I was a friend and devoted admirer of Peter Cook for thirty years but I never realised until I read this book how much our early lives had overlapped. We were born in the same week into the same sort of family. His father, like mine, was a colonial servant rushing round the world hauling down the Imperial flag. At one stage both fathers were ensnared in the argument about the most appropriate capital for the West Indies Federation: an argument as vexed as it was futile since the Federation lasted only a few months. Both fathers shipped their eldest sons back to public school education in England. He was bullied and then promoted to high office at Radley, I at Shrewsbury. We both had sisters called Sarah who were sent to school in Dorset. We both spent our school holidays with popular aunts and uncles in the West Country, where we were both fired with a passion for hopeless football teams: he for Torquay United, I for Plymouth Argyle. We both, even, had abdominal operations in 1948. In 1956, or thereabouts, the similarities dissolved. He brilliantly avoided National Service and went early to university, where he quickly established himself as a comic genius.
LRB 16 October 1997 | PDF Download