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Tommy Cooper

Updated on October 5, 2009

Tommy Cooper was born Thomas Frederick Cooper on the 19th March 1921 in Caerphilly Wales. Although technically Welsh, it was Devon that gave him his identity and his faint West Country burr - after his parents moved there shortly after his birth.

Tommy Cooper was known for making a complete mess of his magic tricks wrong and carrying on regardless, although he was actually an accomplished magician.

He was physically huge at 6 feet 4 inches and more than 15 stone and he played up his gangliness to huige comedic effect.


Tommy Cooper's trade-mark fez started whilst entertaining the troops in the NAFFI in Egypt during the second world war. Short of a pith helmet prop for his act, he whipped off a nearby waiters Fez and used that instead. The laugh he got for putting on a Fez was noted and the Fez became a permanent trade mark of Tommy Cooper's act.

After leaving the Army in 1947, Tommy went on to a full time profession as a Music Hall stand-up comic. His television debut was on 24 December 1947 in the Leslie Henson Christmas Show. Despite a promising start, his career dried up and Tommy returned to live Variety Theatre to eek out a living. By the mid-50's he was doing one off television specials such as Saturday Showtime and Sunday Night at the London Palladium.

These appearances were followed in 1957 by his first Television series for Associated-Rediffussion called Life with Cooper. It went out live on Monday night for 12 weeks and was such a success that even before the run was finished the studio had offered him another series. In 1958 the series was called Coopers Capers, again for ATV. A variety of TV shows and appearances followed (e.g. The Billy Cotton Band Show) and Tommy's career went from strength to strength. By the mid 60's he had firmly established himself as one of Britain's best loved comedians and was distinctive in his bright red Fez. Other TV shows followed (Life with Cooper, Cooper's Half Hour etc.,).

Tommy Cooper was a fully paid up member of the Magic Circle despite this apparent ineptitude and worked long hours to perfect the tricks and gags that were a feature of his shows. His entertaining mixed magic skills helped him to migrate to television. You could always rely on Tommy to get it wrong which was of course half the fun and the thing that endeared him to so many.In 1977 Cooper had a heart attack while in Rome, and after lung trouble he had to forgo his affection for cigars.

On 15 April 1984 he collapsed on the stage of Her Majesty's Theatre, London, while appearing in a 'live' television show; indeed, as the curtains closed on him, many viewers imagined his tumble to be part of his clowning. He was taken to Westminster Hospital, where he was adjudged dead.

An eye witness account comes from one of his great friends and colleagues, Jimmy Tarbuck, who was working with him at the time. Tarbuck was behind the curtain on stage, ready to hand out a prop to Cooper for a joke magician act. Tarbuck was watching on a monitor behind the curtain as a female assistant wrapped a long cloak around Cooper and fastened it round his neck, when Cooper apparently made a small noise and very slowly collapsed, falling to his knees with the cloak still around him. The audience assumed it was part of the act, but the advert break was quickly brought on and the curtains wrapped around Cooper. Tarbuck believed he was already dead at that time.


  • I'm on a whiskey diet. I've lost three days already!
  • I was cleaning out the atic the other day with the wife. Filthy, dirty and covered with cobwebs.... but she's good with the kids....
    I slept like a log last night. I woke up in a fireplace.....
  • I was in Margate last year for the summer season. A friend of mine said, "You want to go to Margate, it's good for rheumatism." So I did, and I got it....
  • "He said 'I'm going to chop off the bottom of one of your trouser legs and put it in a library.' I thought 'That's a turn-up for the books."
  • "And the back of his anorak was leaping up and down, and people were chucking money to him. I said 'Do you earn a living doing that?' He said 'Yes, this is my livelihood.'
  • "So I was getting into my car, and this bloke says to me "Can you give me a lift?" I said "Sure, you look great, the world's your oyster, go for it.'"
  • "You know, somebody actually complimented me on my driving today. They left a little note on the windscreen, it said 'Parking Fine.' So that was nice."
  • "So I went down my local ice-cream shop, and said 'I want to buy an ice-cream'. He said Hundreds & thousands?' I said 'We'll start with one.' He said 'Knickerbocker glory?' I said 'I do get a certain amount of freedom in these trousers, yes.'
  • I went to Millets and said 'I want to buy a tent.' He said 'To camp?', I said [butchly] 'Sorry, I want to buy a tent.' I said 'I also want to buy a caravan.' He said 'Camper?' I said [campily] 'Make your mind up.'
  • "So I was in my car, and I was driving long, and my boss rang up, and he said 'You've been promoted.' And I swerved. And then he rang up a second time and said "You've been promoted again.' And I swerved again. He rang up a third time and said 'You're managing director.' And I went into a tree. And a policeman came up and said 'What happened to you?' And I said 'I careered off the road.'
  • So I went to the dentist. He said "Say Aaah." I said "Why?" He said "My dog's died.'"
  • "Now, most dentist's chairs go up and down, don't they? The one I was in went back and forwards. I thought 'This is unusual'. And the dentist said to me 'Mr Cooper, get out of the filing cabinet.'"
  • "So I got home, and the phone was ringing. I picked it up, and said 'Who's speaking please?' And a voice said 'You are.'"
  • "So I rang up my local swimming baths. I said 'Is that the local swimming baths?' He said 'It depends where you're calling from.'"
  • "So I rang up a local building firm, I said 'I want a skip outside my house.' He said 'I'm not stopping you.' 
  • "Apparently, 1 in 5 people in the world are Chinese. And there are 5 people in my family, so it must be one of them. It's either my mum or my dad. Or my older brother Colin. Or my younger brother Ho-Chan-Chu. But I think it's Colin."
  • Two fat blokes in a pub, one says to the other "Your round." The other one says "So are you, you fat bastard"
  • Two cannibals eating a clown. One says to the other "Does this taste funny to you?"
  • Police arrested two kids yesterday, one was drinking battery acid, the other was eating fireworks. They charged one and let the other one off.
  • A blind bloke walks into a shop with a guide dog. He picks the dog up and starts swinging it around his head. Alarmed, a shop assistant calls out: 'Can I help, sir?' 'No thanks,' says the blind bloke. 'Just looking.'
  • "Cos it's strange, isn't it. You stand in the middle of a library and go 'Aaaaaaagghhhh' and everyone just stares at you. But you do the same thing on an aeroplane, and everyone joins in".
  • I went to the dentist. He said my teeth are fine, my gums will have to come out.
  • I've always been unlucky. I had a rocking horse once, and it died.
  • I went out for a meal last night. I ordered everything in French.Everyone looked surprised, it was a Chinese restaurant.
    I said to the waiter, I said 'This chicken I've got is cold'. He said 'I should think so. It's been dead for two weeks' 'Not only that', I said, 'It's got one leg shorter than the other'. He said 'What do you want to do, eat it or dance with it? 'Anyway, I said to the waiter, 'Forget the chicken, bring me a lobster. So he brought a lobster. I said 'Just a minute, it's only got one claw.' He said 'It's been in a fight'. I said 'Bring me the winner'.
  • I backed this horse at twenty to one - it came in at half past four. It was so late, it had to tiptoe back to the stables.
  • I had a dream last night, I was eating a ten pound marshmallow. I woke up this morning and the pillow was gone.
  • Did you hear about the short-sighted bank robber? He went into the bank, he said 'Stick 'em up. Are they up?'
  • I was walking up the road the other night, a man came out of a doorway. He said 'Have you seen a policeman round here?' I said 'No'. He said 'Stick 'em up'.
  • I've been offered a part in a film. It's a very sympathetic part.Very sympathetic. I'll give you a rough idea of what it is.
    The scene opens. It's a thatched cottage, all made of thatch.There's violins going. There's a dear old lady sitting in an armchair, there. And a dear old man sitting in an armchair, there. There's a baby in a cot, and a dog on the mat. And I have this very sympathetic part.
    I creep in through the door, and hit the old man on the top of the head. He doesn't say much, he just goes 'ooh'. It wasn't loud, it was just 'ooh'. Then I stab the old lady in the back. She doesn't like it. Then I strangle the baby.
    Now, this is where the sympathetic part comes in. On the way out, I pat the dog.
  • The other day I asked an expert his opinion on my collection. The expert said "You've got a Rembrandt and a Stradiverius - unfortunately Stradiverius was a terrible painter and Rembrandt made rotten violins".

Tommy Cooper Photos and Posters


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    • Fuller_legend profile image

      Fuller_legend 7 years ago from Stoke-On-Trent, England

      I never saw much of Tommy Cooper but some of those quotes are superb. The one about 1 in 5 chinese people was briliant. Great hub. Very very funny.