A Short History of Dennis Cook
NOTE: All of this is now out of print, but we get so many queries that this 2001 article is repeated for those who have kept the videos of Grapevine and DVDs of English Channel.
Of all the characters we have created on video, Dennis Cook in Grapevine One, Two and Three is the most popular, eclipsing even Kevin and Sharon in A Weekend Away and A Week By The Sea. Everywhere we go, teachers tell us how much students love Dennis Cook. A common piece of high praise is, ‘Dennis Cook shows students that the English are just like us.’
Dennis Cook is played by British TV actor and comedian Steve Steen, and Steve has created a silent film personality and style. Interestingly, when we first wrote the script we had David Janson (who plays Kevin in ‘A Weekend Away’) in our minds. We wanted something that would work as silent comedy, having used Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin films extensively in our early days of teaching with video. We also wanted a narrator who interacted with Dennis. The narration is done by Jim Sweeney. Jim appears in all three Grapevine Dennis Cook stories too. He is the man who declines to give Dennis money in the first, the check-in clerk in the second, and Dennis’s new neighbour in the third.
Dennis Cook was originally designed as a ‘one off’ story in Grapevine One, but such was the reaction that Dennis had to be brought back for Two and Three.
English Channel was a later series of videos featuring Steve Steen and Jim Sweeney, and Dennis Cook appears again in
levels one and two. So do Inspector Grant and Constable Dickson from Grapevine Two. As English Channel is parallel to Grapevine, we had to be very careful about the chronology of the stories. If students are working with both Grapevine and English Channel videos, and they are following the structural progression of Grapevine, they should meet the Dennis Cook stories in this order:
1 DENNIS COOK & THE RED BALLOON
Series: English Channel One, Video 5
Teaching point: Present continuous
2 A DAY IN THE LIFE OF … DENNIS COOK
Series: Grapevine One, Video 7
Teaching point: Present simple
3 DENNIS COOK’S TRIP
Series: Grapevine Two, Video 1
Teaching point: Revision of level one structures
4 DENNIS COOK’S MONEY WORRIES
Series: English Channel Two, Video 6
Teaching point: should / shouldn’t; Present perfect with for & since
5 DENNIS COOK’S PARTY
Series: Grapevine Three, Video 1
Teaching point: Revision of level two structures
Now for some common questions about Dennis Cook!
Where does he live?
The first two Grapevine episodes were filmed in Bristol. His new house in Grapevine III was in Chippenham. The English Channel episodes were filmed in Milton Keynes. We all felt that Milton Keynes has a surreal atmosphere which is good for Dennis.
Does Tricia Cook know that Dennis’s real job is busking (playing the guitar for money)?
We haven’t asked her. What do you think?
A Day In The Life of Dennis Cook (Grapevine One) is much longer than the other videos? Why is that?
It is exploited in a different way, and the language is quite repetitive. We wanted students to get absorbed in the story. In fact a scene where a policeman sends Dennis away (when he is playing guitar) was filmed, and then cut from the video. You can see a picture in ‘Tell the Story’ in the Activity Book. We felt that the picture added something to the task.
Why don’t we see Tricia Cook in Dennis Cook’s Trip (Grapevine Two)? Why doesn’t she wake up when Dennis is looking for his passport?
Tricia Cook is played by Cathryn Harrison. Cathryn appears in Grapevine One and Three, but not in Grapevine Two. In Grapevine Two, we see her photo, and we see the top of her head under the bedclothes. The top of the head was played by one of the production assistants whose hair was the correct colour.
This is a British video. Why doesn’t Dennis fly on a British airline in Grapevine Two?
The airport scene was filmed at Bristol Airport. The main airlines using it are KLM, Air France, Aer Lingus and Lufthansa. We had to get permission for Dennis to board the plane before it took off. KLM were very friendly and helpful. The other airlines weren’t. It’s difficult filming at a real airport. Bristol was very helpful, that it until our film lights blew the fuse on their baggage scanner just before several flights departed. Fortunately our video electricians repaired it in time.
Did Dennis actually fly off in the plane?
Are there any ‘in-jokes’ in Dennis Cook’s Trip?
There’s one. When the businesswoman checks in at the airport, she says And can I have a window seat, please. The check-in clerk replies No, I’m very sorry. There isn’t one … Would you like a seat on the aisle? to which she replies, Please. The Fokker aircraft that they eventually board only has two seats on either side of the aisle. So there’s not much choice.
Why has Dennis moved house in Dennis Cook’s Party (Grapevine Three)?
Principally because the story is about a party to meet his new neighbours. However, after we had used the same house for Grapevine One and Two, the owners declined to invite us back for Three. Having a film crew in your house is interesting the first time, irritating the second time … and there isn’t a third time. Dennis’s new house is about forty kilometres away from his old one. The house is a “show house” which builders furnish as an advert for houses on a new estate. We borrowed it for filming. To our surprise we discovered that there were no internal doors in the house, so everyone had to sing when they went to the bathroom! In fact, we were told that show houses always have the doors removed. A house without doors looks bigger.
There was a wonderful buffet in Grapevine Three. What happened after you finished filming? Did it taste as good as it looked?
After twelve hours under film lights, the food was disgusting. Nobody went anywhere near it. The same is true of the food at the airport in Grapevine Two.
How many cars has Dennis got?
Dennis changes his car quite often. In Dennis Cook & The Red Balloon, he has a Fiat and a bicycle. When we see him in A Day In The Life of Dennis Cook he’s got a blue Ford Escort, and in Dennis Cook’s Money Worries he’s got a new Ford Ka.
In Only in America, we introduced a new activity, ‘Imagine …’
In this activity, students have to imagine facts and details about characters in a video. These facts are ones which the video gives no information about whatsoever. They have been called “silly questions” because the first time you ask them, the students think you are pretty silly! The point is that we are all so used to watching film and TV that we happily imagine all sorts of details about characters on screen. You can do this with any video material. What follows is a photocopiable worksheet for Dennis Cook’s Trip. In fact, you can use it for any Dennis Cook story.
Please tick (4) the boxes. Use your imagination! You can add new words if you like.
1 Dennis’s favourite colour is:
o red o grey o blue o green
2 On a plane, Dennis would like:
o an aisle seat o a centre seat o a window seat
3 Dennis has got:
o an acoustic guitar o an electric guitar o a saxophone
4 Dennis prefers:
o coffee o tea o chocolate o cola o milk
5 In his free time, Dennis plays:
o chess o football o tennis o the guitar
6 Dennis is going to travel to Amsterdam:
o on business o on holiday
7 For his last holiday, Dennis went to:
o Scotland o Spain o Turkey o Florida
8 In the evenings, Dennis usually:
o watches TV o goes out o plays tennis
9 Dennis is very:
o careful o careless o rich o poor o stupid
10 Dennis’s favourite food is:
o fish and chips o shish kebab o beefburger and fries
11 Dennis likes:
o rock music o classical music o opera o jazz
12 Dennis doesn’t like:
o dogs o cats o driving o reading