The year 1969 saw Tommy Cooper graduate from guest appearances to his own show. There would be subsequent series for the next decade.
Cooper's strength lay in his own unique, carefully worked style. He had the appearance almost of an amateur entertainer for children's birthday parties who had accidentally blundered into an adult forum. An improbable mix of full dress-suit and small red fez looked like the hasty selections of an inexperienced 'straight' entertainer ineptly attempting to be original. And that was pretty-well reflected in his act.
Despite being an accomplished magician and member of The Magic Circle, at some stage he found that he could draw more laughs if his tricks went wrong. Shrewdly he sensed that most people get as big a buzz watching slick entertainers foul-up as seeing their successful illusions. And he played that card for all it was worth. His unique mix of childish gags and wobbly magic, tinged with an ever-present edge of clumsiness could reduce most people to a laugh-out-loud response.
In fact, he became so good at his style; the big ungainly man constantly glancing about with a look half of confidence and half in bewilderment, that he really didn't need to do much else. That posture, that expression would set people laughing entirely on its own. No other comedian had such aptitude. Whilst added to this, an expressive laugh that could shift from a seemingly private, distracted chuckle to a great foghorn guffaw during moments of triumph was no less a trademark. That laugh was itself a unique pose; how many entertainers could get away with showing so much satisfaction at their own ability?
Tommy Cooper was a hilarious phenomenon. Some of his other sketches, always tinged with that carefully nurtured amateurishness, were no less funny. The story told by multiple characters, each represented by a different hat drawn from a box, a similar stunt employing two half-uniforms each worn on his left and right sides, were popular classics. He would sometimes exaggerate the clumsy persona by pretending to accidentally hurt himself with the props.
And yet, underneath it all he was so modest that he suffered desperate pre-show nervous stress.
Never once was he crude or cruel, just a harmless, hilarious clown who could be watched by toddlers and adults alike. The modern breed of vicious, abusive stand-up comics can never hope to stand in his shoes.
Tommy Cooper was the funniest Britain ever, it's as simple as that. No; not like that - like that.
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