8 February 2009 | Spondonman
"It's something that can't be taught" ...
... was said by Jean Cocteau to Maurice Chevalier. Someone imho even more irreplaceable was Tommy Cooper! He was an ungainly looking British comedian with a perpetually puzzled look on a face hewn out of stone under a red fez with a tassel, only ever telling the choicest old jokes. After they made him the mold broke of its own accord. He could reduce Spike Milligan to tears of laughter simply by doing nothing and have an entire audience laughing by modestly coughing on entering a pitch dark stage. In the '60's & '70's he routinely reduced me to tears of laughter too (and still does), ambling about on his TV shows trying to mix apparently amateur magic and hoary old gags. I couldn't help it – I knew what was coming next!
Tommy Cooper Hour broadcast 31.10.1973: he came back to the TV screen after a gap of a few years and starred in what turned out to be a total of 9 shows for UK ITV, with the magic and jokes, a couple of guest artists and some filmed short sketches which frankly never worked. But it was his delivery of those corny gags that could have you rocking – what can you say about a man who says he uses starch spray to get rid of flies so they glide out of the windows? Or appeared to be continually baffled by itching teeth, leaking upper lip, and a rather unsympathetic doctor and bizarre wife? Could anyone else make funny: "Last night a bloke said to me 'Have you seen a policeman?', 'No', 'Stick 'em up'"? Over the years I lost count of the number of times I saw him bumble through the Martini and Glass trick - who else could be as deliciously repetitive and get away with it? I know the idea has been tried many times but has anyone else ever managed to wear 2 halves of British and German military uniforms and play the 2 characters so unbelievably ridiculously by themselves? The answer will remain No, especially in these perfect days when only edgy (offensiveness to people or groups that won't kill you in return) and challenging (smuttiness becoming pornographic) humour is found worthwhile by the endlessly cynical perpetrators and recipients.
The marathon gag about Who pulled down the walls of Jericho (It wasn't me and if I knew I wouldn't tell you I wouldn't grass on anyone) was performed by Cooper and his part time straight man Allan Cuthbertson in Feb 1975 – it's Tommy Cooper encapsulated into 5 minutes. The shows are in such pristine condition on one Network DVD box-set that apart from pink shirts and hairstyles it's sometimes (very!) difficult to realise it was all 35 years ago and counting. There were highs and lows in each show of course but overall these are unforgettable and deathless performances by a unique individual.