H&K: Could Peter Cook have beaten Glenda Jackson in Hampstead?


SELECTION day in Hampstead and Kilburn for Labour, the first time the party has chosen somebody to stand for Parliament in this neck of the woods since Glenda Jackson was chosen ahead of the 1992 election.

Jackson’s political career should not be defined by her acting past, but she was able to sprinkle some stardust over the constituency as she defeated the Tories at the first time of asking with victory over Oliver Letwin. Her continued success has given the impression that voters in Hampstead demand some sort of famous face or a grand speaker on the ballot paper, more of that A-list stardust.

It’s this unquantifiable feeling that leads to the selection contest here getting a big preview in the Evening Standard, which you won’t see for every other constituency in London as the picks are made. This is all a little unfair on candidates Tulip Siddiq, Sophie Linden and Sally Gimson. Double Oscar winners don’t grow on trees, and they are trying to set stalls out on policy.

And it’s presumably unfair on the voters in the constituency too, who probably aren’t as expectant for what, they call in the football transfer business, a marquee name, as is often suggested. Everybody wants a bit of gravitas, but it’s wrong to assume that because they had an actor once, they are craving for one again.

Yet if we re-wind back to 1992, the constituency had become a stage.

Glenda was striding into her second career, but it might not have started off so smoothly if another familiar face had, as is suggested he thought he might, thrown himself into the ring.

Back then, the Lib Dems were nowhere near their close third posted in 2010. David Wrede chipped in with 4,765 votes, a long way back. Yet what if the party had managed to score its own, and no disrespect is due to Dr Wrede, their own marquee name to take on Glenda?

There we come to Peter Cook, the comedian and actor, and all round canny mind, who apparently “relished the idea”. In Harry Thompson’s biography of Cook, who died in 1995, it is reported that he was first asked to stand for the Lib Dems in Epping and then in his home ward of Hampstead and Highgate, as it was then.

“The Liberals were so convinced that Peter was one of theirs that they kept inviting him to become a Liberal parliamentary candidate,” writes Thompson.

“In 1992 Adrian Slade, the former Footlights President who had gone on to become a Liberal councillor, tried again. ‘Peter had always felt more at home with the Liberals than any other party,’ explains Slade, ‘and he told me that he relished the idea of taking on Glenda Jackson’. The Hampstead Liberal Democrat candidacy was still vacant and for a short time he was on the verge of being persuaded by me to put himself forward for the next General Election.'”

It is not actually wholly clear to which party Cook did feel closest affection, though, and as much as he may have relished the idea, it ultimately didn’t happen.

His friend Rainbow George Weiss did stand for election as an member of the ‘Rainbow Dream Ticket’ in 2005, losing his deposit. Cook will have certainly fared better. In Thompson’s text, he also quotes the investigative journalist Paul Foot describing Cooks ability to spot “hypocrites and humbugs”. He would’ve made a great journalist then.

Still, Jackson versus Cook would have seen some unforgettable hustings.

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