tommy cooper bbc

BBC special celebrates Tommy Cooper’s 100th birthday and comedic legacy

A comedic legend...

Tommy Cooper is celebrated tonight on a BBC special and viewers of a certain age will remember that awful performance where he collapsed but did he die on stage?

Sir Lenny Henry will present a special tribute to the late comedian and magician.

It has now been 100 years since Tommy, a British comedian that once rivalled Morecambe and Wise in popularity, was born.

Here we take a look at Tommy’s life, tragic death and lasting legacy…

When was Tommy Cooper born?

Tommy was born on March 19 1921, in Glamorgan, Wales.

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His full name was Thomas Frederick Cooper.

tommy cooper
Tommy almost always wore his Fez hat (Credit: BBC)

What were some of his most famous jokes?

Tommy became a household name thanks to his hilarious prop and magician based jokes.

He was a member of The Magic Circle and an accomplished magician.

However, he gained fame by his jokey routine of ‘failed’ magician tricks.

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He also served time in the army. There are stories that when his magic tricks went wrong in front of his comrades, these earned the most laughs.

Whereas another story claims during a post WWII audition, his trick went wrong.

But the panel were in hysterics and said that should be his act.

tommy cooper
Do you remember this iconic comedian? (Credit: BBC)

Whereas he took his act to the BBC talent show New To You in 1948, which went down a treat with viewers.

This spurred a 40 year career in television, continually performing his failed magic shtick.

His famous catchphrase was: “Not like that, like this.”

Fellow comic Barry Cryer said Tommy’s whole life was dedicated to magic and jokes.

He said: “He hated not being the centre of attention.

“Whenever he felt he wasn’t, out would come the pack of cards and he’d start doing tricks to regain focus.”

Then adding: “He never spoke about current affairs or politics, just magic.”


When did Tommy Cooper die?

Tommy famously and tragically died in front of a live television audience.

The comedian was performing on the London Weekend Television show called Live From Her Majesty’s.

While on stage at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Westminster, London, he slumped down and subsequently collapsed.

Initially the host assumed it was part of the act and so did the audience.

sir lenny henry
Sir Lenny Henry hosts the BBC special (Credit: SplashNews)

The audience erupted in laughter assuming it was all part of the joke.

After his initial collapse, he slowly fell back onto the stage curtains.

However, the show’s director recognised something was very wrong, and switched to an unplanned break.

Tommy was pulled from the curtains and efforts were attempted to revive him backstage.

He was pronounced dead at arrival at Westminster Hospital.

But the show continued, and Les Dennis and Dustin Gee were two of the proceeding acts.

How old was Tommy Cooper when he died?

Tommy died on 15, April 1984. He was 63.

What was his cause of death?

Tommy Cooper died of a heart attack.

He was a heavy smoker and drinker for years, which may have contributed to his death.

Was he married? Did he have any children?

Tommy was married to Gwen Cooper up until his death.


They had two children – Victoria and Thomas.

Tragically, Thomas passed away from haemophilia aged just 32.

He also had a mistress, Mary Kay, for 17 years.

When is the Tommy Cooper special on?

The Tommy Cooper special is on Friday March 5 at 7.35pm.

It will be available to stream on BBC iPlayer shortly after it airs.

Will you be watching? Let us know on our Facebook page @EntertainmentDailyFix.

Nancy Brown
Associate Editor