‘Just Like That’ the Tommy Cooper show comes to the Tabard in Chiswick

Image above: John Hewer as Tommy Cooper; photograph Steve Ullathorne

“A goldmine of comic material”, most of which has never been seen by today’s audiences

Tommy Cooper used to live in Chiswick, in Barrowgate Rd, where there is now a blue plaque to mark his house. Famously he died on stage, doing his act, entertaining the audience with magic tricks which mostly ‘went wrong’ and telling gags to cover his ’embarrassment’.

“He absolutely loved touring” says John Hewer, who is performing a one man show of his magic tricks and gags at the Tabard on Sunday (2 April). “He loved appearing in working men’s clubs. Some of his contemporaries, like Frankie Howerd, once they were on TV, stopped touring, but he didn’t, which is why so much of his material was never recorded.”

With the permission of Tommy’s daughter, John has set about recreating the act to bring the genius of Tommy Cooper to a whole new generation.

John was not born until several years after Tommy Cooper had died, but was brought up on his comedy, introduced to it by his father. He appreciates the work of the wartime generation of comedy actors – Ronnie Barker, Alastair Sim, Terry Thomas, Margaret Rutherford and shows such as Fawlty Towers and Dad’s Army which entertained the baby boomer generation.

It was when he came home from an unpleasant encounter with a dentist and thought “what can I do to cheer myself up?” that he hit on the idea of making a show fron Tommy Cooper’s scripts, watching his old videos.

“70% his output is no longer available to watch because it was performed live on stage and never recorded.”

Image above: John Hewer as Tommy Cooper in Just Like That

“Impish, childlike humour – There was nothing satirical, political or nasty”

John describes himself as primarily an actor and a writer, definitely not a comedian himself, but a character actor. His show is not in the style of Tommy Cooper or inspired by Tommy Cooper. In Just Like That he is doing his level best to be Tommy Cooper, impersonating his mannerisms and using his scripts.

I asked if anyone who knew the real Tommy Cooper had seen the show. Yes, he said, both the actor Leslie Phillips, who had performed with him, and Barry Cryer, who had written for him, had seen the show.

“Barry Cryer was kind enough to say there were moments when he felt his old mucker was there with him on the stage again.”

For those young enough not to have seen him on television, whose parents did not provide them with the singular education John’s did, Tommy Cooper is instantly recognisable by his red fez and catchline ‘Just like that’ (as in: How did he do a trick? “Just like that”, with a swish of the hands).

“His humour was innocent, impish, childlike. There was nothing satirical, political or nasty. It was the biggest in-joke in the industry that here was a guy who really could do magic, pretending he couldn’t do it.

“He got the tricks right about one in five times and always seemed surprised at the outcome, which made the act feel fresh, and he hung all the shaggy dog stories, the ‘dad’ jokes around the magic.”

Image above: John Hewer as Tommy Cooper; photograph Jack Lovett

“The joy of Tommy Cooper is you can put a fez on anyone and immediately they’re Tommy Cooper. My job is to sustain it over an hour and a half”

John had previously made a successful show from the lost episodes of Tony Hancock, so he already had a good reputation for treating his subject’s material sensitively when he approached Tommy’s daughter Victoria for the rights.

She wanted to know his motivation and was satisfied that the show was a genuine homage, that John just wanted to bring her father’s genius to a new audience and get paid for mining a “goldmine” of comic scripts.

The show is the product of many hours of study, watching and re-watching videos and transcribing gags, getting his timing and his mannerisms, and picking up his rhythm.

“If I do a trick wrong unintentionally, I feel bad.”

At six foot three he has Tommy Cooper’s presence, but he does not look like him. Does it matter?

“The joy of Tommy Cooper is you can put a fez on anyone and immediately they’re Tommy Cooper. My job is to sustain it over an hour and a half.”

Which he does with the help of his good friend Christopher Peters and a piano. Just Like That is presented by Theatre at the Tabard on Sunday 2 April. Tickets from the theatre website.


Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Vanessa Redgrave and Stephen Frears wow audience at Chiswick Cinema 

See also: Two one-man plays by Mark Farrelly – Theatre at the Tabard

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