The TV producer and writer Harry Thompson, co-creator of Have I Got News For You, died this week. In 1997, he wrote a biography of Peter Cook which is, to my mind, the yardstick by which biographies of comedians should be measured – it’s full of interesting facts about Cook and his work, and amusing tales, but never skimps on trying to reveal something about the man, which is exactly what biographies should aim for. Thompson’s skill is, I think, very well summed up in this passage from the book:
“Anyone who combats loneliness and amasses popularity through being constantly witty puts equally continuous pressure on themselves never to halt the performance. For years people had looked to [Cook] to cheer them up and make life bearable; never the other way round. The more he entertained people, the more exaggeratedly boring his own problems must have seemed, the less he must have wanted to burden people with his real thoughts and fears, the more afraid he became of intimacy.”
Probably the best, and most succinct, assessment of the realities of the ‘sad clown’ cliché one could ever hope for.