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Wild Willy Barrett
I had the privilege of seeing Phil Cool at the Swansea Grand Theatre in 1988. He was hysterically funny, like a human 'Spitting Image' puppet. Over the course of ninety minutes he took off Larry Hagman, Mick Jagger, Neil Kinnock, Richard Burton, John Hurt, Terry Wogan, The Pope, William Shatner, Ronald Reagan, and, of course, Rolf Harris - all brilliantly accomplished impersonations.
Cool was riding high on the success of his B.B.C.-2 show 'Cool It'. It was like a filmed version of his stage act, there were no sets and supporting actors, and there didn't need to be. Cool made it seem as though the stage was teeming with people. When he took off Quasimodo, you almost looked away in sheer terror.
The rubber-faced impressionist's first television series was the obscure 'Rock With Laughter' while his second was the deservedly-forgotten Chris Tarrant vehicle 'Saturday Stayback'. He was given a break by his friend Jasper Carrott, who executive produced 'Cool It'. I tuned in by accident one night, and could not stop laughing at the sight of Phil singing Simon & Garfunkel's 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' in the style of Rolf Harris. Phil doing Billy Connolly scratching his bum with a stick of celery during one of Andy and Fergie's dinner parties also had me shrieking. Another skit had Prince Charles becoming the new lead singer of Dire Straits. Cool's humour reflected what was happening in the world at the time, with Thatcher in No.10, and Reagan in The White House.
Cool's success did not last long. In the early 90's, he crossed over to I.T.V. to make 'Cool Head' which, although it had its moments, was nowhere near as funny as its predecessor. Health problems and changing public tastes sealed the fate of one of the funniest impressionists I have ever seen. An appearance on the now-defunct afternoon chat-show 'Today With Des & Mel' a year ago showed he still has got what it takes.
In today's multi-channel television environment, is it asking too much that Phil Cool be found a niche somewhere?
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