Behind The Fridge (Online review)

Behind The Fridge (Online review)

So, just to clear up any misconceptions, this is not a review about where Boris Johnson has got to during the last week. Rather it’s of a piece of archive footage celebrating the partnership between Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. They had, of course, met in the stage hit of the 1960s Beyond The Fringe and it was during the run of this revue that they encountered an Italian waiter who consistently mispronounced the name of the show which they then gave to their early 1970s outing. Behind The Fridge effectively marked the end of their ongoing regular double act but not before they had played in the West End, on Broadway and most successfully in Australia where they put together this TV version. It’s a reminder that their loss is keenly felt but also a fitting memorial to their talents.

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The sketches – more than a few of them are really mini plays – are varied in quality and some are a little too much of their time to translate fully successfully but there are a couple which show distinct innovation such as one about Toulouse Lautrec which is performed entirely en français and another in which a couple’s real feelings about each other are played out on a movie screen while they sit in front mouthing bland platitudes. There’s a very good classic “Dagenham Dialogue” sketch in which Pete and Dud discuss that hot topic of the day, the emergence of feminism – or as it was then known, Women’s Lib and one in which another rather taboo subject of the time, death, is mulled over by a father and son. The dialogue in this is sharp but there’s some physical comedy which doesn’t really work. The one complete misfire is a sketch in which Cook’s barrister hires a home help in the form of a resting actor who turns out to be (surprise surprise) as camp as a row of tents. The characterisation in this is just lazy but I suppose it was considered funny in its day. Moore (the actor) persuades Cook (the barrister) to help him rehearse an audition scene and when it is announced that the piece is from Othello I feared the worst in terms of another unfortunate impersonation but at least that is a temptation that is resisted.

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Perhaps the most surprising element is an elongated sketch in which Moore as gospel writer Mark interviews Cook as one of the shepherds “abiding in the fields” for his newspaper the Bethlehem Star. From here the piece spins out to include other New Testament moments and Biblical characters – I particularly enjoyed the sequence where Christ’s landlady is interviewed and there’s a nice topical joke when the British immigration officer is given the name Enoch. Now all this predates Monty Python’s Life Of Brian by nearly ten years but has a similar feel and apparently ran into a similar level of controversy – even Monty Python didn’t actually dare to depict Jesus himself; this TV version garnered a host of complaints which, of course, meant no harm in terms of publicity. Another sketch which ran into trouble is cut from the TV version altogether. It concerns a sociopathic mini cab driver taking a politician to the House of Lords; the playlet exudes menace and was apparently a great favourite of Harold Pinter. Presumably it was cut because it was too dark; fortunately, it has been preserved separately (see below).

The real pity is that this last piece contains Cook’s best performance. In the rest of the recording he does seem to rather drift through proceedings– apparently there was a lot of alcohol being consumed – and it is left to Moore to do most of the heavy lifting especially in the closing father and son sketch where he has the lion’s share of the dialogue while Cook is reduced to fillers and not particularly funny ad libs. We are also treated to some of Dudley’s musical prowess; “Colonel Bogey” played in the style of a Beethoven sonata is a particularly witty pastiche.

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It is small wonder that the partnership was effectively dissolved after this and Moore made a concerted stab at and found Hollywood fame. It was to be several years before the pair reunited for the infamous Derek and Clive routines. Devotees of the duo might like to know that there’s an interesting play online at the Scenesaver website called Goodbye – The (After) Life Of Cook And Moore, for my review of which click here. In this the deceased pair meet up in limbo and take stock of their lives; it would make an ideal follow up to watching this comparatively rare footage of the originals in action.

Behind The Fridge is available on You Tube in two parts. For Part One click here, for Part Two click here and for the missing sketch click here

Goodbye – The (After) Life Of Cook And Moore is available on Scenesaver. Click here

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