There are thousands of meticulously filed gags, props for his generally disastrous illusions, a tiara that he wore as a panto ugly sister – but a newly acquired Tommy Cooper archive has a significant gap.
I know, I know! said the V&A curator Simon Sladen, We don’t have a fez! That icon. If anyone has one they would like to donate, we would be more than delighted to accept.
The museum has acquired Cooper’s personal archive of jokes, personal correspondence, posters, photographs, programmes and props. But there is no example of his trademark fez, most of them having been sold over the years at memorabilia auctions.
The archive amounts to 116 boxes. Particularly interesting is how meticulous Cooper, known for his shambolic routines, was when it came to comedy. He kept rigorously organised A-Z files of jokes and long lists of precisely where props should be placed during his routines.
Sladen said: We enjoy watching him not knowing what is happening next, things going wrong, knocking things over. The only way you can do that effectively and with so much skill is with meticulous planning, and that is what is so interesting about the archive.
Cooper scrupulously catalogued thousands of his gags, so that if he wanted a joke about dancing, deafness, dentist, dieting, divorce or do-it-yourself, they were at his fingertips. The Bs include beatniks, birds, books, bowling, boxing and bullfighting.
The archive also contains numerous handwritten running orders and lists of audience lines such as Don’t laugh, I feel better than I look and I’m so nervous tonight I’m afraid I’ll say something funny. Many of his gags and ideas are written on the back of posters and cardboard from shirt packaging.
There are several stage props, including one for his head-twister illusion, and a tiara that Cooper wore as an ugly sister in a 1949-50 panto that toured Morecambe, Stockton and Oldham.
The archive has been acquired for an undisclosed sum from Cooper’s biographer, John Fisher. Given that Cooper died in 1984 – he had a heart attack during a performance at the London Palladium broadcast live on ITV – the acquisition has clearly not happened just like that.
The formality of how the museum world works means there were a lot of stages to go through, said Sladen. The final decision to acquire it was made on [the anniversary of] the day he passed away – we didn’t realise it at the time. It’s one of those odd moments when you think: gosh, this was definitely meant to be.
The news has been welcomed by Cooper’s friend Ken Dodd, who said in a statement: Tommy was truly a great and wondrous comedian. He possessed and was possessed by the comic spirit. He loved laughter and he loved to laugh. I’m sure he would have been very proud to see so many people enjoy his sense of humour.
Cooper’s daughter Vicky said the acquisition was wonderful. 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, she said.
A selection of material will go on display at the V&A’s theatre and performance galleries in the autumn, and the whole archive will be available for research once cataloguing has been completed.
Going through the archive has been absolutely wonderful and the problem is you’ve got to make sure you don’t get sidetracked with laughing too much, said Sladen.
It is a real privilege, very exciting, and I hope we will get people coming who are maybe starting out in comedy or people who want to tap into his mind, how he worked. He has done so much archiving for us that should anyone need a gag about a bicycle or a roof or a dog, we can find that very easily.
News Source TheGuardianNews