New ITV Drama On Tommy Cooper: Just Like That

Recalling the life of the Chiswick comedian, who died thirty years ago


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Legendary comedian Tommy Cooper was a national treasure. And a Chiswick resident for almost 30 years.

“He was just a lovely, extraordinary one off,” explained David Threlfall, who plays him in a new TV drama, complete with size 13 shoes.

“Genius is over-used these days but if you look at the dictionary term...”

Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This is a two-hour single film on ITV at 9pm on Easter Monday.

David Threlfall as Tommy Cooper: (pic - ITV)

The drama includes several scenes shot at Tommy’s home in Barrowgate Road where he lived with wife Gwen - known as Dove - from 1955 until the day he died in 1984 while performing live on TV.

It was screened at BAFTA in London this week, exactly 30 years ago to the night that Tommy, aged 63, suffered a fatal heart attack on stage at nearby Her Majesty’s Theatre.

Simon Nye’s script focuses on the dilemma Tommy faced when he fell in love with his assistant Mary Kay (Helen McCrory) and embarked on a relationship that would last 17 years.

The comic magician was devoted to Dove (Amanda Redman) and their children, Tom Junior and Vicky. But could not choose between the two women he loved.

Tommy Cooper in characteristic pose

Tommy and Dove were familiar faces in their local pub The Hole In The Wall and had a sometimes stormy relationship.

Director Ben Caron told the BAFTA audience how the TV production team approached the current owners of Tommy’s house in Chiswick before filming began.

“About three years ago they bought the house from Tommy’s daughter Vicky and they had begun the process of modernising the house. And, of course, we wanted to go back in and un-modernise it back to how it was. So that took a bit of hand holding.

“They were huge Tommy Cooper fans and could see how passionate we were about the film. They understood what it would mean for the actors to go in there and re-create some of those scenes.

“We put in all the oak beams inside and had to re-paint everything - and un-modernise the kitchen. But they were incredibly supportive of that. I think actually because they want a Tommy Cooper plaque on the front of the house. And obviously we put it back to the modern version of the house afterwards.”

David recalled how the current owners found a box of “random” magic related items in the loft after they moved in. “There was half a trick and this and that. Extraordinary.”

Asked what if felt like to film in Tommy’s Chiswick home, he replied: “It was a bit spooky, actually. I found it a bit odd.

“It’s extremely daunting to play somebody like that. I’ve had a go at royalty in the past but nothing like this - we wanted to do right by him.”

Tommy Cooper's former home in Chiswick

Executive producer Andy Harries has lived in W4 since the 1980s. He said: “When I went to the nearest pub to my house in Chiswick, I discovered it was the very pub that Tommy and Dove used to drink in.

“It was full of the old stories of Tommy and Dove turning up and getting completely blasted and him carrying her home. Or her carrying him home. It just fascinated me.

“Their house is just round the corner from where I live, so those stories in Chiswick permeated and sank in and I started thinking about it. I thought it would be great for ITV to do it. To make a story that celebrated Tommy but also, obviously, was quite a dark story in many senses.”

While indeed a celebration of Tommy with a great deal of laughter, the film does not shy away from that darker side - his heavy drinking and violence towards both Dove and Mary.

“I don’t want to be judgemental about it. It is what it is,” maintained David.

Simon Nye added: “He was physical with his wife and she gave as good as she got. Obviously drink was a huge influence. The quantities were enormous from all accounts.”

One scene in the film shows the couple brawling on the Thames towpath after drinking at the “Blue Anchor Chiswick” - actually shot at the Blue Anchor pub by Hammersmith Bridge.

Simon said Tommy often came off far worse when Dove launched into him. But Mary was different.

"It’s on the record. I hope we did it in a delicate way and didn’t linger unnecessarily. But she did put up with a lot.

“You don’t want people who don’t know Tommy’s comedy as well as others to go away thinking, ‘Well, this is a wife beater.’ But he was physical.”

Threlfall with Amanda Redman as Dove (pic-iTV)

Tommy suffered his first heart attack in 1977, just before he was due to go on stage to entertain executives at a corporate event in Italy.

The drama shows Dove visiting him in a Rome hospital and Tommy making light of his cardiac arrest, telling her, “I’ll go to the chemist in Chiswick, see what they’ve got.”

Sadly, there was to be no recovery from another heart attack during ITV’s Live From Her Majesty’s show on Sunday April 15 1984.

Dove, Tom Junior and Mary are now also dead, leaving Vicky as the sole survivor. She is said to approve of this screen depiction of her father.

I saw Tommy and his wife just the once in Chiswick - at the now long gone Emperor pub on Chiswick High Road a few years before he died. He was a big man who entertained both on stage and off and was adored everywhere he went.

As the peals of laughter in the packed BAFTA audience demonstrated, his timeless brand of comedy has not dated.

A clown who had to be an expert at magic tricks in order to do them so badly, with a huge amount of work, skill and experience going into his act.

For as Tommy points out in the film, “A serious business, comedy.”

Now how about that plaque?

Ian Wylie


April 16, 2014

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