Unfastening the restraints on a new form of humour going by the name of ‘satire,’ came four off cuts from the crème of the public school boy crop. Unwittingly grabbing serious theorists, Jonathan Miller and bespectacled Alan Bennett (Miller from Cambridge and Bennett from Oxford), they were thrown together by the artistic director, at the time, from the Edinburgh Festival; Robert Ponsonby, with short, London born Dudley Moore and chain smoking, professional writer, Peter Cook. The idea was to create a show that gave an insight to the Festival delights. By acquiring the services of four jolly good chaps fresh out of the wooden panelled dormitories, seemed to be the best way to start.
All already having a fairly decent amount of experience either from Security safe or The Oxford Revue, they did all share the same alternative interest in the diversity of the Edinburgh Festival. Back in 1960, when Britain was just about coming to terms with the last of rationing and being free to think, write, perform without the stiffness of the War generation before, the world was being wrenched open like a rusty tin opener on a can of Baked Beans. The young set were scheming a way to expose, shock, but above all, entertain their peers that paved an historic route that we now know as the youth culture. It started off with the recklessness of Rock and Roll in the Fifties but that had been left solely down to the working classes.
Already writing for Kenneth Williams, Cook jumped at the chance of giving an airing to some already workable ideas he had been using for writing for other people. In the days when everyone wrote for everyone else, there was little in the way of jealousy or copyright theft going on that was taken too seriously; Eric Sykes was writing with Spike Milligan on The Goon Show, Barry Cryer was writing for Round The Horne, and although, most of the time, these co writers were nearly never credited, it didn’t seem to matter. So when Cook, decided to incorporate some material he had used for other shows, no one gave a toss.
Taking the Edinburgh stint onto a different angle, Ponsonby’s idea was that a revue show could be put on by these four inspirational thinkers and poets of their generation to enlighten audiences to participate in further festival shows. He rather eagerly handed over the reins to the four and were, frighteningly, allowed to run wild with as much freedom as possible. What actually happened was deep cut and firmly disposing the power of the authorities. Such in the line of fire by these brilliantly scornful surrealists was Harold Macmillan and the Government, Public School masters and governors and of course, the School lockers ; all sections of the middle society community that simply were not cross questioned ever before.
The show was launched in 1960 along with the assistance of John Bassett to keep the show on a professional keel, but it was Peter Cook who remained, throughout, the uncontrollable one. With the pen forever fixed in his hand a cigarette rocking gently from the corner of his mouth, he held tightly to the steering wheel of the show. It was known around the production dwellers that Cook had already participated in a dispute over wages. Due to the greediness of his agent for taking him off the Williams revue circuit as a writer, and after Cook had received his pay packet, his agent was grabbing a large chunk as payment for losing the revue, thus Cook earned less than the other three. This in turn, allowed him especially to used his dissolutionisms at point blank range on all who thought they were above him.