"He was possessed by the comic spirit": See 11 exhibits as the V&A buys the collection of comedy great Tommy Cooper

By Culture24 Reporter | 30 August 2016

A shambolic showbusinessman needs a neat archive. The V&A now owns a mountain of Tommy Cooper memorabilia, and plans to put it on show

A photo of props and photos belonging to the comedian and magician tommy cooper
© The Tommy Cooper Estate. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London
There are more than 116 boxes of archive material in the Tommy Cooper Collection, according to the V&A, as well as 24 props and posters. The Gag File - Cooper’s system for storing his jokes, most of which were never used – is one of them.

A photo of props and photos belonging to the comedian and magician tommy cooper
The gag file© The Tommy Cooper Estate. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Cooper might have cultivated a bungling persona, but his working methods were scrupulously organised, say curators. The leftovers are meticulously ordered in alphabetical order.

A photo of props and photos belonging to the comedian and magician tommy cooper
This tiara was worn by Cooper for his appearance as an Ugly Sister in a Syd Seymour's production of Cinderella. The production toured Morecambe, Stockton and Oldham during the 1949-1950 pantomime season© The Tommy Cooper Estate. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Of Cooper’s writings, some are jotted down on the backs of posters and shirt packaging cardboard. The legal documents show contracts between 1946 and his death in 1984. Some of them were never fulfilled.

A photo of props and photos belonging to the comedian and magician tommy cooper
Cooper's sketch for props layout (circa 1970s)© The Tommy Cooper Estate. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London
“I’m sure he would have been very proud to see so many people enjoy his sense of humour,” says Ken Dodd. “He possessed and was possessed by the comic spirit.

A photo of props and photos belonging to the comedian and magician tommy cooper
This handwritten running order set out a performance featuring comedy magic tricks during the 1960s© The Tommy Cooper Estate. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London
“He loved laughter. Tommy was truly a great and wondrous comedian.”

A photo of props and photos belonging to the comedian and magician tommy cooper
The 'Head-Twister' illusion© The Tommy Cooper Estate. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London
His greatness began as a teenager carrying out failed magic tricks in the canteen of a firm where he was an apprentice shipbuilder in the Hampshire torn of Hythe. Cooper served with the Horse Guards during World War Two and performed with the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes.

A photo of props and photos belonging to the comedian and magician tommy cooper
Card props© The Tommy Cooper Estate. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London
During a spell with the Combined Services Entertainment, Cooper met the jazz musician Miff Ferrie, the Entertainments Director at London’s Windermere Club who would give him his first gig, in November 1947, months after unsuccessful auditions at the Windmill Theatre and with the BBC.

A photo of props and photos belonging to the comedian and magician tommy cooper
Props table plan for an act during the 1970s© The Tommy Cooper Estate. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Ferrie managed Cooper throughout a career in which he performed for the Queen and became one of Britiain’s most original (and highest-paid) entertainers of the last century. Vicky, one of his two children, lived at the family home in Chiswick, where Cooper spent 29 years.

A photo of props and photos belonging to the comedian and magician tommy cooper
A poster for The Tommy Cooper Show at the Palace Theatre, Blackpool (1968)© The Tommy Cooper Estate. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London
“The public will get to see some of his material on display later this year,” she says. “I hope it brings as much enjoyment to people as he did when he was alive.

A photo of props and photos belonging to the comedian and magician tommy cooper
The trombone band part for a Tommy Cooper performance during the 1970s© The Tommy Cooper Estate. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London
“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.”

A photo of props and photos belonging to the comedian and magician tommy cooper
Audience lines for use in a 1960s act© The Tommy Cooper Estate. Photo: Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The archive, which will be made available for research and catalogued in the V&A’s online collections, is the latest at the museum dedicated to a torchbearer of British comedy: Dame Edna Everage, Tony Hancock, Ronnie Barker and Morecambe and Wise are among his fellow luminaries of mirth.

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