But he had a gift. Something could not be learned or practiced. A gift comes naturally, and Tommy Cooper's gift was unique.
He only had to walk onto a stage, and the audience was reduced to hysterical laughter. For several minutes he would stand in silence, looking around the theatre, unable to speak until the assembled crowd quietened down. He would then let out a deep ‘Ha-ha-ha’ and once again everyone in front of him was rendered helpless once again. He held his audiences in the palm of his hand.
"A man walked into the doctors. The doctor said ‘I haven’t seen you for a long time’. The man replied ‘I know - I’ve been ill’ ”
Tommy Cooper was a large man with an even larger personality. He was born in Wales in 1921, but his West country brogue was the result of having been brought up in Devon.
“The doctor said ‘Say Aaaah’ I said ‘why?’ He said ‘Because my dog just died’”
His conjuring tricks hardly ever worked. They were mostly props tricks, and as each one went wrong, he would throw it across the stage, giggle and attempt another one! On the odd occasion one went right, it would bring the house down.
“So I got home and the phone was ringing. I picked it up and said ’Who’s speaking?’ A voice said ‘You are’ “
He first came to the public’s attention on television in 1948. TV was his making and between 1968 and 1980 his programmes enjoyed some of the highest recorded ratings. The most important showcase for talent in the UK is the Annual Royal Variety Performance. Tommy Cooper was a favourite of the Royals and appeared on it year after year.
He had several catchphrases! When performing magic he would constantly say ‘Just like that!’ Even today it is still used in everyday conversation!
“I got up just like that, well it could have been just like that, but no, it was like that…. Anyway I leapt up and opened the door in my pyjamas. It’s a funny place to have a door I know”
He was something of a practical joker and known to a be a bit mean! One night after a performance in a nightclub, he gave each of the staff an envelope. “Have a drink on me” he said. Each of the envelopes contained a tea bag!
“ I went window shopping and I bought four windows”
In later life he developed a dependency on alcohol. He had moved with his wife Gwen to Eastbourne where I regularly saw him in the Crown pub. I once heard him say to a stranger “What are you drinking?” Expecting to be bought a drink the man replied “A whiskey would be nice‘. “It would” he said. - “I’ll have one too” Always the performer, he would amuse the drinkers until he could no longer stand and had to be helped back to his cottage.
“I went to buy some camouflage trousers the other day, but I couldn’t find them”.
On 5th May 1984 I was watching Tommy Cooper on a live television programme. He was his usual bumbling self and he had the audience, both in the theatre and at home, in stitches. He suddenly fell to the floor and the audience roared with laughter. After a minute or so the curtains closed in front of him and he was given an enormous standing ovation. But he didn’t appear to take his bow. It had not been part of his act.
Tommy Cooper died where he was happiest - on television in front of an adoring audience. Just like that.
“I had a meal last night. I ordered everything in French which surprised everybody - it was a Chinese restaurant. I said to the Chinese waiter ‘Look, this chicken is cold’,. He said ‘It should be - it’s been dead a week.’ I said ’Not only that’ I said, I said…… I said it twice…. I said ‘Its got one leg shorter than the other.’ He said ‘What do you want to do with it, eat it or dance with it?’ I said ‘Forget the chicken - bring me a lobster.’ He bought me a lobster, then I said ‘Just a minute, it’s only got one claw.’ He said ‘Well, it’s been in a fight.’ So I said ‘Well bring me the winner.”
Tommy Cooper 1921 - 1984