The enduring image of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore comes from a 1965 sketch routinely trotted out for best of clips shows on TV. It’s the duo in an art gallery: “The sign of a good painting with their backs towards you is if the bottoms follow you around the room.” The sketch underscores the brilliance of Cook and Moore’s partnership. Upper-class versus working-class; tall versus short; deadpan versus clowning. But by the time they came to create Derek and Clive, almost a decade later, their careers were diverging. There were solo ventures (Cook’s short-lived chat show Where Do I Sit? and The Rise And Rise Of Michael Rimmer; Moore’s 30 Is a Dangerous Age, Cynthia); while Cook’s alcoholism was beginning to nag at their relationship.
At first, Derek (Moore) and Clive (Cook) gave the two men a chance to let off steam in an informal environment. Between performances of their 1973 Broadway revue Beyond The Fridge, they convened at Bell Sound Studios, the Bottom Line in Greenwich Village and with engineer Eddie Kramer at Electric Lady studios on Chris Blackwell’s ticket. Essentially an update of their Pete and Dud characters, Derek and Clive bypassed the wit of their early collaborations in favour of lots of swearing.
Released between 1976 and 1978, the three Derek and Clive studio albums – included here with a ‘greatest hits’ set and a disc of rarities – map the degeneration of Cook and Moore’s professional relationship. It begins as sweary bants between pals over drinks – subjects include retrieving lobsters from Jayne Manfield’s rectum, Winston Churchill’s phlegm, masturbation, sodomy and cottaging. Jokes pivot round Moore’s delivery of the phrase “willy winkie wanky” or hearing Cook tell a yarn involving a “fucking gorilla fucking the arse off my fucking wife”. Blackwell circulated the tapes among his industry pals, engendering a formal release three years later. The Director of Public Prosecution rejected complaints from four police forces who wanted the comics prosecuted for obscenity. Buoyed by the controversy, Cook’s biographer Harry Thompson notes …(Live) sold 100,000 copies.
After the success of …(Live), Cook and Moore were offered a new film project, The Hound Of The Baskervilles, directed by Warhol protégé Paul Morrissey. The film failed; and the pair’s subsequent records develop an increasingly sour tone as they turn their frustrations inward towards each other. As Cook wryly admitted, Come Again is “a stream of obscenities about unpleasant subjects”. Released in 1977 on Virgin, …Come Again outflanked punk in its capacity to shock. Take, for instance, Cook serenading Moore with “My old man’s a dustman, he’s got cancer too/Silly fucking arsehole, he’s got it up the flue”, knowing that his partner had recently lost his own father due to the disease. Elsewhere, Moore considers raping the victims of road traffic accidents and later discusses cutting out his wife’s hymen with an electric carving knife.
Recorded in September 1978, just as Moore’s film career was beginning to take off (10 was barely a year away), Ad Nauseam is even further out there. In one sketch, Cook talks about repeatedly kicking his wife in the vagina. Later, he discusses masturbating over images of the late Pope; another sketch is simply called “Rape, Death And Paralysis”. At one point during the film of the Ad Nauseam sessions, Derek & Clive Get The Horn, Cook’s vitriol becomes unbearable – “Your mother thinks very simply that you’re a cunt” – and Moore temporarily walks out. It is Let It Be without the tunes.
Critically, while …(Live) was never intended to be heard in public, both …Come Again and Ad Nauseam were recorded for commercial release. As much as it’s possible to interpet the first record as simply the two men gamely trying to out-gross each other as much as possible, the second and third Derek and Clive records are remarkable for their sustained levels of cruelty: the awful misanthropic bleakness of the thing. They are comedy records that aren’t funny, principally. But what they reveal of the bizarre, unraveling relationship between the two comedians is fascinating; and at the very least means they shouldn’t be overlooked.
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