“I got the military cross. Mind you, I got the Navy a bit annoyed as well!” is just one of those classic one liners from the legendary Tommy Cooper,
He was one of my all time favourite comedians, and despite what people may think he actually was a talented magician. But there is so much more to the man.
He was born on the 19th of March 1921, at 19 Llwyn On Street, Trecenydd in Caerphilly, Wales . His father was a Welshman, , was as a recruiting sergeant for the British army, later coal miner . His mother, Gertrude, was English, coming from Crediton in Devon. The Coopers did not own the house but were merely lodging there. Apparently, in those pre-maternity hospital days, Tommy was born at home and the owner of the house acted as the midwife for the birth. To escape from the heavily polluted air of Caerphilly, Tommy’s dad accepted a new job and the family moved to Exeter, Devon, when Cooper was three.
In 1940 he was called up as a trooper in the Royal Horse Guards. He joined Montgomery’s Desert Rats in Egypt.
After a short while, his reconnaissance unit was sent to North Africa working in conjunction with armoured cars and tanks. He then lost his A1 rating after he received a gunshot wound to his left arm. This allowed him to audition, with great success, for the army concert party.
He became the Horse Guards boxing champion, he was so good that he was offered a contract to turn pro.
While serving, he travelled to Egypt and began to develop his act incorporating the now iconic trademark fez.
His famous red fez was introduced rather luckily during a NAAFI concert. The concert took place in a Y.M.C.A. in Cairo. Tommy was going to wear his pith helmet but he had somehow mislaid it. Quick as a flash he “borrowed” an Egyptian waiter’s hat instead. during the audition, his trick went wrong. But the panel were in hysterics and said that should be his act.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
His life ended tragically though. On April 15 1984 he died in front of a live television audience.
The comedian was performing on the London Weekend Television show called Live From Her Majesty’s. While on stage at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Westminster, London, he slumped down and subsequently collapsed.
Initially the host assumed it was part of the act and so did the audience. The audience erupted in laughter assuming it was all part of the joke. After his initial collapse, he slowly fell back onto the stage curtains.
However, the show’s director recognised something was very wrong, and switched to an unplanned break. Tommy was pulled from the curtains and efforts were attempted to revive him backstage. He was pronounced dead at arrival at Westminster Hospital.
But the show continued, and Les Dennis and Dustin Gee were two of the proceeding acts.
Although I did not go into the comedy of Tommy Cooper in this blog. I could not end it without one of his famous gags. “Spoon, Jar, Jar, Spoon”