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29 December 2011

Tommy Cooper: The Untold Story (Updated)

Tommy Cooper: The Untold Story turned out, for me at least, to be the best piece of television over the last festive season -2011. It was, excuse the pun,  a real Christmas Cracker.

Cooper and the fez
This superb Channel 4 documentary tells the story of the real Tommy Cooper: the abusive, alcoholic comedian who had a long term affair with his personnel assistant, Mary Kay, whilst married to Gwen - the woman he frequently hit, but loved and could never have lived without.

This fascinating, if not sad, account was pieced together using recently unearthed letters, unheard audio clips, interviews, rare footage and, most importantly, Miff Ferrie's (Cooper's agent) meticulously kept diary which seems to detail his every interaction and involvement with the great man and lays bare the facts about the very troubled life of one of this countries best loved comedians.

It seems that Cooper had a love-hate or even a hate-hate relationship with his agent. Apparently, he wanted to break free of this man he, and others, thought was a controlling idiot with no sense of humour, but he never did: perhaps he realised that this was the only man who could hold everything together for him, when he himself was letting it fall apart. Bruce Forsyth, who was also managed for a short period by Ferrie, also felt the same way about the agent. Forsyth, However, did make the break.

"I went to the doctor the other day, I said, 'It hurts when I do that.' He said, 'Well, don't do it then.'

Tommy Cooper never failed to make us laugh. He was a respected member of The Magic Circle and adored by the British public. He was famed for his magic act where tricks intentionally went wrong for comedy purposes. A giant of a man (6 foot 4 inches) with a gruff voice, flat feet, crazy hair and a red fez would lumber on stage and get a laugh without doing a thing. He looked a disaster waiting to happen and that's what made him so funny. He was a one off and his like will never be seen again. But his professionalism and perfection on stage were far from matched off stage.

His alcoholism led to wife beating. Gwen, his wife, threatened to leave him on several occasions but she never did and, even though he continued his affair with Mary until the day he died, he never considered leaving her.

Glass, Bottle, Bottle, Glass
His heavy drinking and smoking did, in the end, take its toll on Cooper's health. A heart attack, in 1977, while in Rome performing for IBM executives, should have been the warning to slow down his self destructive habits but it did not. Three Months later he was back in a television show but now his heavy drinking was interfering severely with his performing ability, he had become a shadow of his former self, and 1980 Thames Television refused to give him another starring series.

"I went to the dentist he said my teeth are okay but my gums have got to come out"

On the 15th April 1984 millions of views - I was one - watched London Weekend Television's variety show "Live from her Majesty's" not realising that this was to be Coopers last ever performance. And this Channel 4 documentary -The Untold Story - shows for the first time since his death portions of his last performance including his collapse.

Tommy Cooper - Just Like That

In Conclusion

Despite this programmes painfully honest profile that exposes the destructive demons that drove Cooper to drink and violence there are also moments when celebrity fans including Ozzy Osbourne, Roger Moore, Johnny Vegas, Damien Hurst, Bruce Forsyth, David Hamilton, Eric Sykes, Ken Dodd, Barry Cryer and more all talk about their love of Cooper and they also remind us of the real magic and genius of the man that was Tommy Cooper.

I'm not sure when Channel 4 will be repeating this programme but when it is I really recommend you take peek. It is, however, available, in five parts, on You Tube. Below, and for your convenience, are all those parts. So, sit back, relax and watch this gem of a documentary at your leisure.


Andy Kirk said...

Hope you enjoyed this Blog as much as I enjoyed the program, it is essential viewing for all Cooper fans, magicians and lovers of great comedy. Well done Channel 4!

Andy Kirk said...

And don't forget it's easy to share this blog now, just click on the floating toolbar to the left and away you go. Thanks for reading...