Saturday 22 October 2016

V&A buys comic legend Tommy Cooper's archive - just like that

Published 26/08/2016 | 10:36

Tommy Cooper was one of Britain's best-loved entertainers of the 20th century
Tommy Cooper was one of Britain's best-loved entertainers of the 20th century

Tommy Cooper's hand-written jokes are set to go on display at t he Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) after it bought the late comic's archive.

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The Tommy Cooper Collection does not contain the star's trademark red fez, but does feature props, posters and contracts, including those which went unfulfilled because of his sudden death following a heart attack on live TV in 1984.

It also features a metal cabinet containing Cooper's hand-written jokes, filed alphabetically "with the meticulousness of an archivist," of which only a small proportion were ever used.

Curators at the V&A said that the cabinet shed new light on the " previously unknown, scrupulously organised" working methods of the entertainer, best known for his bungling stage persona, absurd one-liners and his catchphrase, "just like that".

The collection, purchased from a private collector, John Fisher, includes the comedian and magician's writings and observations, some jotted down on the backs of posters and cardboard packaging.

Some of the 116 boxes of archive material will go on display at the V&A's Theatre and Performance Galleries in the autumn.

The collection features stage props such as Cooper's Head Twister illusion, details of early auditions at the BBC, personal correspondence, posters, theatre programmes and merchandise charting his career spanning almost four decades and a folio notebook full of his gags.

The museum already holds a collections celebrating key figures in British comedy, including Ronnie Barker, Tony Hancock, Dame Edna Everage and Morecambe and Wise.

Vicky Cooper, the daughter of the late entertainer, said that her father would have been delighted to see his belongings stand alongside those of so many comedy greats.

"It is wonderful that the V&A has acquired the Tommy Cooper Collection and that the public will get to see some of his material on display later this year," she said.

"I hope it brings as much enjoyment to people as he did when he was alive. My dad would be very proud knowing he was now represented in the National Collection of Theatre and Performance, sitting alongside the likes of Ronnie Barker's archive and costumes worn by Morecambe and Wise and Stan Laurel."

Tommy Cooper's friend and fellow entertainer Ken Dodd said: "Tommy was truly a great and wondrous comedian. He possessed and was possessed by the comic spirit.

"He loved laughter and he loved to laugh. I'm sure he would have been very proud to see so many people enjoy his sense of humour."

The V&A's senior curator of modern and contemporary performance Simon Sladen said: "The Tommy Cooper Collection offers a fascinating insight into one the best-loved entertainers of the 20th Century and reveals much about his practice, process and legacy.

"Although it doesn't contain one of his iconic fezzes, the rich collection contains thousands of hand-written gags as well as unique examples of his comedy props."

After an early career with the Army, Cooper went on to star in his own TV shows and become one of Britain's highest-paid and best-loved entertainers of the 20th Century.

He died at the age of 63, shortly after collapsing during a live broadcast from Her Majesty's Theatre, London, in April 1984.

The V&A said that it could not disclose how much it paid for the collection.

Press Association

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