One of the best loved British comedians of all time, Tommy Cooper was a legend in himself. Born as Thomas Frederick Cooper, the lanky lad always had an affinity for magic. At the time of his birth his parents were told that he might not survive infancy; not only did he survive, but he also grew up to be a giant of a young man, towering at 6” 4 inches. A magic set gifted by his aunt when he was a kid laid the foundation for his future career. He was employed as a magician on a boat when he was just 16. However his first performance was a failure and people started to laugh. Though hurt at that time, he realized that he could develop a unique style of entertainment if he could combine magic with comedy, and that is what he did. He had to serve in the army during the World War II and during a performance at Cairo he could not find his regular hat and in an impromptu move grabbed a red fez—a traditional hat—and placed it on his head. The audience started laughing so hard at this gesture that the fez became a trademark of the comedian.
- He was born as the son of army recruiting Sergeant Thomas Cooper and his wife Gertrude in South Wales.When Tommy was three, the family moved to Devon where he acquired the West Country accent that became a part of his act.He went to Mount Radford School for Boys.His aunt gifted him a magic set when he was eight years old. He enthusiastically practiced the tricks till he perfected them.He was appointed as a magician on a boat when he was 16. The young boy had a stage fright and messed up his magical acts. The performance was a failure and the audience laughed hard.The boat debacle hurt him badly, but on retrospect he realized that he could develop a really funny routine by combining failed magic tricks with comedy.Career
- He enlisted in the army when the World War II broke out. He became a trooper in the Royal Horse Guards regiment of the British Army in 1940.He was a part of the Montgomery’s Desert Rats that served in Egypt.As a member of the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (NAAFI) entertainment party, he began polishing his magical skills and comedy. He developed a routine that combined magic with comedy, and was looking for opportunities to perfect this act.Once while performing in Cairo, he was required to wear a costume that included a pith helmet. He misplaced the helmet, and in order to quickly find a replacement he grabbed a fez from a waiter’s head and placed it on his own. The audience simply loved this gesture and started laughing really hard! Thus was born his trademark red fez.After serving in the army for seven years, he was demobilized in 1947 and made his entry into the show business.He met Miff Ferrie, a trombonist with the band The Jackdaws, who helped him gain employment with the band in 1947. He performed as a comedian in the show ‘Marqueeze and the Dance of the Seven Veils’.He spent the next two years touring Europe and performing. He put a lot of hard work in building up his career and at one time he performed 52 shows in a week at the Windmill Theatre.He made his television debut on the BBC talent show ‘New to You’ in March 1948. The success of this show led to a highly acclaimed television career as a stand-up comedian.He enjoyed great popularity during the 1950-60s as a magician and comedian. Even though he often deliberated messed up his acts for comic effect, he was in fact a very skilled magician.He starred in his own shows on the London Weekend Television from 1968 to 1972. He also did shows with Thames television from 1973 to 1980.He was one of the best loved comedians of the 1970s. He had an inherent comic quality about him that made people laugh even before he started performing.Though he was successful in his career but as a man he could not escape his vices. He was a big time alcoholic and by the mid-1970s this habit began taking its toll on his professional as well as personal life.He died of a heart attack while performing on the variety show ‘Live From Her Majesty’s’ which was being televised live to millions of viewers across the world in 1984.Major Works
- He is mainly remembered as the large funnyman with a red fez who made millions of his viewers laugh over a career spanning almost four decades. Cooper was an intrinsically funny person--his very presence could make people laugh—and that is the quality that made him immortal in the minds of his fans.Personal Life & Legacy
- He was married to Gwen Henty from 1947 till his death. They had two children.He was addicted to alcohol and this created havoc with his married life. He physically abused his wife who had to seek help for dealing with this domestic violence.He had an affair with his personal assistant Mary Fieldhouse from 1967 till his death.He had a heart attack on 15 April 1984 while performing live for a television variety show. He was taken to the hospital where he was declared brought dead.Trivia
- He was voted the sixth greatest comedy act ever by fellow comedians in a 2005 poll ‘The Comedians’ Comedian’.He had the same agent over his entire career.
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