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Beyond The Fringe

By Angela and Dave Pressland

What was it?

The Beyond the Fringe team
From the left: Peter Cook, Jonathan Miller, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett

Four graduates, two (Miller and Cook) from Cambridge and two (Bennett and Moore) from Oxford, wrote and presented a satirical revue at the Edinburgh Festival. So popular was this show that it went on to sell out in London's West End and successfully transferred to Broadway. It kick-started the sixties satire boom almost single-handedly and led to numerous imitations including one, Behind the Fridge, from two of the original cast themselves!

The Cast:

Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.

What have they done since?

A fully qualified doctor of medicine, in the 1970s Jonathan Miller wrote and presented a documentary series for the BBC called The Body in Question. He is now one of London's leading theatrical producers, staging many highly acclaimed operas and plays - The Mikado, Tosca, Fidelio, School for Scandal, A Long Day's Journey into Night, lots of Shakespeare and much, much more.

Alan Bennett is one of Britain's most popular and prolific playwrights, the author of Forty Years On, Habeas Corpus and The Old Country to name just three. With a keen eye for the absurdities of modern life and an excellent ear for dialogue, his work is both humourous and poignant. He wrote the screenplay for the film A Private Function and two series of monologues, Talking Heads, for the BBC. He also starred in one of these programmes.

After the success of Beyond the Fringe, Peter Cook founded the satirical magazine Private Eye. He opened a club in London's Soho district called The Establishment in which many of the leading comedians of the sixties and seventies performed, including a youthful Edna Everage (before she was a Dame). Peter continued to work extensively with Dudley Moore, firstly in the television series Not Only But Also and subsequently on the extremely risqué (read downright rude!) Derek and Clive records; Derek and Clive Live, Derek and Clive Come Again and Derek and Clive Ad Nauseum. Definitely not for the easily shocked. Peter Cook died in 1995.

As well as working extensively with Peter Cook in television and on record (see above), Dudley Moore also had a brief career as a Hollywood sex symbol, starring in the films 10 with Bo Derek and Arthur with Sir John Gielgud. A highly accomplished pianist (he was at Oxford on an organ scholarship) Dudley has performed both classical and jazz everywhere from the Edinburgh Festival to Carnegie Hall (the one in New York, not Dunfermline!). He also wrote a quirky book of anecdotes about music, musicians and composers called 'Musical Bumps'. Dudley Moore died in April 2002.

Beyond the Fringe Sketches

I doubt very much if Paul ever had as much trouble at an audition as Mr Spiggott, a one-legged man auditioning for the role of Tarzan. If you're anything like us then the phrase 'one-legged man' conjures up certain images - an artificial limb maybe, perhaps a wheelchair, at the very least a pair of crutches. Dudley Moore had none of these things and spent the entire sketch hopping on his solitary limb. Bouncing backwards and forwards and from side to side, while delivering his lines completely deadpan. And he had his hands in the pockets of his raincoat throughout. No arms out for balance. How he managed to do this without falling over we'll never know.

Cook: Well, Mr Spiggott, need I point out to you where your deficiency lies as regards landing the role?
Moore: Yes, I think you ought to.
Cook: Need I say without overmuch emphasis that it is in the leg division that you are deficient.
Moore: The leg division?
Cook: Yes, the leg division Mr Spiggott. You are deficient in it to the tune of one. Your right leg I like. I like your right leg. A lovely leg for the role. That's what I said when I saw you come in. I said, 'A lovely leg for the role.' I've got nothing against your right leg. The trouble is - neither have you. You fall down on your left.
Moore: You mean it's inadequate?
Cook: Yes, it's inadequate, Mr Spiggott. And to my mind the British public is just not ready for the sight of a one-legged ape man swinging through the jungle tendrils.

Anyone who has seen Call of the Wild - the final spellbinding two-part episode of due South (written by Paul Gross and R. B. Carney), will be well aware of the excellent parody of Shakespeare's St Crispin's Day speech from Henry V, and its wonderful delivery by Buck Frobisher (Leslie Nielsen).

Shakespeare also suffered at the hands of the Beyond the Fringe team, as this sketch 'So That's The Way You Like It' demonstrates.

Miller: Get thee to Gloucester, Essex. Do thee to Wessex, Exeter.
Fair Albany to Somerset must eke his route.
And Scroop, do you to Westmoreland, where shall bold York
Enrouted now for Lancaster, with forces of our Uncle Rutland,
Enjoin his standard with sweet Norfolk's host.
Fair Sussex, get thee to Warwicksbourne,
And there, with frowning purpose, tell our plan
To Bedford's tilted ear, that he shall press
With most insensate speed
And join his warlike effort to bold Dorset's side.
I most royally shall now to bed,
To sleep off all the nonsense I've just said.
They exit. Re-enter all four as rustics. Jumpers over heads - very rustic!
The 'four rustics'
Miller: Is it all botched up, then, Master Puke?
Bennett: Aye, and marry is, good Master Snot.
Moore: 'Tis said our Master, the Duke, hath contrived some naughtiness against his son, the King.
Cook: Aye, and it doth confound our merrymaking.
Miller: What say you, Master Puke? I am for Lancaster, and that's to say for good shoe leather.
Cook: Come speak, good Master Puke, or hath the leather blocked up thy tongue?
Moore: Why then go trippingly upon thy laces, good Grit.
Cook: Art leather laces thy undoing?
Moore: They shall undo many a fair boot this day.
All: Come, let's to our rural revel and with our song enchant our King.

Like all good Shakespeare it ends with a battle.

Enter Cook and Miller, with swords.
Miller: Why then was this encounter nobly entertained
And so by steel shall this our contest be buckled up.
Come, sir. Let's to it.
Cook: Let's to it.
Good steel, thou shalt thyself in himself embowel.
Miller: Come, sir. (They fight)
Ah ha, a hit!
Cook: No, sir, no hit, a miss! Come, sir, art foppish i' the mouth.
They fight again. Cook 'hits' Miller.
Miller: Oh, God, fair cousin, thou hast done me wrong. (He dies)
Now is steel twixt gut and bladder interposed.
Cook: Oh, saucy Worcester, dost thou lie so still?
Enter Bennett
Bennett: Now hath mortality her tithe collected
And sovereign Albany to the worms his corpse committed.
Yet weep we not; this fustian life is short,
Let's on to Pontefract to sanctify our court.

Script extracts written by Jonathan Miller, Alan Bennett, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore.

Original content written and researched by Angela and Dave Pressland.

Beyond The Fringe CD
An audio CD of the 1961 show from the Fortune Theatre is available from Amazon.co.uk
Beyond The Fringe CD
Amazon.co.uk also have an audio CD of Classic Songs and Sketches (LIVE)