Peter Cook Biography

Peter Edward Cook (17 November 1937 – 9 January 1995) was an English actor, satirist, writer and comedian. An extremely influential figure in modern British comedy, he is regarded as the leading light of the British satire boom of the 1960s. Cook has been described as "the funniest man who ever drew breath", although his work was also controversial. Cook was closely associated with anti-establishment comedy which emerged in Britain and the United States in the late 1950s.

Cook was born at his parents' house "Shearbridge", in Middle Warberry Road, Torquay, Devon. He was the only son and eldest of the three children of Alexander Edward (Alec) Cook (1906–1984), a colonial civil servant, and his wife Ethel Catherine Margaret, née Mayo (1908–1994). He was educated at Radley College and Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he studied French and German. As a student, Cook initially intended to become a career diplomat like his father, but Britain "had run out of colonies", as he put it. Although politically largely apathetic, particularly in later life when he displayed a deep distrust of politicians of all hues, he did join the Cambridge University Liberal Club.

It was at Pembroke that Cook performed and wrote comedy sketches as a member of the Cambridge Footlights Club, of which he became president in 1960. His hero was fellow Footlights writer and Cambridge magazine writer David Nobbs.

Whilst still at university, Cook wrote for Kenneth Williams, for whom he created an entire West End comedy revue called One Over the Eight, before finding prominence in his own right in a four-man group satirical stage show, Beyond the Fringe, with Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett and Dudley Moore.

The show became a great success in London after being first performed at the Edinburgh Festival and included Cook impersonating the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan. This was one of the first occasions satirical political mimicry had been attempted in live theatre and it shocked audiences. During one performance, Macmillan was in the theatre and Cook departed from his script and attacked him verbally.