August 2013

Encounters

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Peter Cook & John Clarke

When Peter Cook was lured to Melbourne in 1987 to launch the town’s new comedy festival, he set only one condition. At some point in the week’s program, adequate time should be set aside for him to repeatedly hit a small white ball, or series of balls, into the landscape.

In the early ’70s, Cook and Dudley Moore had toured Australia for nearly five months, giving Behind the Fridge a test run before taking it back to sell-out seasons in London and New York. Welcomed as comedy gods, the duo were lionised from one end of the country to the other, cementing their triumph by being officially banned from radio and television on the advice of a panel of “expert clergymen”. 

Pete and Dud eventually went their separate ways, but Cook’s status as the funniest man in the world remained undiminished. Fabulously dishevelled, he disembarked from his London flight with a bag of clubs over his shoulder. He drew the media like flies, the festival got its airfare’s worth and, in due course, Cook got his game of golf. 

His partner for the occasion was John Clarke. The two had met in London during the shooting of The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, in which Clarke played “an Australian of the period, third from the left”. Subsequently laughed out of his native New Zealand, Clarke was eking out a living as a freelance farnarkeling commentator and part-time sand-trap inspector.

“My driving hasn’t been very good lately,” Cook warned him. “But my short game is among the shortest on Earth.” 

Royal Melbourne had offered itself, but Cook preferred somewhere more relaxed. Clarke took him to Yarra Bend, a public course favoured by off-duty taxi drivers and shiftworking bakers. Positively glowing with ill health, Cook wheezed his way though 18 holes, club in one hand, cigarette in the other. He played off a handicap of 16 but nobody was keeping score. Winning wasn’t the point. Golf has no point. That is the point. At times, the sporting absurdists weren’t even on the same fairway. John Clarke thought he’d died and gone to heaven. 

As they neared the clubhouse, Cook spotted a player in a singlet. He summoned the pro and demanded he remove the sign requiring that players wear a shirt. “I wouldn’t have bothered myself if I’d known.”

The two remained in phone contact, but never again fronted the links together. Cook was killed by an ungrateful liver in 1995, aged 57. Due to his punishing schedule of television appearances, John Clarke’s chances of winning the Australian Open appear to be receding.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

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