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Thread: Tommy Cooper - Comedian

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    Talking Tommy Cooper - Comedian



    Tommy Cooper (19 March 1921 – 15 April 1984) was an Anglo-Welsh prop comedian and magician. He was known for making an art of getting magic tricks wrong, although he was actually an accomplished magician. His brilliant delivery and timing of "one-liners" is legendary. He has been the subject of efforts by people in Caerphilly to publicise the town as his birthplace.

    Despite his purported inability to perform conjuring tricks, Cooper was a member of The Magic Circle. Famed for his red fez, his appearance was large and lumbering at 6 feet 4 inches (1.9 m) and more than 15 stone (210 lb; 95 kg) in weight.

    Born Thomas Frederick Cooper, in Caerphilly, Wales, he was delivered by the woman who owned the house in which the family was lodging. Cooper's parents were Welsh-born army recruiting sergeant father Thomas H. (Tom) Cooper, and his English-born mother Gertrude (ne Gertrude C. Wright) from Crediton, Devon. In light of the heavily polluted air and the offer of a job for his father, the family moved to Exeter, Devon when Cooper was three and gained the West Country accent that was part of his act.

    The family lived in the back of Haven Banks, where Cooper attended Mount Radford School for boys, and helped his parents run their ice cream van, which attended fairs on the weekend. At 8 an aunt bought Cooper a magic set and he spent hours perfecting the tricks.

    Magic ran in his family - his brother opened a magic shop in the 1960s in Slough High Street (then Buckinghamshire now Berkshire) called D. & Z. Cooper's Magic Shop.

    After school, Cooper became a shipwright in Hythe, Hampshire, and in 1940 was called up as a trooper in the Royal Horse Guards regiment of the British Army in World War II . He served initially in Montgomery's Desert Rats in Egypt. Cooper became part of the NAAFI entertainment party and developed an act around his magic tricks interspersed with comedy. One evening in Cairo, during a sketch in which he was supposed to be in a costume which required a pith helmet, having forgotten the prop Cooper reached out and borrowed the fez from a passing waiter which got huge laughs. From this incident arose two of the trademark pieces of business that were a hallmark of his later act; the ever-present Fez hat, and his aptitude for slapstick comedy.

    When he was demobbed after 7 years of military service, Cooper took up show business on Christmas Eve, 1947 — he would later add a popular monologue about his military experience as "Cooper the Trooper." Cooper worked variety theatres around the country, and at London's Windmill Theatre he performed 52 shows per week.

    To keep the audience on their toes, Cooper threw in the occasional trick that worked when it was least expected.

    Cooper rapidly became a top-liner in variety with his turn as the conjuror whose tricks never succeeded, but it was his television work that catapulted him to national recognition. After his debut on the BBC talent show New to You in March 1948, he soon started starring in his own shows, and was popular with audiences for four decades, most notably through his work with London Weekend Television from 1968 to 1972 and with Thames Television from 1973 to 1980.

    Cooper was a heavy drinker and smoker, and experienced a decline in health during the late 1970s, suffering a heart attack in 1977 while in Rome, where he was performing a show. However, just three months later he was back on television in Night Out at the London Casino. By 1980, though, his drinking meant that Thames Television would not give him another starring series, and Cooper's Half Hour was his last. He did continue to guest on other television shows, however, and worked with Eric Sykes on two Thames productions in 1982: The Eric Sykes 1990 Show and It's Your Move.

    Legendary meanness

    John Fisher writes in Cooper's biography, "Everyone agrees that he was mean. Quite simply he was acknowledged as the tightest man in show business, with a pathological dread of reaching into his pocket."

    Friends remember he would persuade strangers to buy him a drink using magician's cunning. He would stand at a bar and, when he made eye-contact with a stranger say 'Yes?' to which the stranger would reply, "Can I get you a drink?" Cooper would reply 'What are you drinking?' to which the stranger would think he was being offered a drink, state his preference and hear Cooper rejoin, "I'll have one as well." Another stunt was to leave a taxi, slipping something into the taxi driver's pocket saying, "Have a drink on me." That something turned out to be a tea bag.

    He was also known for meanness of nature. In 1964 he was opening act at the Royal Variety Performance but short of material. He asked Billy Mayo, a retired variety pro who had seen better days, for help. Mayo went off to a hardware store and bought a paraffin heater, which he presented to Cooper telling him to walk on at the beginning, put it down in front of the audience and say, "They told me to go out there and warm them up." Cooper did, and the gag received an uproarious reception. A few days later he met Mayo along with fellow performers in Soho where he received much praise for his performance but offered not a word of thanks to Mayo. At leaving time Mayo asked a favour of Cooper, "My legs are not so good at the moment. Would it be possible for your driver to drop me off at my flat?" Cooper replied by saying, "I'm not a fucking taxi service."

    Cooper's drinking increased and had a devastating effect on his family and nearly ruined his career. Initially he drank to allay the anxiety of going onstage. He told his friend Eric Sykes, "People say I've only got to walk out on stage and they laugh. If only they knew what it takes to walk out on stage in the first place. One of these days I'll just walk out and do nothing. Then they'll know the difference." Cooper also related during a TV interview that he would walk on stage behind the curtain and give it a shake, if the audience didn't laugh he would shake the curtain even more violently. If the audience laughed he would burst through the curtain and start his show. If they still didn't laugh he would rush back to the changing room, grab his bag and leave the theatre.

    What began as liquid courage became a psychological crutch. Michael Parkinson recalls working with Cooper on a dry ship: there was much agitation when Cooper requested brandy. Parkinson explained, "You give him the bottle or he doesn't go on. It's as simple as that. That's how he works." There was an incident in a hotel where he asked for a large gin and tonic at breakfast then poured it over his cornflakes, explaining it was good for him as 'milk is full of cholesterol'.

    By the mid-seventies, alcohol had started to erode Cooper's professionalism and club owners complained that he turned up late or rushed through his show in five minutes. His popularity generally carried him through but sometimes he was slow-handclapped on to the stage, audiences shouting 'Why are we waiting?' In clubs and on television, his timing began to desert him, he looked sad and was sluggish, eyes glazed, energy lowered. His slight incoherence had been part of his act but now words were being left out to embarrassing effect. Despite production crews pouring coffee down his throat, classic gags were omitted and other lines repeated for no reason. His health suffered and, fixated about his increasing weight, he started buying under-the-counter slimming pills which he mixed with insomnia tablets to form a potent cocktail.

    In addition, he suffered chronic indigestion, lumbago, sciatica, bronchitis (he smoked 40 cigars a day) and severe circulation problems in his legs. When Cooper realised the extent of his injuries he cut down on his drinking and the energy and sparkle returned to his act and some of his later television performances were a revelation. However, he never stopped drinking and could be fallible: on an otherwise triumphant appearance with Michael Parkinson he forgot to set the safety catch on the guillotine illusion into which he had cajoled Parkinson. Only a last-minute intervention by the floor manager saved Parkinson's life. In 1977 Cooper suffered a heart attack whilst in Rome.

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    Cooper's drinking led to wife-beating. Several times Gwen called Miff Ferrie, Cooper's agent and manager, to say she was leaving him after he had struck her in front of the children. She reported that he sat at the dressing room table drinking whisky all night then he went to bed at 5am before waking up, going down to the kitchen and re-commencing drinking. However, the domestic violence stopped after Cooper's most serious health-scare. About to perform for executives of IBM in Italy he collapsed, had convulsions and began bleeding from the mouth. A doctor saved his life with a cardiac injection and Gwen flew to his side in an IBM plane. There would be no more scared phone calls to Ferrie.

    Their marriage was volatile. Gwen told the press, 'We fight. I throw things and he throws things back. But we often end up laughing.' Their son said, 'She was more than a match for him. They had some colossal fights and Dad would spend all his time ducking.' However it was also a very loving union; she also said, 'He was the nicest, kindest - and most awkward - man in the world.'

    In 1967 Cooper began an affair with Mary Fieldhouse (ne Kay), a stage manager whom he met in a church hall used by Thames TV for rehearsals. At this time he was travelling the country constantly by himself, Gwen having decided to put her two teenage children first. Kay recognised Cooper needed order in his life and made herself the person to bring it, at least when on tour as his wardrobe manager - their relationship developed and they fell in love. It was because of her that Cooper increased his touring, relishing the chance to spend time with her. She did not rescue him from self-destructive drinking and on occasion fell victim to his rages: there is a story of his ripping the seam of an expensive dress he had bought her and throwing her to the floor in a restaurant.

    Gwen supposedly found out about the affair after Cooper's death and remarked that it was a mere slip, a one-night stand. There had however been tabloid speculation while the affair was going on and a friend recalls Gwen coming into the bedroom brandishing a hotel invoice to Mr and Mrs Cooper. Cooper insisted he was on his own. His wife left the room slamming the door and calling him a bastard. He pulled his clothes over his pyjamas and dashed to the nearest phone box where he called the manager and asked him to phone his home in half an hour and apologise for the mistake. Half an hour later there was a phone call to the house and Gwen came upstairs all smiles, explaining there had been a Mr and Mrs Cooper in the hotel at the same time and their bill had been sent by mistake.

    Cooper never entertained leaving his wife, and friends attest to his deep love of Gwen, saying he needed her. And despite her suffering at the hands of a man Bob Monkhouse described as 'a child with an infant's rage but fundamentally a lovely man', she loved him and was devastated by his death, having sent him off with a flask of coffee and a packet of sandwiches that morning and watching what turned out to be his final performance.

    Death on a live television show

    On 15 April 1984, Cooper collapsed from a heart attack in front of millions of television viewers, midway through his act on the live London Weekend Television variety show Live From Her Majesty's. A glamourous assistant had helped him put on a cloak for his sketch, where someone (on this evening it was host Jimmy Tarbuck) was hiding behind the curtain waiting to pass him different props which he would then appear to pull from inside his gown. The assistant smiled at him as he collapsed, believing that it was a joke. Likewise, the audience laughed as he fell, until it became apparent he was seriously ill. At this point the show's director, Alasdair MacMillan, cued the orchestra to play music for an unscripted commercial break (noticeable by several seconds of blank screen whilst LWT's master control contacted regional stations to start transmitting advertisements) and Jimmy Tarbuck's manager tried to pull Cooper back through the curtains, where he was given CPR. For legal and medical reasons, Cooper's body could not be removed from the stage except by paramedics or the police. It was decided to continue the show and other stars proceeded to present their acts in the limited space in front of the stage. For a long time, a rumour circulated that the size 13 feet from his 6-foot 4 frame protruded underneath the curtains. While the show continued, efforts were being made backstage to revive Cooper, not made easier by the darkness. It was not until a second commercial break that ambulancemen were able to move his body to Westminster Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.

    The video of Tommy Cooper suffering a heart attack on stage has been leaked to numerous video sharing websites.YouTube have been heavily criticised by the press when footage of the incident was posted on their website from May 2009.

    His remains were cremated at Mortlake Crematorium in London. Cooper was survived by his wife, Gwen (whom he called 'Dove'), and two children, Thomas and Vicky. Thomas died just four years later from cirrhosis of the liver.

  3. #3
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    Tommy Cooper made me laugh, he was brilliant. His death was sad and I've seen it on youtube.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NewYorkDoll View Post
    Aw that is sad... doesnt look real at all.. in some way, It might be the best way a comedian can go, making people laugh. Wonder when people realized that he was dying..

    There is a Danish comedian group, that I believe where inspired by him... one of them is actually a magician, but makes fun of it by failing the acts, but still end up doing something that makes you think.. how the hell... hilarious.. they wear fezzes, and are consintantly naughty, but in a very charming way
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    I saw him fall on stage all those years ago, I was only 10 but I remember being confused, my mom loved tommy and she knew straight away he was sick.
    She sent me to bed as soon as the adverts came on and told me later that he had died. I remember feeling disturbed, because up until then people died when they were old and in bed, no on stage and on telly, I dont know why it bothered me so much but it did.
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    I have never seen the video where he dies onstage. I can't watch the posted link as you have to sign into youtube to do so! Poop! I shall have to look elsewhere.

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    Managed to see the clip now! Strange how he fell and slumped, then after a few seconds fell back, all the while the audience laughing and thinking it was part of the act!

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    I remember when Tommy Cooper had his statue uncovered
    Anthony Hopkins who was there.(and Mr. Cooper's family)
    It was very sweet and wonderfull.
    But like a lot of other great comics he may have been nice
    to strangers but a jerk to the people he was close too.

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    Tommy Cooper statue unveiled by Sir Anthony Hopkins


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    I loved Tommy Cooper...we share the same birthday.
    Did anyone see that stage show about Tommy? Just like that?
    I saw it with Jerome Flynn and it was great. You got to see the different sides to him.

    Tommy was a simple giant. For a man that made a living out of being clumsy - he was incredibly graceful to make it look so natural. If he is on tv, i have to sit and watch. He was definately one of a kind.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hrhdiesel View Post
    I loved Tommy Cooper...we share the same birthday.
    Did anyone see that stage show about Tommy? Just like that?
    I saw it with Jerome Flynn and it was great. You got to see the different sides to him.

    Tommy was a simple giant. For a man that made a living out of being clumsy - he was incredibly graceful to make it look so natural. If he is on tv, i have to sit and watch. He was definately one of a kind.
    I've not seen the stageshow. It sounds fun though!
    Tommy, when I was younger, never seemed funny. It was only as I aged that I realised that his simple understated magic was great. He isn't laugh out loud funny, but I do love to watch his old tv shows

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    Ok...just watched it. You know what, i think he would have been pleased that no one realised what was happening at the time. That people felt it was a joke. It didnt look real, it looked like one of his jokes - poor tommy.

    That poor assistant - talk about a guilt trip when she walked off after he fell back.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Vlad View Post
    I've not seen the stageshow. It sounds fun though!
    Tommy, when I was younger, never seemed funny. It was only as I aged that I realised that his simple understated magic was great. He isn't laugh out loud funny, but I do love to watch his old tv shows
    Keep an eye out for a stage show reproduction...i do remember them touring after the london show...it may still be happening.

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    Quote Originally Posted by hrhdiesel View Post
    Keep an eye out for a stage show reproduction...i do remember them touring after the london show...it may still be happening.
    Cool, thanks

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    The video of him collapsing on stage was awful to watch......people laughing when surely the fact he reached out for his assistant as he went and the awful look on his face as he was obviously struggling to breathe should have made people realise he was ill.... but I guess if you make a living by getting tricks wrong etc people aren't going to take anything seriously...very sad.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Spooky_Stone View Post
    Tommy Cooper made me laugh, he was brilliant. His death was sad and I've seen it on youtube.
    Hi mate, as per my last comment i saw it last night ( been searching for it for years out of interest) wish i hadn't, felt really uncomfortable watching it and even now....

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    Quote Originally Posted by death_hag_slag View Post
    Hi mate, as per my last comment i saw it last night ( been searching for it for years out of interest) wish i hadn't, felt really uncomfortable watching it and even now....
    It's hard to watch. I mean he looked so ill and when he hit the ground, the sound of people laughing broke my heart. I know they didn't know he was dying or dead but still hard to watch......My Mum and Dad watched it live on TV and when it happened, my Mum laughed while my Dad knew he was dead.

    But really died doing what he loved, making people laugh.

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    Just watched a documentary on Tommy cooper called the untold tommy cooper. It was a sad documentary to watch as it detailed his full from grace from the fresh faced comedian to the drunk, abusive (even though his wife was as bad) and the lack luster performer from after his heart attack. It was so sad to watch....what was even worse was they showed the clip of him collapsing on the stage and his last moments. Wasnt ready for that. No matter what I saw tonight ,,, I still love the performer! He was one of a kind.

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    I really love this kind of thread on FAD. Living in the States, I've never heard of Tommy Cooper, but will make a point to watch him/learn more about him. As a Hag, of course I watched his death video on Youtube. Very, very sad. I wonder if he could hear the laughter while he was taking his last breaths. Hopefully the laughter was comforting to him.
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    I never thought we'd see him die on stage - I knew there was a recording of it, but at the time the entertainment industry virtually said it would stay in the vault forever. Then a year or two ago it was leaked on to the web, now this....just goes to show how times have changed and even this type of thing is not taboo

  22. #22
    I remember Eric Morecombe was on stage six weeks later on tour and he was talking about Tommy Coopers demise and saying he would hate to go like that........then he walked off stage and died of a heart attack.
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    When Tommy Cooper falls back down it sounds like he was snoring right before he died. Is that typical?

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    I also remember watching this live too. Its strange in that it does actually look as though its part of his act. The garment he puts on certainly looks somewhat like a dressing gown and it certainly sounds as though hes snoring, which I doubt is typical of someone suffering a hear attack.

    The chances of this happening at such a specific moment, so that people assume its all part of the act must be incredibly slim, so its quite a fascinating death in that sense.

    I remember my dad telling me it had been announced that hed died later that night.

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    Quote Originally Posted by tazzboy View Post


    When Tommy Cooper falls back down it sounds like he was snoring right before he died. Is that typical?
    Thank you for this video, looks so crazy.( So That's how he died)
    Carolyn(1958-2009) always in my heart.

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