Appellate Judge James A. Stewart's not only brilliant, but also modest.
"Are we really alive, or are we really figments of our imagination?"
There are some of you out there in DVD Verdict land who might know Dudley Moore from starring vehicles like Arthur but not realize that he had a "but also," a partner in comedy named Peter Cook. Strangely enough, the BBC's site on Not Only…But Also…, the TV series that showcased the comedy in question, notes that the British broadcaster had planned to send Moore out solo. Instead, they added Cook, one of the men who had shared London and Broadway stages with Moore in the popular Beyond the Fringe comedy review.
Moore was not only a comedian, but also a pianist. In the show, he switches from cool comedy with Cook to cool jazz with the Dudley Moore trio, often accompanying the requisite musical guests.
Not Only…But Also… ran for 22 episodes over three seasons (1965, 1966, and 1970), but much of it was tossed out by the BBC, a move that its executives probably regretted dearly a few years later as the likes of Monty Python's Flying Circus and The Good Neighbors began endless reruns on public television stations stateside.
The Best of…What's Left of…Not Only…But Also… was a 1990 TV compilation of Cook's and Moore's favorite sketches. "The Best of…" was naturally limited by the "What's Left of…" The sketches may not be the show's best, but they seem to be a representative sample.
Facts of the Case
The Best of…What's Left of…Not Only…But Also… features six episodes cobbled together in 1990, mostly in black-and-white, but with color segments from 1970. Sketches include "Superthunderstingcar," a parody of Gerry Anderson supermarionation shows featuring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore as puppets, Moore reading an Edward Lear poem with oddball visuals from Cook, and Cook as a cyclist who's lost his bicycle race and asks highway line painter Moore for directions. Not only that, but several episodes also have an exchange between oddball characters Pete and Dud. Musical guests include Marian Anderson, Cilla Black, and Goldie and the Gingerbreads. John Lennon appears, but in his capacity as a poet.
The first episode opens with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in a dressing room. They head out, not onto a stage, but onto the deck of a ship, where they sit down at the piano. As Moore starts to play and the show begins, the piano is lifted off the ship's deck and plunged into the water. Moore and Cook keep singing, sort of, underwater—until a mermaid goes by. Cook swims off in pursuit, while Moore rides after her on a bicycle that's conveniently lying on the sea bottom. Each episode has a similar grand opening; often, these feature the show's title writ large, superimposed onto a mountain or a road.
What follows is a typical variety show mixture of songs and sketches on a set reminiscent of the Beyond the Fringe stage set. The film editors did a seamless enough job that the first three Best of episodes look like ordinary episodes of a variety show rather than a compilation. The editing shows only in the last three episodes, when color segments from 1970 are mixed in with the black-and-white segments.
The high point is the "Pete and Dud" sketches, of which there are four (although the pair pops up in that bonus documentary). As the two working stiffs, the comedians riff a variety of topics. At the zoo, Pete tells the story of how geckos came to eat bugs. At a museum, they ponder whether the bottoms in a nude painting will follow them around the room. In a pub, their tall tales of romance include Betty Grable, Greta Garbo, and Jane Russell. Even in Heaven, the pair can't stop complaining; "No toilets. There's no angelic conveniences," Dud says. These sketches show that Cook and Moore are at their best when they're just let loose in a simple setting. When watching, I could see why these sketches are the show's most-remembered legacy.
One of their favorite gimmicks is the narrated sketch, under which Cook and Moore ham it up. The best of these were a French tourist film which sends viewers to a chips shop in search of fine cuisine and a documentary on "Bargo," which features Cook as a reclusive screen star a la Greta Garbo. In one of these, John Lennon joins in the antics as his poem is read. Another favorite theme of Cook and Moore is the TV guest spot. These usually center on an offbeat guest, but my favorite put a relatively subdued Cook as an artist in the hands of obnoxious stage manager Moore.
Cook and Moore play nearly all the roles. In one sketch, "Superthunderstingcar," the big joke seems to be their frequent costume changes and the editing to put several characters in the scene.
Although comedy is the main attraction, I liked Moore's musical numbers a lot. The best is a duet between Marian Anderson and a silly voiced Moore, who closes his eyes to play the piano when Anderson sings "Close Your Eyes." Moore's music and comedy merge excellently in a sketch which casts him as Beethoven in a variety special, with Cook reading poetry as Wordsworth accompanied by a production number.
Picture and sound quality are variable. After all, this was recovered from the rubbish. That, combined with some silly accents, means you'll miss lines at times.
For a bonus, there's Success Story: Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, a 1974 BBC documentary that catches up with the pair in New York as they star in the sketch review Good Evening. It's well done with lots of clips, but it's strange viewing today, knowing that the comedy team would soon split. You should watch it, though, since Dudley Moore's best moment of breaking up laughing—which the DVD cover says is one of the show's hallmarks—turns up here. It would have been nice to see a complete Not Only…But Also… episode, if they exist, as an extra.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you've seen Beyond the Fringe, you'll note that the style's the same, even down to the set, but the humor's more scattershot. If you've been anticipating the funniest thing in the world because of the show's rarity, Not Only…But Also… could be a letdown.
Also, a sketch that casts Dudley Moore as black pianist Bo Dudley comes across as tasteless as Moore and Peter Cook parse the lyrics of "Mama's Got a Brand New Bag" and make dubious observations on Harlem life.
If you've already seen and liked Beyond the Fringe, you'll probably enjoy The Best of…What's Left of…Not Only…But Also…. Not everything's a gem, thanks to the demands of TV and the "What's left of" caveat, but there's enough good stuff here, with those Pete and Dud sketches sealing the deal.
Not guilty, but also a reprimand for the BBC for destroying years of great comedy.
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice
Studio: BBC Video
• Success Story: Peter Cook and Dudley Moore
Review content copyright © 2008 James A. Stewart; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.