The Tommy Cooper Show: Floral Halls Theatre, Scarborough, 1975
There are many classic Tommy Cooper stories, some may be true, some may not but they have gone down in history because of the hope that they are true. Stories such as when he was driven by his driver and he got to his destination, Tommy used to get out of the car and tell the driver to have a drink on him whilst placing something in the driver’s top pocket. After Tommy had long gone the driver felt inside his pocket expecting a large tip for his services and pulled out a tea bag! Or when Tommy had appeared at one of his many Royal Variety Performances and traditionally he was about to meet the Queen in the line-up after the show he was warned by a fellow performer not to say anything to the Queen upon meeting her. Tommy allegedly ignored this advice and asked the Queen if she was a football fan. The Queen had said that she was not and so Tommy had asked if he could have her tickets for the Cup Final! I always like to think that the reason why the magical comedy giant worked was because he didn’t believe he was funny and that’s why he was funny. He didn’t have to do anything and the audience were laughing out loud. The classic look of the bewilderment when magic tricks went wrong, the large, ungainly body with flat feet, the fez, the classic laugh and the ‘Jus’ Like That!’ catchphrase. Of course to add to the genius, he had to know exactly what he was doing in order for the tricks to go wrong. He was a member of The Magic Circle and the act was honed to perfection.
I was extremely fortunate to see Tommy Cooper live on stage whilst on a family holiday at Scarborough in 1975 aged 8 years old. It was the first comedy show I had ever been to and I remember the experience so well. The lights in the theatre dimmed and the curtains opened to reveal nothing on stage apart from a bed with Tommy lying on it asleep. One member of the audience started to laugh and then another and then another all the time Cooper having done nothing apart from lying asleep on the bed. After a good five minutes everyone in the theatre was laughing loudly waiting for something, anything to happen. When the laughter had reached breaking point and with split second timing Cooper lifted his head from the bed and said ‘What? Has somebody come on stage?’ The audience managed a further outburst of laughter and he was got on with the doomed magic with the audience in the palm of his hand. It was a moment of comic genius. The show featured classic set pieces such as the famous hat routine when Cooper told a story with characters determined by what sort of hat he was given by a stagehand passing the hats threw his legs so that he can put them on his head. So the policemen said this and the soldier said that and so on. When the stagehand ran out of hats and just put his empty hand that Cooper’s legs, the reply from Cooper was ‘I don’t know what that’s doing there!!’ To open the second half of that memorable show, Cooper walked onto thunderous applause and before he did anything he said goodnight to the audience and walked off stage! It was an unforgettable night.
Since Cooper’s passing in 1984 infamously on stage during a live TV show Live From Her Majesty’s, I have seen a number of plays about the comedian. Most notably I saw Jerome Flynn play him brilliantly the play Jus’ Like That! in 2003 at The Garrick Theatre in London’s West End. In 2008 a statue of Tommy Cooper designed by Graham Ibbotson was unveiled in Caerphilly, Wales by the actor, Sir Anthony Hopkins, a lifelong fan. I saw a revival of the play again in 2011 at the Edinburgh Fringe when Clive Mantle starred at the magician.
Tommy Cooper had left a great legacy of magical laughter and remains one of the greatest comedians there has ever been.