A number of people have asked for my views on the forthcoming Tommy Cooper drama (it’s not a documentary). I will be watching it and I’m actually quite looking forward to it; he is a fascinating subject, a flawed individual who had the ability to make millions love him without ever even knowing him.
I’ve read the books, seen the documentaries and I’ve met some of the people. He was exceptionally frugal, fell upon alcoholism as a crutch for the fame he had (which affected his professionalism and the quality of his performances), had a violent relationship with his wife and a very passionate relationship with his personal assistant.
At the same time, he was touring nationwide and further afield on what seemed to be an indestructible career. By this I mean that, although his timing and agility waned due to extreme poor health (hindered but not solely caused by his drinking habits), he had an undeterrable gift to be cherished by his legions of fans and supporters. This same love was reciprocated by both his mistress and his wife. The only thing that would bring him down, it seems, would be the scandal.
I don’t wish to speculate on the accuracy, the truth or even the purpose of this drama (I certainly can’t speculate on the accuracy can I? But I’ve had a handful of folk ask me that…) I shall keep an open mind until the screening. After all, shouldn’t everyone? The cliche, of course, is that there are two sides to every story (TC’s son made the argument that it was Tom who was ducking and diving from Gwen rather than the other way around for an example), so the best we can hope for is that we get two sides (preferably three, in this instance!)
Cooper died 30 years ago. He can’t “stand up for his actions”. Neither can his wife or mistress, both of whom have also departed (although the latter left a memoir account of her relationship). The drama has credited the author of his biography, John Fisher, as a consultant. I take this to be very good news. All of John’s work is thorough, concise and packed with passion for his subjects. He also personally knew Cooper. He also respected and admired him. The biography is not a lame attempt to brush over the bad and put Cooper on the highest pedastal. It goes some way to explain how a man, who had such a tortured private life, was still able to make millions of people laugh. Not just smile, or cheer up. But laugh. Laugh hard. And keep on coming back for more, throughout the very bad times, when he was plagued with a drinking problem, insecurity and sometimes too physically ill to stand for longer than 10 minutes…. until that very final show in 1984.
Tommy died on live television – a variety series titled “Live From Her Majesty’s”, on 15th April 1984, during his act (a surefire crowd-pleaser – the fantastic Magic Cloak routine). He was 63. It’s a moment that will be recreated during the drama and is arguably the most controversial scene of the piece. When David Threlfall, who’s playing Tommy, was interviewed on the matter his reply was, “Well, that’s what happened. It was not pleasant to do. But we wanted to honour it and portray it in the best way possible.”
If what David is saying is carried out (on a side-note, in my opinion and from what I’ve seen, he does an exceptional impersonation), then that final scene will be almost as moving, poignant and tragic as the real event. And we’ll be sorry Tommy’s gone. And we’ll miss him.