Tommy Cooper

Tommy Cooper Statue in Caerphilly. Photograph © Walt Jabsco
Tommy Cooper (March 19, 1921 – April 15, 1984) was a British comedian and magician born in Caerphilly, Wales.Cooper made an art form of getting magic tricks wrong. He is considered by many to be one of the most inventive and funny British comedians since Charlie Chaplin. However, despite his purported inability to perform conjuring tricks, he was in reality an accomplished magician and member of the Magic Circle. Famed for his red fez, he had a host of catchphrases such as “Just like that!”, “Spoon, jar, jar, spoon!!” and “Whisky, sample, sample, whisky, sample…”.

Tommy Cooper took up show business on Christmas Eve, 1947 after seven years in the Army, and rapidly became a top-liner in variety with his turn as the conjuror whose tricks never succeeded. However, it is probably 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 Thames Television from 1968 to 1980.

Tommy Cooper was a renowned heavy drinker and smoker, and suffered a decline in his health during the late 1970s, suffering a heart attack in 1977 whilst 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.

On April 15, 1984, Tommy Cooper collapsed 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. He was pronounced dead on arrival at nearby Charing Cross hospital. He was survived by his wife, Gwen (whom he always called ‘Dove’), and two children, Thomas and Vicky. Thomas died just four years later.

In a 2005 poll The Comedian’s Comedian, Cooper was voted the 6th 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.

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 marvellous, don’t you? Wherever they put a petrol pump they find petrol.

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.

Jerome Flynn has toured with his own tribute show to Cooper called Just Like That

“Cos it’s strange, isn’t it. You stand in the middle of a library and go ‘Aaaaaaagghhhh’ and everyone just stares at you. But you do the same thing on an aeroplane, and everyone joins in.”

“He said ‘I’m going to chop off the bottom of one of your trouser legs and put it in a library.’ I thought ‘That’s a turn-up for the books.”

“And the back of his anorak was leaping up and down, and people were chucking money to him. I said ‘Do you earn a living doing that?’ He said ‘Yes, this is my livelihood.’

“So I was getting into my car, and this bloke says to me “Can you give me a lift?” I said “Sure, you look great, the world’s your oyster, go for it.’

“You know, somebody actually complimented me on my driving today. They left a little note on the windscreen, it said ‘Parking Fine.’ So that was nice.”

“So I went down my local ice-cream shop, and said ‘I want to buy an ice-cream’. He said Hundreds & thousands?’ I said ‘We’ll start with one.’ He said ‘Knickerbocker glory?’ I said ‘I do get a certain amount of freedom in these trousers, yes.’

I went to Millets and said ‘I want to buy a tent.’ He said ‘To camp?’, I said butchly! ‘Sorry, I want to buy a tent.’ I said ‘I also want to buy a caravan.’ He said ‘Camper?’ I said campily! ‘Make your mind up.’

So I went to the dentist. He said “Say Aaah.” I said “Why?” He said “My dog’s died.'”

“Now, most dentist’s chairs go up and down, don’t they? The one I was in went back and forwards. I thought ‘This is unusual’. And the dentist said to me ‘Mr Cooper, get out of the filing cabinet.'”

“So I got home, and the phone was ringing. I picked it up, and said ‘Who’s speaking please?’ And a voice said ‘You are.'”

“So I rang up my local swimming baths. I said ‘Is that the local swimming baths?’ He said ‘It depends where you’re calling from.'”

“So I rang up a local building firm, I said ‘I want a skip outside my house.’ He said ‘I’m not stopping you.’

“Apparently, 1 in 5 people in the world are Chinese. And there are 5 people in my family, so it must be one of them. It’s either my mum or my dad. Or my older brother Colin. Or my younger brother Ho-Cha-Chu. But I think it’s Colin.”

“So I was in my car, and I was driving along, and my boss rang up, and he said ‘You’ve been promoted.’ And I swerved. And then he rang up a second time and said “You’ve been promoted again.’ And I swerved again. He rang up a third time and said ‘You’re managing director.’ And I went into a tree. And a policeman came up and said ‘What happened to you?’ And I said ‘I careered off the road.’

Tommy Cooper was in a taxi and when he got to the end of his journey and paid his fare, the cab sat there waiting for his tip when Tommy gave him a tea bag and said, “Have a drink on me.”

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