COOPER, Tommy (1921-1984)
Plaque erected in 2016 by English Heritage at 51 Barrowgate Road, Chiswick, London, W4 4QT, London Borough of Hounslow
Radio and Television
TOMMY COOPER 1921-1984 Comedian lived here 1955-1984
Tommy Cooper was one of Britain’s best-loved comedians. He is commemorated with a blue plaque at 51 Barrowgate Road in Chiswick, where he lived with his family for almost 30 years.
It was in the canteen of a shipyard in Hythe, Hampshire, that Thomas Frederick Cooper first developed the act for which he would later became famous – as the hapless and incompetent magician with size 13 feet. ‘The more I panicked and made a mess of everything,’ he recalled of a mistake-strewn Christmas show, ‘the more they laughed.’
The son of a Welsh miner, Cooper acquired his distinctive Devon burr in Exeter, where the family moved to when he was three years old, relocating to Hampshire six years later. Cooper perfected his hapless magician routine while entertaining the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes during his war service. Deployed near Suez, he was shot in the arm in 1943 and placed in Army Welfare, which prompted him to audition, successfully, for a travelling Army concert party. He adopted his trademark red fez while with the Combined Entertainment Services unit in Cairo, and while there also met his future wife, Gwendoline Henty, a civilian entertainer from Eastbourne.
LONDON AND FAME
Cooper arrived in London in 1947. Influenced by the performers Max Miller, Bob Hope and Laurel and Hardy, the 26 year-old comic’s first professional stage job in England was working as a stooge for Harry Tate Junior, son of the great music hall sketch comedian. Along with many of his contemporaries in the late 1940s, he honed his skills in the music halls and at the Windmill Theatre.
He was turned down by the BBC in 1947 for his ‘nonchalant approach, poor diction and unpleasant manner’. Nevertheless he eventually came to fame with It’s Magic in 1952. From around 1956, most of his television work was for the newly created Independent Television (ITV), including Cooper (or Life with Tommy) (1957), Cooper’s Capers (1958) and Cooperama (1966). By 1968 he was beating Coronation Street in the ratings and his friend Eric Sykes described him as ‘the biggest thing in the country’.
COOPER AT HOME
Cooper moved into 51 Barrowgate Road in 1955 and lived there for the rest of his life, sharing the detached Edwardian house with his wife and their children, Vicky and Thomas. Thomas was born in 1956 and christened locally at Christ Church in Turnham Green, where the guests included Norman Wisdom and Harry Seacombe.
By the 1960s the Chiswick location proved very convenient for Tommy’s work for Thames Television and London Weekend Television, which filmed at Teddington. Cooper regularly entertained friends and colleagues at number 51, including Roy Hudd, Eric Sykes and Jimmy Tarbuck.
The house was stuffed with Cooper’s props and magic-shop gadgets, and even more boxes of these were found in the attic during the filming of a 2014 ITV drama. Cooper’s funeral was held nearby at Mortlake Crematorium, after which his son scattered his ashes in the back garden, over his father’s favourite daffodils. Like the dragons that adorned the rockery, these were reminders of Tommy’s Welsh roots.