Author's note: This review is based on an advanced screener disc - not the final shelf product. Subsequently, ratings on the video and audio are not final, nor is there any mention of extras (such as an episode guide or an informational brochure) nor of the disc's packaging. When and if I receive the final shelf product, I will amend the review.
BBC Video has released The Best Of... The Rest Of... Not Only... But Also..., six compilation episodes the BBC cobbled together from the remaining footage of the now-lost Not Only... But Also, the legendary, influential 1960s comedy skit series from England starring Dudley Moore and Peter Cook. Produced in 1990, these six short assemblages are both hilarious and heartbreaking to watch, particularly when you know the full story of what happened to one of English TVs most significant contributions to modern comedy in the latter half of the 20th century.
After the wildly popular Beyond the Fringe stage revue debuted in 1960 (playing for four years on both sides of the Atlantic and heralding in a fecund period of British satire that revolutionized comedy in that country), one of its stars, diminutive composer, writer, and performer Dudley Moore, was offered his own show on the BBC, to be entitled Not Only Dudley Moore, But Also His Guests, a series of variety shows that would concentrate primarily on Moore's musical talents. There's some debate as to who suggested that Moore's Beyond the Fringe partner, Peter Cook, guest-star on the pilot - and also why he was asked to come on (some claim Moore was nervous going it alone, while others say the BBC "requested" it), but whatever the reason, the incongruous pairing of eager, puppy-doggish Moore and the tall, imperious, wickedly snide Cook was a natural on TV, and Cook was immediately asked to co-star the series.
Three "series" were produced (and remember, the term "series" in English TV is more analogous to "season" in American TV lingo), premiering from January 1, 1965 to April 3, 1965; January 15, 1966 to June 26, 1966; a Christmas special in 1966; and the final series from February 18, 1970 to May 13, 1970 (British series also have a weird habit of sometimes stopping and starting over several years). The show proved quite popular with viewers, with Moore and Cook's surreal absurdist humor fitting right in with the huge social changes that were just starting to take place in England in the mid-60s.
What follows next is the stuff of nightmares for TV lovers and historians. As with most British TV series from that time, all the studio segments of Not Only... But Also were shot on video, with any location work shot on 16mm film (because video cameras were far too cumbersome and inconvenient for such work). Then, the entire show was transferred to two inch quad videotape for transmission over the airwaves. These master tapes were then stored by the BBC for future reruns, if deemed necessary...until such time as the expensive two inch tape was needed for new programming - whereby the old program was wiped from the tape, and a new program taped over it. End of story. Gone forever. Now this thoughtless (some say criminal) practice wasn't relegated to just England - it happened everywhere, including here in the States, as well (infamously, almost all of Johnny Carson's The Tonight Show episodes prior to 1970, were wiped). It's hard to imagine, with the cost of videotape and blank discs so incredibly cheap today, that those bulky two inch tape cartridges would be so expensive, but they were, and the networks used them over and over again, hundreds of time. As well, nobody in TV had quite figured out yet (with the possible exception of Lucille Ball, Desi Arnez, and Jackie Gleason) just how lucrative those old TV shows would prove to be one day. TV back then was largely thought of as a disposable art form: a show aired once, and except for a few reruns, it was gone for good. And why bother with something old? New programs were being produced all the time to satisfy viewers.
And such was the fate of Not Only... But Also, with the final twist in the story perhaps more cruel than other similar incidents: Peter Cook was told of the BBC's intentions to wipe the tapes, and he offered not only to buy them back, but also replace the prohibitively expensive two inch cartridges...with the BBC politely replying, "No, thanks." Why they refused is anybody's guess, but all that remained of Not Only... But Also were scraps here and there of kinescope versions of the series that had been sent all over the world for foreign TV markets. Thus, complete episodes have been reconstructed from these various sources, but more than less has been lost forever (until more stuff turns up in dusty closets and attics). In 1990, the BBC cobbled together various segments of these remaining pieces, and edited them (in no chronological order, nor with regards to keeping the segments together as they were originally produced and broadcast) into these six episodes that appear on the The Best Of... The Rest Of... Not Only... But Also... disc.
And that's why it's a simultaneously hilarious/heartbreaking experience to watch The Best Of... The Rest Of... Not Only... But Also..., because all you can think about while laughing at the insane antics of Cook and Moore is, "I want to see the other stuff, too!" What is here, on the whole, is marvelous - very much on a level with Monty Python's Flying Circus, which it predates by several years. I would suspect if you mentioned these individual performers separately, Moore is the more recognizable to American audiences for his late '70s, early '80d film career. If mentioned together, of course Cook's and Moore's absolutely brilliant collaboration on director Stanley Donen's Bedazzled, immediately comes to mind. They did work on other projects, as well, during and after The Best Of... The Rest Of... Not Only... But Also..., but this disc is a goldmine for fans of the satirical duo.
Since these are re-edited compilations of the original episodes, I can't comment on how the original show was structured, but here, the BBC has mixed in a few musical interludes between the skits for each of these half-hour shows (and you'll be amazed, if you didn't know already, at what a talented musician Moore was - his jazz trio was tight). Anyone familiar with Monty Python's Flying Circus will immediately recognize its antecedents in Not Only... But Also... (indeed, John Cleese worked on a similar one-hour series with Moore and Cooke, Goodbye Again, in-between the second and third seasons of Not Only... But Also...). Surreal, absurdist sketches (such as fight-of-the-century "racist grudge match"...between two white men) are mixed in with musical numbers (John Lennon even shows up here, but in a comedy sketch; he doesn't sing), with more traditional variety skits (most famously here, the paralyzing Pete and Dud "Dagenham Dialogues" bits) rounding out the show.
Certainly those "Dagenham Dialogues" were the break-out skits of the series, and they're just as funny today as they must have been over forty years ago. Featuring two none-too-bright working class blokes from the London suburb of Dagenham, Pete and Dud, always dressed in their mackinaws or slickers and clothe caps, engage in these mind-numbingly pointless conversations - always based on entirely faulty information or logic - that grind on and on for minutes on end. Pete, the drone whose facts on arcane subjects are outrageously wrong, rambles on and on as Dud, his gnomish sidekick sporting various facial ticks, tries to hang on in the conversations, equally befuddled by the simplest exchange. Long before The Carol Burnett Show for American viewers, British audiences waited with anticipation for Cooke to deliberately break up Moore in character (called "corpsing"), delighting viewers with the added fun of seeing the performers struggling to get back into character without totally collapsing into fits of laughter. In one of the funniest skits I've seen in some time, Pete and Dud, meeting inexplicably at an art museum, discuss art-related subjects that range from what makes a "good" painting ("If the eyes follow you all over the room") to what "art work" hangs in their friends' toilets (Pete says he can't stand his Aunt Muriel's loo, because she has a copy of the Mona Lisa up on the wall: "Looks like she's never been to the lav in her life!") in a hysterical crescendo of crass class vulgarisms. Their famous, hilarious first skit of Pete and Dud is included here, as well, where they describe the various international movie stars that are pestering them constantly for sex - which annoys them no end ("It's bleedin' Anna Magnani!").
Supreme satirists, Cook and Moore, in my favorite skit on the The Best Of... The Rest Of... Not Only... But Also... disc, deliver a devastating put-down of one of my cherished childhood shows - Gerry Anderson's Thunderbirds - with Superthunderstingcar. Shot on ghostly black and white film, Moore and Cook dress up like Anderson "supermarionettes" and flop all over the sets, their arms raised as if by strings and their fish-out-of-water mouth movements out of synch with the soundtrack, as they engage in a ridiculous plot to blow up Parliament. Lovers of Cook's and Moore's Bedazzled will delight in seeing the origins of one of that film's funniest subplots - The Order of St. Beryl, with the Leaping Nuns - which is featured here in an earlier version, complete with nuns on trampolines. It's tough to sort out the funniest moments of The Best Of... The Rest Of... Not Only... But Also... (there are so many of them): Pete asking for, "one and a half" tickets for himself and the much-shorter Dud at the zoological gardens; Moore respectfully taking off his hat before his Victorian father Cook discusses s-e-x; the Greta Garbo take-off Bargo, where Anna Nigma (say it fast) engages a publicist "to let the whole world know I hate publicity;" or Ludwig von Beethoven getting his own Tom Jones-inspired variety show.
And while not every skit works in The Best Of... The Rest Of... Not Only... But Also..., the vast majority do - spectacularly so - again making one regret not being able to see more of the lost material (I wish the BBC would release all of the material, in the order it was broadcast). Fulfilling the first rule of comedy double acts - physical incongruity together - Cook and Moore are so clearly "on" when performing at this point in their career (long before Cook's self-destructive drinking led to the break-up of the team) that it's fascinating watching both of them trying to keep up with the other in their little ad-libbed asides. Moore, already the "cuddly Dudley" he'd become to international film audiences in the late '70s, seems almost eager to get Cook's attention (and perhaps approval?), while Cook, towering over Moore, sniffs and puts his nose in the air before lasering in on Moore with those cold, mean eyes (evidently, Cook was no picnic with Moore off the set, either, frequently ridiculing him). They're a terrific pairing (I don't think either of them were ever as funny on their own), and if you only know them from Bedazzled, you're in for a delightful surprise with The Best Of... The Rest Of... Not Only... But Also....
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.