This Charming Man: Peter Cook in The Rise And Rise Of Michael Rimmer

Published on November 29th, 2009 in: Culture Shock, Issues, Movies, OMG British R Coming, Retrovirus |

By Emily Carney

Before alcoholism, various drugs, loose women, and cigarettes took their toll, Peter Cook was perhaps one of the most gorgeous, sought-after men of his generation (oh yeah, he was also exceedingly witty).

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In the movie Bedazzled (1967), Peter Cook played George Spiggott, who also happens to be Satan incarnate (you can just tell by his omnipresent red socks). George singlehandedly destroys Stanley Moon’s (played by Dudley Moore) pop star moment in a parody of TV shows like Ready Steady Go! with a song capitalizing on his massive blue eyes and insane Fad Gadget-esque deadpan vocals; he also cuts Stanley down with one-liners like “Do hope this isn’t an awkward moment,” after the poor man attempts suicide. One almost thinks this film is a documentary of Peter and Dudley’s real-life relationship (an altogether uglier side can be seen in the documentary film Derek and Clive Get the Horn, in which Dudley becomes increasingly infuriated over Peter’s non-stop harassment).

The director of Bedazzled, Stanley Donen, allegedly told Peter that he could be the “new Cary Grant.” Obviously Donen was referencing Peter’s good looks and ability to charm people to death. 1970’s The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer, which was written by Peter Cook, attempts to put the Cary Grant theory into practice with mixed yet interesting results.

Peter Cook plays Michael Rimmer, who starts out as a pollster with an ever-present clipboard. No one knows where he came from, but he is stylish, attractive, charming, and slick. Michael quickly enters into the world of politics himself, appears on TV chat shows, and becomes a seemingly overnight sensation. During this time, a person is murdered mysteriously, and Michael gains a trophy wife via a televised poll (almost like a precursor to today’s reality shows). It’s only fitting that a trophy male acquires a blonde trophy wife. At the film’s conclusion, Michael ascends to the highest place of power in UK government. He looks confidently, knowingly, and menacingly into the camera in the last few frames, his blue eyes shining, yet dark.

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As Michael Rimmer, Peter stops short of being the “new Cary Grant” in that he appears somewhat soulless and aloof. While Michael is very charming, he does not let other individuals—even his wife—get too close to him. When this film was released, it was largely panned due to Peter’s perceived lack of acting skills. Often Peter does have a glazed, disinterested, languid look in his eyes. However, Peter makes this quality somehow work in the guise of Michael Rimmer. Remember, no one knows where Rimmer came from, and as Peter once described him, the character “rose without trace.” He’s similar to Mad Men‘s Don Draper: he has dubious origins, but strives to make himself appear as being moneyed, self-assured, and “classy.”

It is rumored that Peter based his characterization of Michael Rimmer on British TV presenter David Frost. Some back story: Frost and Cook were both in the Footlights Dramatic Club at Cambridge University, and despite lacking the natural comic talent of Peter, Frost became the successful, famous host of a UK comedy show. Frost’s success practically eclipsed Peter’s; as a result, Peter became slightly resentful. Frost was also known to employ many ghostwriters (most notably Graham Chapman and John Cleese of Monty Python fame) to bolster his show. Peter even employs Frost’s catchphrase “Super!” in the film. Peter is obviously spoofing the sudden ascent of a person who is vapid, pretty, and essentially without much talent; a more emotive approach in the role of Michael Rimmer would have missed the point entirely.

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This movie also makes much use of Peter’s status as something of a fashion icon and an unlikely Adonis in the Swinging Sixties. Michael Rimmer is stylish, and always is outfitted in a beautifully tailored suit. He is tan, thin (thanks to Peter’s recreational use of speed), and very “public school” (i.e., well-spoken). His hair is slightly graying, giving him a deceptively distinguished look. One scene focuses on Michael simply lying on a sun bed, almost shirtless. He even has a love scene with his trophy wife which they somehow make into an emotionless exchange. If Michael Rimmer had been portrayed as simply a normal, everyday guy in jeans, the illusion of breeding, money, physical beauty, and power wouldn’t have made such an impression. His stunning looks almost make the fact that he has no political experience or real discernable talent meaningless.

The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer is a funny, flawed, but ultimately interesting film in that it charts the rise of a British “cult of personality” while simultaneously making fun of the (useless) systems which put popular personalities into place. This film was not a great success when it was released, but it deserves a renaissance (even if only for the presence of a young John Cleese). Unfortunately at present time, the DVD is only available in PAL Region 2 (i.e., it will NOT play on US DVD players).

When Peter Cook died, he was largely criticized as having wasted his career since it stalled in the late 1960s due to his many vices and self-admitted lack of ambition. However, The Rise And Rise Of Michael Rimmer is a testament to Peter’s undeniable skill at butchering institutions that truly deserved to be butchered—all while remaining charming.


Entirely A Matter For You: Peter Cook, Popshifter November/December 2008 issue

2 Responses to “This Charming Man: Peter Cook in The Rise And Rise Of Michael Rimmer

  1. Popshifter:
    December 1st, 2009 at 11:11 am

    The linked clip from Bedazzled is absolutely genius, even out of the context of the film. In some ways it reminds me of the original video for “In Bloom” by Nirvana; do you suppose there was some connection or influence?

    I think this movie, although I haven’t seen it, might make an interesting double bill with Taxi Driver or American Psycho. What do you think?


  2. emilyc:
    December 1st, 2009 at 9:38 pm

    Most definitely! I think Michael Rimmer was definitely psychotic, but an extremely well-attired, well-mannered, devious psychotic.

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