Beryl Frances Tansley was born in 1926 at Epsom in Surrey, one of four sisters. She grew up in Reading in Berkshire where she attended Kendrick School, a selective girls' school near the centre of the town. Beryl left school at fourteen, and worked in a variety of jobs. Moving to London in 1943, she became a showgirl in a touring production of The Gypsy Princess. She also worked in the fashion industry.
In 1946 she married her childhood friend John Cook, who was in the Merchant Navy. When he retired from the sea, they briefly ran a pub. Their son John was born in 1950, and the following year they left to live in Southern Rhodesia. One day she picked up some paints, belonging to her son, and started a picture. She carried on doing so, using various materials, painting on scraps of wood, fire screens and a breadboard. An early painting is Bowling Ladies.
In 1963, the Cooks returned to England to live in Cornwall, where she began to paint seriously. They moved to Plymouth, a port city, where they ran a busy theatrical boarding house in the summer months. They enjoyed going to local bars and watching flamboyant drag acts. She concentrated on painting in the winter months, recreating her personal views of Plymouth in oils on wooden panels. An antique dealer friend persuaded her to let him try and sell a few, and they sold quickly.
Never formally trained, Beryl
Cook first started painting nearly forty years ago, after introducing
her small son to his box of watercolours. since then she has
received great popular and critical acclaim.