beatles, bits of Jimi Hendrix, even bits (I thought) of the Velvet Underground – the shades of the lead singer.

But, strutting and posing and staring, they have an extraordinary presence. Keith Allen introduced them by saying to the audience:

“You know one of them is going to end up on the crack pipe. One of them is going to ‘come out’ and ignore his female fanbase. And one is obviously going to end up on heroin. You decide which one it’s gonna be…”

They have a very strong drummer and a very strong bass player holding everything together. An amazing, charismatic-voiced lead singer. And a lead guitarist to die for, mixing Keith Richard stares with soaring fluid guitar and dropping-to-the-knees Jimi Hendrix moments.

They are amazing. They are copying, but copying from the best with years to develop. They believe in what they act out. They are living the dream.

Last night, The Strypes also performed what was, to my ears, a version of My Generation better than The Who’s version.

The other extraordinary ‘performer’ at The Establishment last night was Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan who was sacked in October 2004.

He, like George Galloway, believes that Julian Assange is not guilty of the rape charges. (I am not so sure myself.)

Craig Murray said last night that he believes there is “a really strange alliance between the liberal/Left Guardianista Establishment and the Right Wing Murdoch commentariat to attack Assange. Even suggesting he might be innocent seems to be somehow socially disgraceful, something you’re not allowed to say in the media. I’m pretty convinced he’s innocent.

“I came across Extraordinary Rendition, torturing people to get intelligence, shipping people into Uzbekistan in order for them to be tortured… So I resigned and blew the whistle, which any honest person would do. But I found myself immediately charged with sexual allegations. I was charged with issuing visas in return for sexual favours.

“But it’s not only me. I can name Scott Ritter, former UN arms inspector… Janis Karpinski, brigadier general, who blew the whistle on Donald Rumsfeld’s approval of the torture techniques at Abu Ghraib prison,.. James Yee, chaplain at Guantanamo Bay

“All of these people blew the whistle and all of these people, in the week following blowing the whistle, were charged with unrelated criminal offences. And that’s what ‘they’ do. All the male ones were of a sexual nature.

“It’s extraordinary that this happens so often to whistleblowers and people just don’t see it. I know, because they did it to me, what they’re doing to Julian. And the media should damn well know it too, but the media doesn’t publish it. What I’ve just said about all these people who, one after the other, have been charged with sexual offences after blowing the whistle… Has anyone read that in the mainstream media? No. Because the bastards will not publish it.”

“Are all whistle-blowers perverts?” someone shouted out from the audience.

“Well,” said Craig Murray, “it’s extraordinary that that narrative could be accepted. I was fighting the government like hell over Extraordinary Rendition and arms in Iraq. In the middle of that fight, did I suddenly decide I was going to blackmail a visa applicant into sex? Brigadier Janis Karpinski – the senior female in the American Army – she blew the whistle on Rumsfeld’s torture techniques – did she actually come home and the very next day decide to go shoplifting?

“It makes no bloody sense. And yet the media accept these stupid narratives. For me, it’s very scary. I don’t think people realise the extent to which the corporate ownership of the media combines with an ultra-corrupt political elite who have poisoned our society.

“I blew the whistle on torture. People were being boiled alive. I mean it. People were boiled alive. I actually got a pathology report on dissidents who were boiled alive in Uzbekistan. They had a factory, in effect. And it wasn’t just there. Mubarak was doing it (in Egypt). Gaddafy was doing the same (in Libya). These dictators were boiling people alive, were torturing people for the CIA, for MI6, who were shipping people around in order to be tortured, in order to get intelligence which exaggerated the strength of al-Queda, which exaggerated the Islamic threat.

“And the reason for that is the government was using that largely invented threat in order to clamp down on civil liberties and opposition at home.

“We are besieged by a single narrative in the media. All we have is social media, the internet, to fight against it and try to build up networks for a wider dialogue. I’m certainly hoping that what you’re doing with The Establishment club will give a chance for people like me – who have got something strange and different to say, something that you don’t get to hear every day on the normal media – to come along and say it.”

I should mention, here, that I do not necessarily agree with everything I quote other people as saying in this blog, but that last bit about The Establishment club I agree with.

Long live The Establishment club!

Though I am old enough to know that hoping is not the same as getting…

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Canned Laughter aims to expose reel laughter at the Cannes Film Festival

(This piece was also published by the Huffington Post and by India’s We Speak News)

Jonathan Hansler will roll with the punches

I first met actor Jonathan Hansler a few years ago at one of the late lamented Fringe Report’s monthly meetings. He was named Best Actor in their final 2011 Awards. I mentioned him in January this year in a blog about the unveiling of a plaque at the site of the old Establishment Club in Soho – he is an indefatigable admirer and promoter of the late Peter Cook.

Jonathan is also half of comedy duo Teakshow. But, as well as the comedy streak running through him there is an entrepreneurial streak.

Three weeks ago he started an organisation which aims to run a comedy movie section – Canned Laughter – parallel to the main Cannes Film Festival next May.

Canned Laughter is intended to be a “focal point for comedy films at Cannes” and to increase Comedy’s profile there and elsewhere. Their ‘Mission Statement’ says:

Comedy is the hardest medium to perform and yet it gets little recognition. In the history of the Oscars, only four comedy films have ever won an award and there is no Best Comedy Oscar. In our opinion, it is a seriously undervalued medium. Canned Laughter aims to open up the possibilities of comedy film-making and to be a place for new film-makers to have their films screened via a competition with an experienced panel of judges… This is a multi-billion global industry yet there is no venue for it at the most celebrated film festival in the world… It is time comedy is recognised for the brilliant art form that it is at the most important film festival in the world. Comedy is all about timing and the time has never been better – changing the world through comedy and making it a brighter place.

“Canned Laughter would give awards?” I asked Jonathan Hansler yesterday at Silver Road Studios in London.

“Yes. We have the idea for something called The Peter Sellers Awards – best comedy film, best actor – our mini-awards at Cannes.”

“Only for English language films?” I asked.

“Well, we welcome international films from all over the world.”

“So some comedy film in Spanish from Guatemala…” I started.

“Yeah,” said Jonathan. “So long as we can understand it – if it’s dubbed or sub-titled or even silent comedy or animation. Every form of comedy including shorts.”

To make Canned Laughter a reality, Jonathan has partnered with a whole group of people and companies, including Silver Road Studios, live promotion company Best Jester Entertainment and Sarah Pemberton of TV/film production company Red Skin Media,

“I came up with the idea,” Jonathan explained to me yesterday, “because I was at Cannes four or five years ago and they had something called the Straight 8, where you had about ten minutes of Super-8 film shot continuously without cutting and they showed these little films at Cannes and all the cock-ups were left in and I was sat in this tent with this very funny guy hosting it and I was falling about with laughter and I thought I have not been to anywhere in Cannes like this.

“Generally at Cannes, you go to parties with a load of people looking terribly serious or talking shit or totally pissed but no laughter, no lightness. It’s like Disneyland with security guards, because it doesn’t promote lightness. It has a sense of snobbery about it, it’s got lots of posh black cars, loads of people in bow ties hanging around with very beautiful women – and that’s all fantastic, but what I find about comedy is it’s a very honest medium. It tells the truth a lot of the time and that’s wonderful to have in a place where, a lot of the time, there’s a lot of bullshit.

“Canned Laughter is about opening up the possibilities of comedy, so people are more aware of the brilliance and genius… How many geniuses are there as actors? There are a few. But, in comedy, there are loads of geniuses. And yet it’s an undervalued medium.”

“So,” I asked, “you want people to submit their films to you.”

“Yes,” said Jonathan.

“And they pay to enter their movie?”

“A nominal fee to be decided,” replied Sarah Pemberton. “It’s a model that already works well at the Cannes Film Festival in the Short Film Corner,. As far as entries are concerned, we could potentially launch Canned Laughter at the London Comedy Film Festival in January.”

“Which isn’t bad,” I said, “considering Canned Laughter started three weeks ago.”

“Well,” said Jonathan, “ I came up with the idea in June, but I had to wait until after the Edinburgh Fringe to get things together so people would be back in London and you have to let things simmer in your head. It came together when we had a meeting here at Silver Road Studios. We had about 65 people which I whittled down to a core team.”

“And you told me about some very impressive patrons,” I said.

“Though we can’t name them yet,” said Jonathan. “There will be a website up in a week or so. This came out of pure love, pure passion. I just think the time is nigh, the time is right and it’s a portable idea because you can take it to any film festival.

Canned Laughter obviously refers to Cannes. But our logo will involve a can of film, so the idea of canned film makes it transferable. There could be spin-offs. For the Sundance Festival, we have the idea of Canned Laughter’s Fundance. But the focal point now is Cannes next May.”

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Are they still celebrities even if you don’t know who on earth they are?

Someone said I was namedropping in yesterday’s blog when I mentioned that comedian Peter Cook once almost collided with me while he was running in the rain in Hampstead…

I don’t think it was. It is merely bizarre how people intersect with others. It is usually less than six degrees of separation.

I remember Jewish American comedian Andrew J.Lederer telling me (and, indeed, mentioning in one of his Edinburgh Fringe shows) that once in New York he encountered the Nazi’s favourite film director Leni Riefenstahl and she, of course, had shaken the hand of Hitler so he – a New York Jew in the 2000s – was only one handshake away from Adolf Hitler in the 1930s.

Someone told me last night that she thinks she may have briefly met Sammy Davis Jnr “at Alice Cooper’s birthday party” in the US perhaps 30 years ago…. “But it might not have been Sammy Davis. I did not talk to him and Alice Cooper was not even at the birthday party.”

I once showed Captain Sensible, formerly of punk rock band The Damned, round the Coronation Street set. He was up at the Granada TV studios in Manchester for some long-forgotten pop show, but all he really wanted to do was have his photograph taken in Coronation Street. I seem to vaguely remember him sitting happily on top of a red pillar box.

Comic Bob Slayer tells me: “At the Killer Bitch movie premiere, I met that lovely lady The Black Widow Murderer who was Myra Hindley’s hairdresser. I once had an ex-girlfriend who said she was having an affair with Neil Morrisey, but she was making it up. And several years ago (at least ten) I had a go at internet dating but didn’t have a digital photo of me myself or a camera so, I used an image of Buster Bloodvessel (lead singer of the band Bad Manners) which I found online… no-one ever said the photo was not of me.”

I myself once drove Buster Bloodvessel from Monmouth to Norwich for a film shoot.  He was very nice.

Bob Slayer says: “I drove Snoop Dogg from St Martin’s Lane to the Playboy Club in London recently, where he was doing a private gig. At the Club, there was some little fella having his photo taken with some bunny girls who were nearly a foot taller than him. I leant in and told him that there were probably some others his own size inside. Inside, some guy I did not recognise was talking about football to a bouncer. The next day, I saw the showbiz photos taken at the Playboy Club and it turned out the short-arse was Joe McElderry. Apparently he won the sixth series of The X Factor? It also turned out that the guy talking about football was Ashley Cole and the big fella who I thought was a bouncer was boxer David Haye.”

Andy Warhol was wrong when he said that, in future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.

He should have added “…but you may not know who they are”.

Who is the Black Widow Murderer and is there only one? It sounds like a tabloid term that may have been used more than once in different countries.

Fame is a fickle mistress.

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Comedian Peter Cook… remembered as a drunken lunatic or an Oscar Wilde?

Last night, I was due to have a drink in Soho with Sally Western, only-begetter of the Malcolm Hardee Appreciation Society group on Facebook.

We were going to talk about the bizarre and traumatic saga surrounding the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the Establishment Club, which comedian Peter Cook opened at 18 Greek Street in Soho, on 5th October 1961. It closed in 1964.

By complete coincidence, yesterday was the anniversary of Peter Cook’s death in 1995 and we were joined by actor Jonathan Hansler who played Peter Cook in the stage plays Pete and Me and Goodbye: The Afterlife of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. And we were also joined by Robert Ross, the biographer of Marty Feldman and writer of books on the Carry On films, Benny Hill, Frankie Howerd, The Goodies et al.

As a kid, I used to watch and tape record Peter Cook’s staight-faced comic monologues as E.L.Wisty on ITV’s On The Braden Beat shows. The words fascinated me when I listened back to them. I do not have the recordings now.

Yup. That’s a pity.

I saw him once – Peter Cook .

He was running along Church Row in Hampstead, where he lived in a white-fronted Georgian house with his wife Wendy. It was raining. He nearly collided with me. But didn’t. He had the loose, loping run of a long-legged man. A few years later, as a student, I went inside the house when I did some weeding in the back garden for his by-then ex-wife Wendy.

I am not one of life’s gardeners; I was very thorough but slow. She quite rightly did not invite me back. But she was very, very likeable.

Robert Ross got involved in Sally Western’s Peter Cook plaque saga via the Heritage Foundation and the Dead Comics Society.

“They normally put plaques on dead comedians’ houses,” Robert told me last night, “but it was so cool to do the Establishment Club in Greek Street that they jumped in”.

Sally was the driving force for the plaque and did all the hard behind-the-scenes work on freeholder and leaseholder agreements, sending off letters, setting up a website and arranging anything and everything needed to get the plaque put on the wall at 18 Greek Street – she even contributed to the words used on the plaque. She says actually getting the plaque agreed and put on the building was “a rollercoaster of Hell”.

“At one point, it was going to be an interactive plaque,” she told me last night, “with flashing lights and whirly things on it… It’s so sad that the building’s not being recognised now, because British satire basically started there.”

Jonathan explained: “At that time, the early 1960s, the Lord Chancellor had a ban on rude words and expletive shit in the theatre, but there was no law which prevented you doing it in a late-night club. So Peter thought, Right, I’ll get away with this in a late night club with membership.”

“He sold the memberships before it even opened,” Sally said.

After it opened, London gangsters the Kray Twins arrived at the Establishment Club one day and tried to get protection money out of Peter Cook.

“He went out to meet them,” Jonathan told me last night, “and said in his drawling voice, I think you’re here to intimidate me, aren’t you? Are you going to intimidate me? – and apparently he talked them out of it and sent them away confused. These two gangsters were wandering around saying: Why were we there?…I dunno… Weren’t we supposed to get some money off him?

“Maybe Ronnie took a shine to him,” Sally suggested.

“It’s not given the recognition it deserves,” said Robert. “This is the fucking Establishment Club, for God’s sake! As a nation, we are so obsessed with the Sixties and this is the place that so epitomises that era. Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Terence Stamp – they all went there. Why aren’t people going there now on tours? At least we’ve got a nice little plaque for Peter; that’s a start.”

“It’s a start,” said Jonathan. “It’s not the end. It really is somewhere special that place. As is Peter Cook. In the 100 Best Comedians, voted for by comedians in 2005, he was voted the No 1… I love Morecambe & Wise as much as the next person. I think they’re brilliant. But they are over-played; they’re everywhere. When are they ever going to show any Pete ‘n’ Dud shows? There are still quite a few tapes in existence. Their stuff is timeless because it was always slightly more rebellious. There was always something slightly edgy about those two: much more edgy than any other comics of that period.”

“Peter Cook is the godfather of comedy,” said Robert. “I went to the memorial service for Peter in Hampstead in 1995, at the church in Church Row, and Dudley Moore sang Goodbye for the last time. Mike Palin was there and Terry Jones, Stephen Fry, Eric Idle. Anybody writing comedy in the last sixty years – the Pythons, The Goodies, Vic & Bob, The Young Ones – owe a debt to him.”

“The Goodies weren’t satire,” I suggested.

“But Peter Cook wasn’t always satire,” Robert said. “He was basically just being funny, which is timeless. Yes, he would poke fun at the Prime Minister, Harold McMillan, but if you watch those sketches from Beyond The Fringe or listen to the later shows, they were just being funny. Pete ‘n’ Dud were just being brilliant. And, when you think that Peter Cook, who’s been dead for 17 years today, is still being talked about, still being held up as the litmus paper for the best in British comedy… He always will be.”

“You played Peter Cook on stage,” I said to Jonathan Hansler. “Was there one key thing that made you understand him?”

“I think I kind of understood him anyway,” Jonathan replied. “He was sent to boarding school when he was about nine and his parents lived abroad. I was sent to boarding school when I was nine and my parents lived abroad. And there’s a sense of loneliness you get from that. Dealing with your own mind, spinning stories out and all that kind of stuff. Your imagination becomes your friend because, in those places, there aren’t many actual friends. Everybody in those places is conforming and, if you’re a non-conformist, it’s kind of a different game.

‘The first time I saw him was when he did the Secret Policeman’s Ball sketch with John Cleese – Peter says: Did you know your intestines are four miles long? It’s amazing how they cram it all in. It means none of the food you eat is ever really fresh. And Cleese says: Fancy that! And Peter says: I don’t fancy that at all… And I thought Who’s this lunatic? He’s just brilliant! And, from then on, I was absolutely hooked on the guy.”

“He wrote the one leg routine at the age of 17,” enthused Robert.

“And,” Jonathan added, “a lot of the sketches that Peter performed later were originally written for Kenneth WilliamsOne Over The Eight revue at the Apollo in 1961.”

“The asp routine,” said Robert.

“The shirt shop routine,” said Jonathan.

“Peter was writing that stuff at university,” explained Robert, “and sending it up to the West End… I always say to Sally, The main thing is that we can now walk down Greek Street and see Peter’s plaque. As long as that building’s standing, it’ll be there. And that’s important.”

The plaque was unveiled on 15th February 2009.

“The actual day of the unveiling,” says Robert, “was fantastic. There were too many people to cater for at the club, so we went off to some hotel called the Dorchester. That Sunday lunchtime, me and Sally and Johnny got very drunk in the name of Peter Cook which is what he would have wanted, I think.

“But I get a little bit upset with the fact that he is now seen as a drunken lunatic. He was a fucking genius! I just think he should not be lambasted as this drunk comedian… I met Peter twice in my life and I think the fact he’s now perceived as this person who failed because he was so brilliant at the age of 24… that’s unfair… He wrote as a genius at the age of 24 and he just improved on that for the next 25 years… He was a genius who had achieved everything he could possibly achieve by the age of 25 and he just coasted after that. But why not? He could. And we should celebrate him as the finest comedy brain of the 20th century. He’s up there with Oscar Wilde. He’s up there with the great English wits of any time. Peter Cook deserves to be remembered as that person. I get so upset when they say Oh, he drank his talent away, he wasted it. No he didn’t.”

“If only,” said Jonathan, “If only we could get celebrities – people who’ve got money – to invest in the Establishment Club and put it back where it once was, it’d be the talk of London, it would be THE place.”

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Private Eye magazine – shining a light on a naughty world

How soon current affairs become history.

I’m sadly old enough (just) to remember the satirical magazine Private Eye starting up. At the time, I was not a vast fan. It seemed to me a bit too much like privileged public schoolboys biting the Establishment hand that paid their fees. But it has been admirably bitey over the years, publishing what other publications would not dare to print.

If it was not always part of the Establishment, it is now.

Yesterday, I went to a talk by Private Eye co-founder and former editor Richard Ingrams to plug the publication of a new book about the Eye. Ingrams now edits The Oldie.

According to Ingrams, Private Eye struck lucky early on because, just one year after it started publication, the Profumo Scandal broke: ideal fodder for the new satirical magazine.

The people at Private Eye knew absolutely nothing at all about the details of the scandal or what had happened but, again, they struck lucky by encountering Claud Cockburn, a writer who did know all about it, had copious contacts in very high places and who edited a special Profumo edition of Private Eye for them.

Once people think you know everything, then they will tell you almost anything: a great bonus if you are in the market for printing secrets or, at least unknown facts.

The Profumo Scandal eventually brought down Harold Macmillan’s Conservative Party government… although, yesterday, Richard Ingrams claimed Macmillan had actually resigned “by mistake” because he thought he had terminal cancer and, when it turned out he did not, he was more than a little angry.

Private Eye was also the first publication to name notorious London gangsters the Kray Brothers after the Sunday Mirror had published an article linking the Krays with showbiz peer Lord Bob Boothby; the Sunday Mirror had not named Boothby (who had also been having a long-term affair with Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s wife).

But, while Richard Ingrams was away on holiday, comedian and Private Eye owner Peter Cook edited the magazine and he named the Krays, then perhaps wisely left the country. With Ingrams still on holiday, the next issue’s guest editor had to take all the flak – pundit Malcolm Muggeridge.

Also involved with the Krays was Labour MP (and rumoured Soviet spy) Tom Driberg who liked a ‘bit of rough’ and one of whose criminal boyfriends stole from Driberg’s flat a newly-written draft of The Times’ obituary of Harold Wilson, the then very-much-alive British Prime Minister. He sold it to Private Eye for £10.

Shortly afterwards, Richard Ingrams was at No 10 Downing Street and asked Wilson: “Would you like to see what your obituary in The Times will say?”

Wilson apparently responded: “They never liked me.”

Private Eye, established by public schoolboys, was now part of the Establishment to such an extent that the Queen’s sister Princess Margaret would phone up their Grovel columnist Nigel Dempster with unflattering tales of Princess Diana, knowing they would be published.

People thought the Eye had gone too far when they printed items about Jeremy Thorpe, leader of the Liberal Party, trying to have ex-lover Norman Scott killed… until Thorpe was arrested and tried for attempted murder and conspiracy to murder. (He was controversially found not guilty.)

And then, of course, there were the legendary and seemingly endless writs for libel.

Corrupt newspaper publisher Robert Maxwell’s last writ, just two weeks before he ‘fell off his boat’, was about an ‘outrageous’ libel the Eye had printed about him dipping his fingers into his companies’ pension funds. Which proved to be true.

And the most famous series of writs, of course, was the James Goldsmith case which backfired. The day after Lord Lucan accidentally murdered his nanny thinking that it was his wife, his influential chums at the Claremont Club in Mayfair got together to talk about how they could best help the missing peer, who had done the proverbial runner. Private Eye published a story that millionaire financier, publisher and political wannabe James Goldsmith was at this meeting although it later turned out he had, in fact, not been present – he took part by telephone.

Goldsmith was supposedly outraged that the Eye printed he had been present at this meeting and had therefore attempted to pervert the course of justice and he went ahead with a two-pronged attack – suing Private Eye for the very obscure charge of criminal libel which could have seen Ingrams imprisoned and the Eye financially ruined… and threatening criminal libel cases against the magazine’s distributors and retail shops which sold it (like WH Smith) in a successful attempt to damage Private Eye’s circulation and sales.

As I understand it (not something mentioned by Richard Ingrams yesterday) this strategy backfired on Goldsmith because his Establishment chums held rather unsavoury grudges against him: he was felt to be ‘not one of us’ firstly because he was French-born and secondly because he was Jewish. It was felt he was an outsider who “did not understand” British culture because, although suing Private Eye for simple civil libel was acceptable and part of a game the Establishment and the Eye played, trying to destroy the magazine was ‘not on’.

And that is still the case.

Private Eye is a valuable self-regulatory asset within the Establishment to keep members of the Establishment from straying too far from generally accepted behaviour. People can stray into corruption within reason but not within plain sight. If they do, they are fair game for the well-connected Eye.

Yesterday, Richard Ingrams told a story about Stephen Ward, the osteopath who was at the very heart of the Profumo Scandal, coming round to, in effect, ask Private Eye how much they knew.

Stephen Ward was, said Ingrams, trying to keep things under control and still believed at this point that the Establishment would stand by him and protect him.

Instead, of course, he was thrown to the lions at the Old Bailey and committed suicide on the last day of his trial on the highly dubious charges of procuring prostitutes and living off immoral earnings.

Private Eye occasionally tries its best to shine a light on a naughty world but one torch is of limited use in infinity.

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