The Best of… What’s Left of… Not Only… But Also…

The Best of... What's Left of... Not Only... But AlsoSynopsis: Peter Cook and Dudley Moore were a major part of the new comedy era in the ’60s and ’70s. Their great partnership was formed when the pair wrote and conceived Not Only… But Also. They would talk into a microphone and then record and review their impromptu speech, developing parts that had promise and discarding the rest. The scripts were not written in stone. Half of the charm of the show is the pair’s adlibs and the laughter they fought to hold back as they tried to make each other crack up. These six episodes have been compiled from what remains in the BBC archive. This classic comedy featured some of the cleverest sketches ever to appear on British television and included terrific guest appearances such as John Lennon.

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The Best of… What’s Left of… Not Only… But Also… 7.5

eyelights: the nonsensical dialogues. the pair’s frequent corpsing.
eyesores: the dated musical numbers.

“That’s the last time I get caught up in your thoughts.”

When I was a kid, Dudley Moore was the short, middle-aged guy from ‘10‘ and ‘Arthur’. His movies were smash hits, but didn’t interest me. And neither did he. By the time he did ‘Santa Claus: The Movie’, just a few short years later, an aura of desperation seemed to envelop his career. When he did a belated sequel to ‘Arthur’ his career was clearly dead. I just couldn’t be bothered with him after that.

Peter Cook is someone I knew even less about that Dudley Moore. I had seen him in ‘Supergirl’ in the mid-’80s, but I don’t even remember him in it. The first time I noticed him was in ‘The Princess Bride‘, which I saw for the first time in the late ’90s. The first time he actually piqued my curiosity was in ‘The Secret Policeman’s Ball‘, when he did the hilarious “Interesting Facts” sketch with John Cleese.

After seeing him in a few more sketches in ‘The Secret Policemen’s Balls’ series, he was firmly on my radar – to me, he was the stand-out “new” act amongst dozens. Although his name had been familiar for years, I wondered about that dry, witty creep (by 1979, he had aged considerably). It’s only later, as I was learning about Monty Python’s history, that I discovered just how influential he really was.

But the Dudley Moore connection wasn’t yet made. It’s only after a few documentaries and books that it really sunk in that Moore was considered a comic genius at one point in his career, and that, along with Cook, had helped change the face of comedy. First it was during the early ’60s, when the pair found themselves in the ground-breaking stage comedy revue called ‘Beyond the Fringe’.

Then came ‘Not Only… But Also…’.

The show was originally proposed to Dudley Moore as a way for him to showcase his comedy and music (a pianist, he lead The Dudley Moore Trio). However, unsure of his ability to support the show on his own, he brought in Peter Cook for the pilot episode. It was such a success that Cook stayed on for the whole set of shows, which included three series and a handful of specials from 1964 to 1970.

The formula was simple: a few sketches written by and starring Moore and Cook, a few musical numbers, and a few guests (either musical or acting). There were recurring characters, but the most notable aspect of the show were the interactions between Cook and Moore, who burned up whole sketches having absurdist dialogues and trying to make each other crack up midway (or “corpse”).

Unfortunately, as was the case with ‘Do Not Adjust Your Set‘ and ‘At Last the 1948 Show‘, the BBC wiped the tapes for most of the shows after they were first broadcast. Of the fifteen 45-minute episodes and nine 30-minute ones, only enough material has been salvage from various sources to make a few compilation episodes, which were initially cobbled together in 1990 at the duo’s request.

These episodes are what can be found in ‘The Best of… What’s Left of… Not Only… But Also…’.

I had no idea what I was getting into when I first bought the DVD. I saw it a local store after having finally understood the significance of Cook and Moore, and decided that it was time that I finally gave the pair a chance. I’m not sure if I knew that the 30-minute “episodes” were actually compilations, but I was familiar with the concept, having watched ‘At Last…’ and ‘Do Not Adjust…’.

One thing I did not expect was that half of the material consisted of musical performances, or that Moore actually had talent. I was really expecting a sketch show like many of the others. It was just in the week before I started watching the show that I discovered that mixing music and comedy was a standard at the time in the U.K. In fact, Monty Python were amongst the first to eschew that format.

Naturally, I wasn’t as keen on the musical numbers which, given the era, were merely of the popular jazz variety, but many of the sketches were quite good – especially the dialogue-based ones. Each episode opened with a small introductory skit before the main titles and closed with Moore and Cook singing their closing song “Goodbyee” with great enthusiasm – with Moore goofing off on piano.

Here is a list of some of the highlights of the set:

Episode 1: Cook and Moore have a nonsensical exchange about animals while visiting the zoo, which is set up with a ridiculous description of lions as ants that don’t at all act ant-like. The head-spinning absurdity of the dialogues was a hoot.

Episode 2: Moore plays an R&B singer and Cook explains the lyrics for the audience – but winds up deciphering them poorly.

In another sketch, they have a discussion about life after death, while standing in a cemetery (and then at the Pearly Gates). Excellent.

Episode 3: First there’s a skit about the Order of St. Beryl in which the nuns leap all day. It’s all in the exchanges between them, plus a film of some nuns jumping and doing flips on a trampoline. So silly.

Then there are two poor guys eating their lunches together in a museum, being mundane about the greats and the classics. Very funny, and there’s a nice bit when they both corpse.

There’s a closing jazz number that wasn’t bad thanks to the guest vocalist’s smokey vocals and because Moore emulated a trumpet rather well – so much so that, at first, I thought he was lip-synching. Wow.

Episode 4: The opening skit has Cook as a cyclist asking for direction after separating from his group of 500 other cyclists. Moore gives him direction, but then the camera pulls back and they’re on an air carrier, with the name of the show emblazoned in large letters on the deck. Wow. Impressive.

Moore plays a floor manager for a new TV programme that has a painter (Cook) come into the studio to paint live in front of a studio audience – except that the manager controls everything and winds up impeding on the artist’s creative process to the Nth degree. Amusing.

Episode 5: “The Making of a Movie” is a very lengthy (10 minutes!) sketch that satires the creation of a motion picture from start to finish, including bits from said movie. It’s droll but is notable mostly for the quality of the production – the nice sets, costumes, …ect.

Episode 6: This is a rather bland episode which is only punctuated by a 1965 guest appearance (one of three) by John Lennon. In it he reads one of his poems overtop footage of him, Moore and Norman Rossington (band manager from ‘A Hard Day’s Night‘) wandering about the country side, acting silly. It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s notable nonetheless.

I surprised by two things in the set. One of them was the mixture of black and white and colour sketches from episode 4 onward. But since they’re compilations and the 1970 series was in colour, it makes sense. As well, I was stunned to see how much they changed over the years, with both of them being heavier set at first but streamlining by the end. The change is particularly dramatic for Moore.

The DVD also comes with a bonus feature called “Success Story: Peter Cook and Dudley Moore”. Dated 1974, it’s a 30-minute special that looks back on their career together, with then-fresh interviews with the duo, and tons of footage from their shows together – include large segments already on this DVD.

The most fascinating part of this special is that they talk about their successful run on Broadway, but they don’t show any footage from it – although they show a picture of Moore with the female cast of ‘Play it Again Sam!‘, a solo show he did at some point. It’s an interesting look at the pair, but it’s all too brief to be substantial.

Still, it makes for a good companion piece to these compilation episodes, and I’m glad that it was included on the set. It is said that there is apparently an equal amount of ‘Not Only… But Also…’ footage left over that didn’t make it into the six compilations, but that this has not been released yet. I really hope that we will get that chance someday, because, at their finest, Cook and Moore were brilliant.

Even their leftovers are tasty morsels.

Dates of viewing: June 26-July 4, 2015

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