Interview with Julia Armstrong (Sheffield Newspapers)

What aspects of Tommy Cooper does the audience see?

Commemorating 30 years since his sad passing, this is a special tribute show compiling rarely seen material from his early days and the very best of his gags and tricks from his extensive career. A celebration of Tommy Cooper and his unique comic genius – with magic, music and mirth.

What eras of his life does the show look at?

The show is my interpretation of what it would have been like seeing Tommy Cooper in his best environment – working a live audience. Imagine you’re going to see him live, in the late 1960s or early 70s, when he was at the very top of his game. That’s exactly what we’re trying to recapture. Glad to say the audiences so far have been very flattering in their applause. Makes it all worthwhile.

Were you a big fan before you started work on the show?

I’ve always been a huge Tommy Cooper fan, even though I wasn’t born until a few years after his death. I appreciate his excellent comic timing and his joy at making other people laugh. He was unique. “There are hundreds of good magicians in this country,” he said. “I’m going to be the fool.” The production came about when I read a brilliant, eye-opening biography on him and my admiration for his talent and performance grew. He was certainly one of the very biggest icons of the 20th century. Recognisable everywhere.

Has doing it changed your view of him at all?

I’ve come to really understand and appreciate his perfectionism and professionalism. He didn’t drink before a show. He triple-checked his props. He always adapted his act to the venues, and always brought something new to keep the show lively and fresh. He was ruthless in his craft.

Why do you think he is still so popular today?

He is simply timeless. None of his material is political, crude or satirical. He relied on word play, slapstick, surprise and storytelling to entertain thousands. They are timeless attributes. The fact he looked ‘funny’ and had ‘funny bones’ also went in his favour.

Was it hard learning to do his tricks?

To an extent. It’s like Les Dawson playing the piano – you need to know how to do it well, to do it wrong. The hardest job was structuring the show, and deciding which gags and pieces made it in. He had a wealth of material.

What is your favourite Tommy Cooper routine?

So many! As a viewer, I’d say the ‘Empty Cabinet’ (where a cabinet was brought on, showed to be empty, covered by a curtain, uncovered… and was empty.) His timing and reactions are simply impeccable and has me howling with laughter every time I watch it. As a performer, there are at least six ‘surefire gags’ which have the audiences bent double in hysterics. I love performing them. Having a guaranteed giggle is wonderful. “I had a ploughman’s lunch yesterday. He wasn’t half mad!” Snappy stuff like that. Wonderful.