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tommy cooper

tommy cooper
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About tommy cooper Biography


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 Tom, and his English Born mother Gertrude from Crediton, Devon.[3] 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 aged three and gained the West Country accent that was part of his act.[4]The family lived in a house at the back of Haven Banks, where Tommy attended the Mount Radford School for boys, and helped his parents run their ice cream van, which attended fairs on the weekend. At the age of 8 an aunt bought Cooper a magic set and he would spend hours perfecting all the tricks.[5]

World War Two

After school, Cooper became a shipwright in Hythe, Hampshire and in 1940 was called up to serve as a trooper in the Royal Horse Guards regiment of the British Army in World War Two. 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.[6] After this he used to deliberately make a mess of his act

Act development

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.[6]Cooper had developed his magic skills and was a member of the Magic Circle, but there are various versions as to where he developed his act delivery of "failed" magic tricks:[6]
  • Performing to his ship building colleagues when everything went wrong. Devastated, Cooper still noted that the failed tricks got laughs
  • During his British army career
  • At a post-War audition, at which his tricks went wrong, but which the panel thoroughly enjoyed
To keep the audience on their toes, Cooper threw in the occasional trick that worked when it was least expected.


alt "The Plank"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.In 1961 Cooper had a minor hit record in Britain with "Don't Jump off the Roof, Dad" on Palette Records.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 how he would subtly persuade strangers into buying him a drink using his 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 then reply 'What are you drinking?' to which the stranger would think they were being offered a drink only for them to state their preference and Cooper to 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 due to be the opening act at the Royal Variety Performance but was desperately short of material. He asked Billy Mayo, a retired variety pro who had seen better days, for help. Mayo had a think then scuttled off to a hardware store where he purchased 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 stormed. A few days later he met Mayo along with some fellow performers in Soho where he received much praise for his Performance but offered not One 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."However, Fisher reports that despite there being other such tales, Cooper's strengths outweighed his character faults.


Cooper's drinking habits increased over the years and came to have a devastating effect on his family and nearly ruin his career. Initially he drank to allay the anxiety of going onstage. He once 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."What began as liquid courage became a well-earned luxury, and then a psychological crutch. Michael Parkinson recalls working with Cooper on a dry ship: there was much agitation when Cooper requested a bottle of brandy, so they asked Parkinson for his advice. He 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 proceeded to pour it over his cornflakes explaining that 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 started to complain that he turned up late or rushed through his show in five minutes and then walked off. His popularity generally carried him through but there were occasions of him being slow-handclapped onto stage or audiences shouting 'Why are we waiting?' In the clubs and on television, his once legendary timing began to desert him, he looked sad and was sluggish, eyes glazed, energy lowered. His slight incoherence had always been part of his act but now words were being left out to embarrassing effect. Despite the efforts of 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 to these ailments, he suffered from chronic indigestion, lumbago, sciatica, bronchitis (he chain-smoked forty cigars a day) and severe circulation problems in his legs. When Cooper realised the full extent of his injuries he did cut down on his drinking and the effect was dramatic - 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 worryingly 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 producer saved Parkinson's life[citation needed].

Marriage and infidelity

Perhaps the most distasteful effects of Cooper's drinking was the wife-beating. Several times Gwen called Miff Ferrie, Tommy'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 business executives of IBM in Italy he collapsed, had violent convulsions and began bleeding from the mouth. An Italian doctor saved his life with a cardiac injection and Gwen rushed to his side in a private IBM plane. There would be no more scared phone calls to Ferrie.Their marriage was always 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 (nee Kay), a stage manager whom he met in a church hall used by Thames TV for rehearsals. At this time he was travelling round the Country constantly by himself, Gwen having decided to put her maternal duties towards two teenage children first and stay at home. Kay recognised that Cooper needed someone to bring order into his life and made herself the person to do it, at least when he was on tour as his wardrobe manager - their relationship developed and they both fell deeply in love. It was perhaps because of her that Cooper increased his touring schedule, relishing the chance to spend time with her. she did not however manage to rescue him from his self-destructive drinking and on occasion fell victim to his rages: there is a story of him ripping apart the seam of an expensive dress he had bought her and throwing her to the floor in a restaurant. The ogre was always mollified quickly and as Mary put it, "brandy, I noticed, didn't bring out the best in People."Gwen supposedly found out about the affair after Cooper's death and remarked that it was a mere slip on her husband's part, a One-night stand. There had however been overt tabloid speculation while the affair was going on and a friend recalls an instance which Cooper recounted when Gwen came into the bedroom angrily brandishing a hotel invoice to Mr and Mrs Cooper. Cooper insisted that he was on his own. However, his wife would not be placated and left the room slamming the door and calling him a bastard. He thought quickly, 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 that there had been a Mr and Mrs Cooper staying in the hotel at the same time and their bill had been sent by mistake.Cooper never entertained the idea of leaving his wife and Friends attest to his deep love of Gwen, saying that the truth was that 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 too loved him deeply and was devastated by his death, having sent him off with a flask of coffee and a packet of sandwiches that morning and avidly watching what turned out to be his final Performance.

death while on the air

On April 15, 1984, Tommy Cooper collapsed from a massive heart attack in front of millions of television viewers, midway through his act, on the popular ITV variety show Live From Her Majesty's. Most of the audience thought it was part of his act and were laughing, until it became apparent that he was seriously ill. At this point the show's director, Alasdair Macmillan, cued the orchestra to play music for a commercial break and Jimmy Tarbuck's manager tried to pull Tommy back through the stage 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 3 frame protruded into view underneath the curtains. While the show continued, efforts were being made backstage to revive Cooper though these were not made easier by the darkness. It was not until a second commercial break that ambulancemen were able to Move his body and rush him to Westminster Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.Cremated at Mortlake Crematorium in London.[7] Cooper was survived by his wife, Gwen (whom he always called 'Dove'), and two children, Thomas and Vicky. Thomas died just four years later from cirrhosis of the liver.

Examples of Cooper's humour

His friend and biographer John Fisher has said of Cooper's humour: 'On anyone else's lips, it would have been hopeless. Delivered by Tommy, with all his childlike innocence and charm, it would make an audience roar.' Bob Monkhouse recalls seeing Cooper in a dressing room dangling a bath tap on a piece of elastic, he asked what he was doing. "It's a gag," Cooper said, explaining that he was going to come on, dangle it up and down a few times and then say to the audience, "Tap dance!" Monkhouse advised him the idea was terrible, the worst joke he'd ever heard and strongly advised him to refrain from performing it. Cooper went ahead and brought the house down.Another aspect of Cooper's comedy was that he carried it over to his private life. He once went into a tailor's shop to buy a suit, trying it on he asked a member of staff if he could take it for a walk round the block. When they consented he took a block of wood from his pocket, put it on the floor and walked around it before saying, "Fine. I'll take it." He continued this in his home-life with his wife Gwen reporting frequent instances of rubber spiders, snakes that sprang out of tins and books that burst into flames. A visitor to his house recalled chatting to him when screams from the maid reverberated down the stairs, she had just discovered a 'severed hand' in the laundry basket. Cooper was a caring father and used his comedy to shrewd effect in this sphere of his life. There was the time his son was caught having stolen a ball of string and pen-knife from the local Woolworths. Gwen was distraught but Cooper maintained a complete silence until the evening when he took his son aside and said, in his fiercest tones, "If you ever, ever steal again .... get me a packet of my favourite cigars." The boy never re-offended.Cooper even turned his comedy to his illnesses. He had chronic indigestion and his daughter Vicky has described how he would drink milk of magnesia then Jump up and down because he had forgotten to shake the bottle. And despite being beside himself when his wife Gwen was taken ill, the flowers he presented to her squirted water in her face.

A selection of Cooper's jokes

  • I slept like a log last night; I woke up in the fireplace.
  • man walks into a bar. Didn't half hurt. It was an iron bar.
  • I've got the best wife in England; the other One's in Africa.
  • I had a ploughman's lunch the other day; he wasn't half mad.
  • My dog took a big bite out of my knee the other day and a friend of mine said, "Did you put anything on it?" I said, "No, he liked it as it was."
  • I think inventions are marvelous, don't you? Wherever they put a petrol pump they find petrol.
  • I'm on a whiskey diet; I've lost three days already.
  • I backed a horse today at 20:1. It came in at twenty past four.
  • I was in Margate last year for the summer season. A friend of mine said, 'You want to go to Margate, it's good for rheumatism'. So I did and I got it."
  • A man walked into the doctor's, he said 'I've broke my arm in several places'.The doctor said 'Well don't go to those places '


In a 2005 poll The Comedians' Comedian, Cooper was voted the sixth greatest comedy act ever by fellow comedians and comedy insiders. He is commonly cited as One of the best comedians of all time, with several polls placing him at number one.[citation needed]Jerome Flynn has toured with his own tribute show to Cooper called just Like That.

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Comments (10)

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  • SpeedX55 Comment By: SpeedX55 Date: 2008-06-27 21:53:45
    Lookin' good... 5 *'s all the way
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  • hamptonbeach Comment By: hamptonbeach Date: 2008-04-03 09:26:45
    5 STARS
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  • bigboy20 Comment By: bigboy19 Date: 2007-11-26 15:14:41
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  • solshine Comment By: solshine Date: 2007-11-16 21:53:12
    great stuff - great job
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  • A4Astro Comment By: A4Astro Date: 2007-11-16 13:04:48
    Nice asset, nice site
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