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Why Bother? was a BBC Radio 3 series consisting of five ten minute programmes that featured Chris Morris interviewing Peter Cook as Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling. Streeb-Greebling was a character Cook invented in the sixties and basically an upper class twit type who always goes down a number of surreal and silly avenues as he talks about his life and times. The series aired in 1993 and this 50 minute audio CD was released in 1999. Peter Cook's television sketch stuff is always a bit hit and miss for me when I encounter it but I've always been interested in his career (which was fairly extraordinary early on and then fizzled out when he wasn't very old at all) and he was by all accounts an incredibly funny man in real life. Why Bother? was improvised by Cook and Morris and it produces some great flourishes and flights of fancy by Cook - who was clearly very good at coming up with funny and clever nonsense off the top of his head. Those Derek & Clive tapes, for example, contain a lot of rubbish but they also contain some absolutely brilliant ramblings and lines by Cook. Dudley Moore obviously didn't stand a chance of competing at all in that studio.
The structure of Why Bother? is Morris asking Streeb-Greebling obtuse questions about his life and things that have happened to him, sparking Cook into some silly and often inspired responses. Among the topics up for discussion are Streeb-Greebling's experiments on eels, his finding the remains of Christ, his time in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp during World War 2 and his experiences of the Los Angeles riots in the wake of the Rodney King affair! Asked about the Rodney King aftermath and if he feels any pride in his participation in the riots (Streeb-Greebling 'mowed down' as many people as possible regardless of race), Cook is on good form with his replies. "I feel nothing but pride. That's all I do feel. An empty pride... a hopeless vanity... a dreadful arrogance... a stupefying futile conceit... but at least it's something to hang onto." Morris takes Cook down some bizarre avenues with his questions and they work very well together, Morris probably being one of the few people who stood even a remote chance of keeping up with Cook in this improvised and often surreal format.
The collection contains a lot of parodic autobiographical material about Streeb-Greebling and much of this is great fun and allows Cook to improvise and flesh out a character he'd been doing on and off for a number of decades. Streeb-Greebling explains that it was a tough childhood and he once spent a "year and a quarter" standing on a frozen Lake Ontario with only bears for company. "It was a learning experience to be a child in my father's household, or whichever household he put me in. He felt the best education I could possibly have was to be put in prison and raised by hardened murderers. We were awoken at dawn by the sound of hanging." Cook's ramblings are often very amusing as we learn, amongst other things, that Streeb-Greebling has a history of strangling his business partners!
The hit rate is fairly high here as I gather that Morris recorded a lot of material with Cook and then edited it down for each ten minute programme, dispensing with the stuff that didn't work and keeping Cook's more memorable flourishes as Streeb-Greebling. Street-Greebling has many tall tales about his life, including cloning the remains of Christ (and trying to "fax" his DNA) and his many travels. One bit that is quite interesting for anyone who has read Cook biographies and is interested in his life and career is that Streeb-Greebling talks about working with Joan Rivers on a chat show and finding her to be "a pain in the arse". In real life, Cook had been a co-host on a Joan Rivers chat show in the eighties (I think) where he basically sat on the sofa looking bored and occasionally added a few comments when prompted. Clearly, it wasn't something Cook looked back on with the fondest affection!
While not everything here is laugh out loud funny there is some great stuff from Cook and I'd imagine this must have been one of the last things he ever did. I think it provides Cook with the type of improvised format he was best at, just talking nonsense off the top of his head (Cook never really worked very well in feature films because he couldn't act to save his life) and being silly. It's quite interesting that shortly before he died he did this and a Clive Anderson chat show where he played four different characters and was absolutely brilliant, the two projects, especially his turn on Clive Anderson, providing a last hurrah and a reminder of a what a funny man Peter Cook was. It's always been regarded as ironic that in the sixties Cook was the handsome, suave and brilliant one and yet it was the diminutive Dudley Moore (who was more or less Cook's straight man) who became a Hollywood star while Cook frittered his career away and battled alcoholism. Personally though, I would happily pulp most of the films Dudley Moore made in Hollywood to save just ten minutes of Peter Cook rambling on in inspired form in things like this.
Why Bother? is good fun on the whole and worth a listen if you are a Peter Cook fan (or even a Chris Morris one for that matter) and interested in his career. The two comedians work well together and both provide some enjoyable moments of obtuse silliness over the fifty or so minutes that this runs to. This is an amusing little twilight reminder of what a naturally funny man Peter Cook was and not bad at all as far as these radio comedy vehicles go.