Plaque at Torquay birthplace of comedian Peter Cook

Torbay Weekly

Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society, gives us the who and how each of Torbay’s Blue Plaques was chosen. This week: Peter Cook's birthplace

The renowned comedian Peter Cook was born in Middle Warberry Road on November 17, 1937, yet almost immediately was taken by his parents to live with his grandparents Mr and Mrs Mayo at Bythorn, Bronshill Road, Torquay.

The house move was due to his father Alexander being employed in the Colonial Service Nigeria, where he and his wife Margaret spent most of their boy's younger years.

It was an unusual beginning, as seven and then 15 years later Peter would be joined by two sisters Sarah and Elizabeth.

Meanwhile, he was educated at Ragley College but spent school holidays in Nigeria before going to Cambridge University.

It had been three locals that approached me for a blue plaque to honour Peter's lifelong support for the Gulls at Torquay Football Club.

Eventually, I decided to contact Peter's wife Lin, now deceased, which proved tricky until speaking to Ian Hislop, fellow director on Private Eye with Peter years before.

He put me in touch with Lin and we met in London where enthusiastic about the idea she insisted all costs, whether for one or two blue plaques would be met by her.

With sponsorship assured and research done, helped by local historian Mike Holgate, it was all systems go. The initial contact was made in June, 2011, yet it took until 2013 before the arrangements were finalised for the first unveiling to celebrate Peter's birth date, at his birth home.

With the plaque wording and literature all agreed by Peter's sister Elizabeth, the unveiled would be at Shearbridge Villa - today 'Kinbrea' - on Middle Warberry Road, Torquay.

Lin came to Torquay for the event and in spending time with us (even took her to visit Oldway) as this was where she had married Peter, this ultimately led to another meeting in Sussex when Pat and I were in Worthing visiting our family.

It was on that occasion the second plaque was discussed which would be unveiled on Torquay United Football ground boundary wall, in Marnham Road sometime later in 2015.

Peter's remarkable career started at university where having encountered John Fortune, John Bird and Kenneth Williams, he wrote and performed sketches for the university Footlights Club.

Eventually he became so successful that another star of that era - Stephen Fry said of him: "He was the funniest man who ever drew breath."

Naturally everyone would not agree, as Peter was an individual you either loved or hated.

Nevertheless, he founded the Establishment Club in London's Soho which went on to become a superb if not brilliant venue for scandalous comedy.

Acting as Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling in partnership with his pal Dudley Moore, Peter later created a unique series for the BBC entitled 'Not Only But Also' with part of this act portraying the comedians as two cloth-capped East Enders endlessly and solemnly discussing the thorny problems of the day.

Peter married three times: Wendy Snowdon - mother of his beloved daughters Lucy and Daisy; Judy Huxtable, his so-called sex object, and finally Lin Chong, who he married in Torbay.

His death came early at a London hospital on January 9, 1995 at age 57.

His Wellswood plaque was unveiled on November 17, 2014, at the Bettesworths' family home Kinbrea.

Mrs Lin Cook and Mrs Jane Barsby, chairman of Torbay Council, did the unveiling while Torbay Civic Society members and the public looked on. Matthew and Becky Bettesworth then invited us all into their home for free refreshments.

The Torbay Civic Society Peter Cook pamphlet may be obtained by sending two second class stamp plus a stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA.