Biographer of 'Rainbow' George and Peter Cook bids to preserve tapes

"Rainbow" George Weiss with Peter Cook in the 1980s. Picture: Nigel Sutton

"Rainbow" George Weiss with Peter Cook in the 1980s - Credit: Nigel Sutton

The biographer of "Rainbow" George Weiss is hoping hundreds of hours of audio tapes can be preserved by the British Library as "the stuff of daily life in Hampstead".

Author and comedy critic Alex Games first met the Hampstead eccentric in the late '90s when he was writing a book about his late neighbour Peter Cook.

He went on to write an unpublished biography of Rainbow George, who routinely taped conversations with visitors to his Perrin's Walk home, including numerous occasions with Cook riffing on surreal topics.

After Weiss's death last December, Alex contacted the executor of his estate and the British Library hoping to rescue the tapes for posterity.

He received a "very encouraging" response from the library's curator of literary and creative recordings saying it was interested in taking it further.

"When I was writing Pete and Dud, George was more than happy to be interviewed and quoted," said Games.

"I went to see him in Hampstead and as soon as I walked in the door, he switched the record button on his tape recorder. Living next door to Peter Cook gave him access he might not otherwise have had. 98% of the hundreds of hours of recordings are completely trivial and inoffensive, but when Cookie comes in, things sound more exciting.

'Rainbow' George Weiss in what is thought to be his last recorded interview 2021

'Rainbow' George Weiss with his tape archive in what is thought to be his last recorded interview 2021 - Credit: Barney Snow

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"This vast spoken word archive captures an era, a period in the private lives of Hampstead residents that surely deserves to be preserved. What George gives you is the tiny irregularities of daily life on a specific day. It may not all be interesting or funny but it is nevertheless true."

In 2002, Weiss released a CD titled Over At Rainbow's. Interspersed with the sound of his door buzzer, it features Cook's prank calls to phone-ins as a Norwegian trawler captain called Sven, riffing on whether Hampstead is the Holy Land, and pretending to be Nigella Lawson making beans on toast for a vagrant.

Games believes the archive spans both audio tapes and CDS, from the '70s to the '90s, and may feature other friends such as rocker Ian Dury and snooker player Alex Higgins.

"I am not sure who qualified as interesting enough to record but I'm sure the threshold wasn't terribly high," he said.

In 2017, Games wrote a "potted biography" with cooperation from Weiss "which involved him handing me boxes of press cuttings mostly from the Ham&High".

"He kept saying 'you will write my biography won't you?' Although he was reluctant to discuss some aspects of his past, I spent a goodly amount of time writing it, but George never expressed the slightest interest in reading it.

"He did say to me when we sat down to talk about the contents: 'I cried last night just thinking there's going to be a book about me.'

"I think he felt his life hadn't been in vain. Rather sadly the book never got anywhere."

The biography took in Weiss' Brondesbury upbringing as the son of a Jewish immigrant, working for his father's Hatton Garden diamond business, his drug bust and prison spell following a tabloid sting, and numerous election campaigns for the likes of the Rainbow Dream Ticket Party.

Hampstead and Kilburn's returning MP Tulip Siddiq, centre, Conservative candidate Claire Louise Leyl

Hampstead and Kilburn's returning MP Tulip Siddiq, centre, Conservative candidate Claire Louise Leyland, right, Independent candidate Rainbow George, right - Credit: Archant

Games believes he recorded Weiss's last interview in his East Finchley care home.

"I spoke to George the month before he died and hadn't realised he was so close to the end," he said. "It took me a few weeks to wonder what happened to all those tapes and think about preserving them.

"George was a great example of a British eccentric. Standing for parliament knowing he wouldn't win, he fits the pattern of a great British failure who gets knocked down, fails, gets up, and does it all over again. He persisted in the face of sheer discouragement and that strength of character never deserted him – he was still valiantly smoking to his dying day and hoping to have a viral success."

A British Library spokesperson said it was too early to comment acquiring the tapes.

George Weiss's estate has been approached for comment.