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Tommy Cooper - 40 Years On

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  • Tommy Cooper - 40 Years On

    The fortieth anniversary of Tommy Cooper's death reminded me of that great Sunday evening entertainment show from London Weekend Television which was a direct desendent of the Trinder / Forsyth / Vaughan show from 20 years previously from the London Palladium. One of those "why not forget that it's school in the morning for at least one hour?" with comfort blanket TV such as light entertainment to put a smile on one's face if That's Life! and Spitting Image doesn't later on. As most of the country's schools had broken up for Easter by the time the second Sunday in April 1984 arrived, there was no "school in the morning"; Easter Sunday was just one week away, and at least we avoided any satirical conversations in the school playground on Monday morning, or jokes about what had happened on TV the night before and him going: "just like that". Thankfully, all that was avoided. I have always thought of Tommy Cooper to be someone who was no longer with us; even since the start of the 1980s he was limited to guest appearances on other peoples' shows such as Eric Sykes', and I was only five years old when what actually happened, did actually happen, but for some reason, it always felt as if I did remember it at the time. I have seen quite a few documentaries and tributes over the years to the tall Welshman, and many of them tell the same story and sing from the same hymn sheet.

    Sunday 15th April 1984 was rather ordinary day for television, especially in the evening. After the religious stuff at 7.15 pm, warm-up man made good Jeff Stevenson had a right old Knees-Up in the show which was usually fronted by Chas 'n' Dave. Then we get to Live from Her Majesty's, comprered by Jimmy Tarbuck who was in full flow. Guests appearing included Donny Osmond, looking understandably older than his heyday ten years before. Actor Howard Keel was there as well, and Les Dennis and Dustin Gee in which we are reminded of Gee's sad demise while appearing in panto nearly two years later; making a great understudy of Jim Bowen. When I think of Cooper's act, I mostly think of one of Thames TV's 8.00 pm on a Wednesday shows in the 1970s in which Benny Hill and also Morecambe and Wise when he jumped ship in 1978, was so associated with. Clips of Cooper working with props such as stepladders and washing baskets would make think that they came from a year closer to 1974 than 1984. I might be confusing Cooper with Eric Morecambe, but I know that one of them had a minor heart attack in around 1977. If it was me, I would have retired and hung my fez up back then and not return to showbusiness, no matter what one's fans would expect. Both Cooper and Morecambe passed away in 1984 from heart-related conditions. George Orwell probably predicted that Nineteen Eighty-Four was also an Annus Horribulus for Britain's entertainment and comedy industry when so many of our previous stars had left us.

    As scheduled, Cooper did his spot on the show, and he said before hand that he had done some stuff which he had not rehearsed and said "you'll like this", giving uneasy feelings about what happened later in hindsight. He did the cloak thing in front of the stage, and asked his female assistant to pass various objects through his legs such as a basket, stepladder, and so on, with Tarbuck assisting backstage. The cloak went on, and then it happened - I won't go into too much detail here to spare any tastelessness. It was said that Tommy Cooper was always "falling about" during his act, crying-wolf style, ifyou like, and so anything unusual like that wouldn't stand out. He rested on the stage floor, and after one minute, only then the Director announced: "play the music", and the progarmme went to a commercial breaks with some ITV regions either showing blank screens or LWT's adverts because they were not prepared enough time in order to put them on air so soon. After the break, Les and Dustin were on, having to do their piece in front of the curtains where behind them, St John Ambulance paramadics were trying desperately to revive Cooper. It was mentioned that he was still alive at that point; the rest of the show went ahead, and after it ended, the ITV network transmitted a repeat of The Professionals (which had originally finished the year before). It wasn't until the ITN bulletin an hour after Bodie and Doyle that we found out that Tommy Cooper was dead on arrival at a London hospital. There were even people who worked on the show, some were fully-grown men, in tears when they were usuing public toilets nearby, knowing why they were crying, because one of Britain's funniest men had been lost in the middle of doing what he liked to do most; entertaining the general public and putting smiles on people's faces - that he had acheived for a few decades.

    The master tape for the show was removed from the VT library in case anyone decided to play it again and see it, although it does seem that some European TV stations had got their hands on it and rather tastelessly put it on YouTube. I always avoid ever clicking on such videos for decency's sake. Apart from the final episode of the first series of Spitting Image, it seemed to be just about it on ITV that evening. I know that I have heard from people who watched it at the time and feel so guilty that they had watched it that evening, feeling awful that they had watched Cooper when he was unwell and was about to take a turn for the worst, but on the other hand, Cooper became famous in order to make people laugh, and one should not feel guilty about that. I would have liked to have been a few years older to see the original tranbsmission of his 1970s shows rather than get clips of them over 20 years later. Eric Sykes mentioned in Cooper's Heroes of Comedy tribute that, he would rather remember Tommy Cooper as being alive and not as a deceased person, and I totally agreed with that, and no doubt that others would do as well.

    In 1979 when he appeared as a guest on a not-so brown studio Parkinson (with a saucepan on his head) it was announced by Michael that he was Britain's most impersonated man. Here he appeared in a variety of things one can put on the head and not all of them were hats. He was asked by Parky how the fez came about, but whether he gave a straight answer due to laughter, I cannot remember. One legacy was the fez; in the UK we didn't associate the red hat with Egyptians but with Welsh commedians as well. Cooper was more of a comedian rather than a magician, in the same way that Les Dawson was a funnyman more than Liberace. Seventies' Martini (or Cinzano?) product placement during his act provided his "bottle-glass" routine, providing more bottles than an alehouse cellar. He ended on a high just like he always did.

    Cooper was a one-off, even if his fez was not. .

    I've everything I need to keep me satisfied
    There's nothing you can do to make me change my mind
    I'm having so much fun
    My lucky number's one
    Ah! Oh! Ah! Oh!

  • #2
    I remember watching it, initially it seemed part of the act but then the curtains came across quickly and it was obvious something was seriously wrong.
    The only thing to look forward to is the past


    • #3
      I've only seen it up to a certain point and didn't know that's what I was watching until after. He is falling back a bit and then the clip ends, so nothing really horrible, but wouldn't watch it again as it is sad. Still, on stage doing your thing, like Kenny Picket of the group The Creation and also a friend of my Dad's who had a local country band. His audience was full of firefighters apparently and despite all the attention you could hope for he was dead and down like that.

      Tommy Cooper seemed like a daft but not really so daft uncle who would laugh at his own jokes as much as anyone, and he did make me laugh too!
      My virtual jigsaws: