This sporadic Amnesty International benefits gig is legendary. Many comedy greats have starred in it—and today we’re looking at our favourite sketch with Peter Cook, some of the Monty Python crew, and Rowan Atkinson.
“Will this wind…?”
We first came across this sketch in 2008 on a free CD with with The Guardian (bloody lefties). Our memories of it were triggered recently by Mark Kermode on the Church of Wittertainment.
The sketch is the End of the World—this version was performed LIVE in 1979. It features a bunch of acolytes atop a mountain questioning what’s about to happen.
Rowan Atkinson’s character asks a question in a strange voice, which the others struggle to understand. After much deliberation trying to work it out, there’s a rather abrupt conclusion.
Simplistic stuff, but very effective thanks to the performances and Cook’s sardonic voice.
The first era of the Secret Policeman’s Ball ran from 1976-1981. Luminaries of the day were there, notably Cook, John Cleese, Michael Palin, and Rowan Atkinson.
Peter Cook (1937-1995) was already a legend in comedy circles—he was famous for his partnership with Dudley Moore.
The Monty Python crew idolised him—along with the likes of The Goons—so performing live with Cook was a big deal for Cleese, Palin, and co.
Cook is thought of as the father of modern satire, so we owe a big deal to him as well.
And there are plenty of his sketches around online, but seeing as this is the Secret Policeman’s Ball we’re on about here’s one of his central performances.
We had to look up the context of this judge interpretation, but it’s regarding the Jeremy Thorpe trial (the Thorpe affair).
We weren’t around in the 1970s, but it was apparently a sex scandal involving Liberal Party MP Jeremy Thorpe circa 1975. It ended his political career.
The incident involved Norman Scott, who Thorpe apparently had a relationship with in the 1960s. To stop Scott leaking the story to the press, Thorpe (allegedly) attempted a very badly planned murder.
Of course, the whole point of the live shows was to raise funds for Amnesty International. And the occasional charitable efforts continue to this day.
The next few era of the Secret Policeman’s Ball ran from 1987-1989, the next 1991-2001.
That was a changing of the guard for comedic generations, with John Cleese the legend and the likes of Ade Edmonson taking to the stage at live venues.
The present era is ongoing, 2006-onwards. The last show was in 2012 over in America for the first time.
And with Amnesty needs increasing year in, year out it seems another one is in order! We’d just, sadly, have to make do without Peter Cook’s contributions.