Subject: ARCHIVE: April 15, 1984 ~Famed UK comedian Tommy Cooper, who gained fame with comedic magician routines, and gained macabre mortality by literally dying on stage during a LIVE performance. He was 63. ...
[ Thomas Frederick Cooper ]
(19 March 1921 – 15 April 1984)
British prop comedian and magician. Cooper was a member of the Magic Circle, and respected by traditional magicians. He was famed for his red tarboosh, and his appearance was large and lumbering, at 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 m) and more than 15 stone (210 lb; 95 kg) in weight. On 15 April 1984, Cooper collapsed with a heart attack on live national television. He died soon afterwards.
Early life ...
Tommy Cooper was born at 19 Llwyn Onn Street in Caerphilly, Glamorgan, Wales. Cooper was delivered by the woman who owned the house in which the family were lodging. His parents were Thomas H. Cooper, a former recruiting sergeant in the British Army turned coal miner, and Catherine Gertrude (née Wright), his English wife from Crediton in Devon.
To escape from the heavily polluted air of Caerphilly, his father accepted the offer of a new job and the family moved to Exeter, Devon, when Cooper was three. It was in Exeter that he acquired the West Country accent that became part of his act. When he was eight an aunt bought him a magic set and he spent hours perfecting the tricks. His brother David (born 1930) opened a magic shop in the 1960s in Slough High Street called D. & Z. Cooper's Magic Shop.
Cooper was influenced by Laurel and Hardy, Max Miller, Bob Hope, and Robert Orben.
Second World War ...
...After school, Cooper became a shipwright in Southampton. In 1940 he was called up as a trooper in the Royal Horse Guards serving for seven years. He joined Montgomery's Desert Rats in Egypt. Cooper became a member of a 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 that required a pith helmet, having forgotten the prop, Cooper reached out and borrowed a tarboosh from a passing waiter, which got huge laughs.
Development of the act ...
When he was demobbed after seven years of military service Cooper took up show business on Christmas Eve, 1947. He later developed a popular monologue about his military experience as "Cooper the Trooper". He worked in variety theatres around the country and at many of London's top night spots, performing as many as 52 shows in one week.
Cooper had developed his conjuring skills and was a member of the Magic Circle, but there are various stories about how and when he developed his delivery of "failed" magic tricks:
He was performing to his shipbuilding colleagues when everything went wrong, but he noticed that the failed tricks got laughs.
He started making "mistakes" on purpose when he was in the Army.
His tricks went wrong at a post-war audition, but the panel thoroughly enjoyed them anyway.
To keep the audience on their toes Cooper threw in an occasional trick that worked when it was least expected.
Always encouraged by wife Gwen ...
In 1947, Cooper got his big break with Miff Ferrie, at that time trombonist in a band called The Jackdaws, who booked him to appear as the second-spot comedian in a show starring the sand dance act Marqueeze and the Dance of the Seven Veils. Cooper then began two years of arduous performing, including a tour of Europe and a stint in pantomime, playing one of Cinderella's ugly sisters. The period culminated in a season-long booking at the Windmill Theatre, where he doubled up doing cabaret. In one week, he performed 52 shows. Ferrie remained Cooper's sole agent for 37 years, until Cooper's death in 1984. Cooper was supported by a variety of acts, including the vocal percussionist Frank Holder.
Cooper rapidly became a top-liner in variety with his turn as the conjurer whose tricks never succeeded, but it was his television work that raised him to national prominence. After his debut on the BBC talent show New to You in March 1948 he started starring in his own shows, and was popular with audiences for nearly 40 years, notably through his work with London Weekend Television from 1968 to 1972 and with Thames Television from 1973 to 1980. Thanks to his many television shows during the mid-1970s, he was one of the most recognisable comedians in the world.
John Fisher writes in his biography of Cooper: "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." One of Cooper's stunts was to pay the exact taxi fare and when leaving the cab to slip something into the taxi driver's pocket saying, "Have a drink on me." That something would turn out to be a tea bag.
...By the mid-1970s, 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. In addition he suffered from chronic indigestion, lumbago, sciatica, bronchitis and severe circulation problems in his legs. When Cooper realised the extent of his maladies he cut down on his drinking, and the energy and confidence returned to his act. 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, and only a last-minute intervention by the floor manager saved Parkinson from serious injury or worse.
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. Three months later he was back on television in Night Out at the London Casino.
By 1980, however, 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 appear as a guest on other television shows, however, and worked with Eric Sykes on two Thames productions in 1982.
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 London Weekend Television variety show Live from Her Majesty's, transmitted live from Her Majesty's Theatre.
An assistant had helped him put on a cloak for his sketch, while Jimmy Tarbuck, the host, was hiding behind the curtain waiting to pass him different props that he would then appear to pull from inside his gown. The assistant smiled at him as he collapsed, believing that it was a part of the act. Likewise, the audience gave "uproarious" laughter as he fell, gasping for air.
At this point, Alasdair MacMillan, the director of the television production, cued the orchestra to play music for an unscripted commercial break (noticeable because of several seconds of blank screen while LWT's master control contacted regional stations to start transmitting advertisements) and Tarbuck's manager tried to pull Cooper back through the curtains.
It was decided to continue with the show. Dustin Gee and Les Dennis were the act that had to follow Cooper, and other stars proceeded to present their acts in the limited space in front of the stage. 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. His death was not officially reported until the next morning, although the incident was the leading item on the news programme that followed the show. Cooper was cremated at Mortlake Crematorium in London.
The video of Tommy Cooper suffering the fatal heart attack on stage has been uploaded to numerous video sharing websites. YouTube drew criticism from a number of sources when footage of the incident was posted on the website in May 2009. John Beyer of the pressure group Mediawatch UK said: "This is very poor taste. That the broadcasters have not repeated the incident shows they have a respect for him and I think that ought to apply also on YouTube." On 28 December 2011 segments of the Live From Her Majesty's clip, including Cooper collapsing on stage, were screened on Channel 4 in the UK, on a programme titled The Untold Tommy Cooper.
Here is a German special featuring Cooper's demise. A death I'm sure
he would have had no sadness about, on stage, entertainer a full house. ...
Personal life ...
From 1967 until his death, Cooper had a relationship with his personal assistant, Mary Fieldhouse. She wrote about it in her book, For the Love of Tommy (1986). His son Thomas (a.k.a. Thomas Henty) died in 1988 and his wife, Gwen, died in 2002. His will was probated on 29 August 1984 at £327,272.
In 2003, The Tommy Cooper Society was set up, aimed at erecting a statue of the comic in the town of his birth. So £45,000 was raised, and in March 2008, a statue of Tommy Cooper has been unveiled in his hometown of Caerphilly, south Wales. The 9ft (2.7m) bronze was sculpted by James Done who said Cooper would have been "the highest paid jester in any kingdom." Officiating the event, Hollywood star Sir Anthony Hopkins, a lifelong fan, gave a grand unveiling dedication. ...