Kaleidoscope is a Birmingham, England-based company dedicated to the restoration of British TV programs from the 50s, 60s, and 70s that are “missing believed wiped” (networks like the BBC and ITV often recorded over videotaped telecasts as an economy measure before the advent of home video). They’re responsible for bringing back to life installments of such iconic series as The Likely Lads and Till Death Us Do Part to boob tube archives, and recently they published a list of their Top 100 wanted programs (which I came across at the British Comedy Guide website).
Their top three “most wanted” are Doctor Who (not too surprising), Top of the Pops, and The Avengers…but there were 24 comedy shows on the list, with familiar titles to fans of British comedy like Dad’s Army and The Liver Birds. For example, the two Goon Show-inspired series featuring Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, A Show Called Fred and Son of Fred (according to Kaleidoscope’s list only one episode of Show has survived—other sources say segments of both are still extant), are on this list but the #1 comedy show (ranked at #9) is Not Only… But Also, a sketch comedy series starring Peter Cook and Dudley Moore that ran for three series (a total of 23 episodes) from 1965 to 1970.
Cook and Moore were one-half of the quartet (the remaining members were future playwright Alan Bennett and future Renaissance Man Jonathan Miller) that appeared in the successful stage revue Beyond the Fringe, which had previewed at the Edinburgh International Festival in 1960 before going on to successful runs in London’s West End and then New York’s Broadway. Not Only… But Also was originally conceived as a vehicle for Moore (the show would be titled Not Only Dudley Moore But Also His Guests), but when Dudley invited Peter in appear in the series pilot, the audience reception (particularly to the first of the many “Dagenham Dialogue” sketches) was so positive that Cook’s participation on the show became permanent. The premiere of the program, which included generous portions of the November 29, 1964 pilot, featured John Lennon and Norman Rossington (from A Hard Day’s Night), along with future Julia star Diahann Carroll.
The first and third series of Not Only… But Also (telecast between January and April 1965) was a forty-five-minute program, while Series 2 (January-February 1966) was a half-hour. Among the big-name guests to appear on the show were Mel Torme, Dionne Warwick, and Dusty Springfield, and British comedy fixtures like Peter Sellers, Eric Sykes, and John Bluthal. Cook and Moore did a “Christmas cracker” of their show in December of 1966, and two years later the team appeared in an ATV series entitled Goodbye Again, which yielded four recorded shows (that aired in the USA under the Kraft Music Hall Presents banner in 1969). At that point in their career, the two men were concentrating on appearing in such films as The Wrong Box (1966), Bedazzled (1967), and Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies (1969—a.k.a. Monte Carlo or Bust!)…but they were eventually coaxed by the Beeb into doing a third and final series of Not Only… But Also between February and May 1970.
The only segments that remain of the third Not Only… But Also are the 16mm filmed inserts from the shows. It didn’t have to be this way; Cook offered to buy all of the recordings from the BBC (who objected due to “copyright issues”) and even suggested purchasing videotapes to replace the ones the Beeb were planning to “wipe.” Sadly, the network stymied him with the time-honored practice of bureaucratic red tape, and a classic TV show hailed as “versatile, inventive and immensely funny” (The Times) and “the funniest show on television” (The Sun) was tossed into Broadcasting’s Great Dumpster.
Of course, Not Only… But Also didn’t completely vanish from the small screen landscape. Kaleidoscope reports that 14 of the show’s 23 telecasts survived…though folks should keep in mind that much of this material exists in the form of off-the-air audio recordings in various forms of completion. Much of what remains of Cook and Moore’s show would be telecast as The Best of… What’s Left of… Not Only… But Also in six installments in 1990. The story goes that Cook’s mother Margaret personally lobbied BBC Chairman Marmaduke Hussey to telecast the material, writing in a letter that “she wanted to see the shows before she dropped off her perch.” The Best of… was released to VHS in 2003 as a 100-minute compilation and a good online friend of mine was kind enough to make me a copy, so I was familiar with a lot of the material from the Region 1 DVD release (in 2008) that I scooped up on sale from Hamilton Books a few months ago.
You’ve probably guessed from my enthusiastic review of Bedazzled (which I wrote up for a blogathon back in 2014) that I’m a big fan of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, and The Best of… What’s Left of… Not Only… But Also features the duo at the peak of their comic powers. The funniest sketches to me in these shows are the “Dagenham Dialogues,” in which Cook and Moore (identified as “Pete” and “Dud”) played a pair of working-class types clad in cloth caps and mackinaws engaged in philosophical discussions or just mundane anecdotes about their lives (“Tap, tap, tap at the bloody window pane…I looked out, you know who it was? Bloody Greta Garbo!“) against the backdrop of venues like an art gallery or reptile house. (My favorite is in Episode #2, in which Dud imagines that he and Pete have gone to heaven: “Bloody ‘ell…is this what I’ve been good for all my life?”) The team would also do gut-busting sketches like this interview with Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling (Cook), a dotty British duffer who regaled Moore and the audience with tales of his bizarre exploits:
MOORE: Sir Arthur…is it difficult to get ravens to fly underwater?
SIR ARTHUR: Well, I think the word “difficult” is an awfully good one here…yes, it is…uh…it’s well-nigh impossible, I think…the trouble is, you see, is that God in his infinite wisdom and mercy…er…designed these creatures to fly in the air rather than through the watery substances of the deep….hence, they experience enormous difficulty—as you said, difficulty—in beating their tiny wings against the water…it’s a disastrous experience for them…
MOORE: Yes…how do you manage to breathe?
SIR ARTHUR: Through the mouth and the nose…uh…the usual method, in fact—God gave us these orifices to breathe through and who am I to condemn him? I think you can’t breathe through anything else—if you start breathing through your ears, you can’t hear yourself speak for the rushing of the wind…nose and mouth is what I use, and I trust that you do…
MOORE: Yes…well, I most certainly do, of course…
SIR ARTHUR: Good…
MOORE: …but what I was meaning was how do you manage to breathe underwater?
SIR ARTHUR: Oh, that’s completely impossible…nobody can breathe underwater…that’s what makes it so difficult—I have to keep bobbing to the surface every 30 seconds…makes it impossible to conduct a sustained training program on the ravens…and they’re no better—they can’t even be taught to hold their beaks…
Other hilarious sketches in these shows include a first-rate parody of Gerry Anderson’s marionette shows, Superthunderstingcar, and This is Ludwig Beethoven, which features the composer opening his televised variety series with a rendition of It’s Not Unusual (Tom Jones hosted a popular variety series at that time entitled This is Tom Jones). (Ludwig’s [Moore] guest is William Wordsworth [Cook], who recites I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud in front of a chorus of dancers dressed as daffodils.) The classic movie fan in me chortled a great deal at a mock biography of movie star “Bargo,” as well as “The Making of a Movie,” which chronicles the behind-the-scenes production of a historical costume epic. While these programs brought me a great deal of pleasure, they also induced sadness when I was reminded that Cook and Moore’s sublime partnership was destined to come to an end like a bad marriage (Cook developed a drinking problem in later years, which clashed with Moore’s stardom in such motion pictures as 10  and Arthur ).
Included on this DVD is a half-hour BBC special from 1974 entitled Success Story: Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, which features the pair in New York at the time their Tony Award-winning revue Good Evening (a.k.a. Behind the Fridge) was drawing appreciative crowds. (There’s also footage from some 1971 telecasts the duo did in Australia—that now exist only in black-and-white versions—including their classic “One Leg Too Few” sketch. I still remember seeing them perform this [along with the Sir Arthur “Frog and Peach”] when they hosted Saturday Night Live in 1976—that might have been the moment when I fell in love.) It should be noted that the content of The Best of… constitutes only half of what remains of Not Only… But Also, and that maybe a future release of extant material will entertain us on DVD soon.