As a youngster I always loved it when Tommy Cooper was on the TV. I found him so appealing as everything about him made me laugh; his bonkers magic tricks, his zany hair, ridiculous jokes and of course his iconic fez hat! (I don’t know why this hat should tickle me quite so much, but it just did!) His raucous laugh was infectious and never failed to bring a smile to my face. Given this childhood fascination and admiration I was more than a little shocked when I read the preview of ITV’s programme ‘Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This.’
Promising a no holds barred story of the man behind the magic I feared my all time favourite Cooper catch-phrase, “just like that” would soon fall from my good graces. Acting great David Threlfall faced the daunting task of bringing this much loved British icon to life, which he was able to do with impeccable skill and humanity, whilst delivering a warts and all performance of this brilliant but often troubled talent. The resemblance to the late, great Cooper was eerily uncanny, and amounted to far more than just a prosthetic nose. His laugh, mannerisms and even the way he carried himself was a joy to behold – I really felt like I was watching the man himself.
Threlfall was joined by an impressive supporting cast, with the ever likeable Amanda Redman’s strong performance as Tommy’s supportive and long suffering wife Dove, and Helen McCrory providing a gentle and moving portrayal of his long term mistress, Mary. Both the jokes and the magic featured remained as brilliant as ever; and as adult I’m now able to fully appreciate the ‘whiskey diet’ joke, (having myself lost the odd day to it.) Yet behind all the laughter and seeming cuddliness, was a man who liked a drink, but didn’t like having to pay for it, who liked a fight, but with those who couldn’t always fight back. Watching the depiction of the physical abuse he inflicted on Mary was particularly difficult, given my childhood feelings of hero worship, despite being necessary to the narrative.
Despite his many faults, the women in his life remained with him till the very end, with Mary finally forgiving him for what he’d done. It was both emotional and poignant to see how the years of drink and hard living eventually took their toll. In the end though, and during a live TV performance, even his magic couldn’t save him as he collapsed on stage in front of a laughing audience, who assumed it was just part of his act. He died as he lived, making people laugh; and for a comedian who thrived on the adoration and laughter of his audience maybe there was no better to way to go than to always leave them laughing.