The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer

The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer
Directed by Kevin Billington
Produced by Tommy Thompson
Written by Peter Cook,
John Cleese,
Graham Chapman
Kevin Billington
Starring Peter Cook
Vanessa Howard
John Cleese
Harold Pinter
Arthur Lowe
Cinematography Alex Thomson
Distributed by Warner-Pathé (UK) Warner Bros.-Seven Arts
Release dates
12 November 1970 (UK)
Running time
100 Mins
Language English

The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer is a British 1970 satirical film starring Peter Cook, and co-written by Cook, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, and Kevin Billington, who directed the film. The film was devised and produced by David Frost under the pseudonym "David Paradine".

The film satirised the growing influence of PR, spin and opinion polls in British politics,[1] as well as parodying political figures of the time such as Harold Wilson and Enoch Powell. Cook admitted later that he had partly based his portrayal of the Rimmer character on David Frost, who provided funding for the film[2] and took an executive producer credit.


The mysterious Michael Rimmer (Cook) appears at a small and ailing British advertising agency, where the employees assume he is working on a time and motion study. However, he quickly begins to assert a de facto authority over the firm’s mostly ineffectual staff and soon acquires control of the business from the incompetent boss Ferret (Arthur Lowe). Rimmer then succeeds in establishing the newly invigorated firm as the country’s leading polling agency, and begins to make regular TV appearances as a polling expert. He subsequently moves into politics, acting as an adviser to the leader of the Tory opposition, and then becomes an MP himself, for the constituency of Budleigh Moor (a reference to Cook's frequent collaborator, Dudley Moore), along the way acquiring a trophy wife (Vanessa Howard). Relying on a combination of charisma and deception—and murder—he then rapidly works his way up the political ladder to become prime minister (after throwing his predecessor off an oil rig). Rimmer then gains ultimate control by requiring the populace to engage in endless postal voting on trivial matters. At last, exhausted, they acquiesce in one final vote which passes dictatorial power to him. Ferret attempts to assassinate Rimmer as he and his wife ride through the capital in an open-topped convertible, but fails and falls to his death.


Production notes

The concept of the film was devised by David Frost in 1967, and the first draft of the screenplay was then co-written by Cleese and Chapman, during a three-month sabbatical in Ibiza. Cook was lined up to star, but it took another two years before funding could be secured. It was the third of three films Cook was contracted to make for Columbia, the previous two being The Wrong Box and A Dandy in Aspic.[3]

Cook, Cleese, Chapman and director Kevin Billington jointly reworked the script prior to filming, and Cook reportedly made a strong contribution to the final script. It was produced during 1969, and the team hoped it would maximise its topicality with a release prior to the forthcoming UK general elections (the result of which it in fact predicted). However the studio feared that it might become a source of controversy, so the film was held back until November 1970, almost a year after the election, thus losing most of its topical 'punch'.[4]

Cook's performance was panned by critics, and both he and John Cleese subsequently acknowledged that he did not perform well. The commercial and critical failure of the movie, which did not receive an American release, effectively dashed Cook's hopes of establishing himself as a solo screen star - although he appeared in many more film and TV projects, he only co-starred (with Dudley Moore) in one other film, and Rimmer proved to be his only solo starring film role.[5][6]

The film is also notable for its distinguished cast of well-known British comedy and character actors, including Cleese and Chapman, Denholm Elliott, Arthur Lowe, Dennis Price, Ronald Fraser, Michael Trubshawe, Julian Glover, Michael Bates, and cameos by Ronnie Corbett and renowned stage and screenwriter Harold Pinter. The film also reunited Corbett, Cleese, Chapman and Frost, all of whom had worked extensively together during the 1960s on That Was The Week That Was and The Frost Report (although only Cleese appears with Corbett on screen).

The story satirises many well-known British political figures including Harold Wilson, Harold Macmillan, and Enoch Powell, and although the resemblances were played down at the time of the film's release, Cook later admitted that the title character of Rimmer was heavily based on David Frost himself. Like Frost, Rimmer effectively appears from nowhere, "rises without trace" (the famous phrase coined by Jonathan Miller to describe Frost's ascent to prominence) and becomes one of the most influential people in the country. The imitation even extended to Cook copying Frost's standard greeting of the time, "Super to see you", and the coincidental fact that the set of Rimmer's living room was almost identical to Frost's real living room, even though the designer had never seen it.[7]

Alongside the more overt satire and parodies of prominent public figures, the movie also includes numerous hidden jokes and visual gags. For example, in the scene in which Arthur Lowe gropes his secretary's legs as she stands in front of a shelf, the spine of one of the folders on the shelf is clearly marked with a swastika. In Harold Pinter's cameo appearance as fictional TV host Steven Hench, the initials of the his show's title, "Steven Hench is Talking To You" spell S-H-I-T-T-Y.


  1. Cook, William (30 June 2007). "Unfunny, peculiar". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-10-14.
  2. Thompson, Harry (1997). Peter Cook: A Biography. Sceptre. pp. 259–262. ISBN 0-340-64969-0.
  3. William Cook, One Leg Too Few: The Adventures of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (Random House, 2014), pp. 298-302
  4. William Cook, One Leg Too Few: The Adventures of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (Random House, 2014), pp. 298-302
  5. William Cook, "Unfunny, peculiar", The Guardian, 30 June 2007
  6. William Cook, One Leg Too Few: The Adventures of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (Random House, 2014), pp. 298-302
  7. William Cook, One Leg Too Few: The Adventures of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore (Random House, 2014), pp. 298-302

External links

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