Skip to content

When John Claridge Met Tommy Cooper

October 6, 2014
by the gentle author

“I’m on a whisky diet . . . last week I lost three days!”

It has to be the ultimate comedy exit – to collapse and die onstage in front of millions of viewers, as Tommy Cooper did on 15th April 1984. The failed magic trick which unexpectedly turned out right had become such a familiar element of his act that, when he fell to the floor at Her Majesty’s Theatre live on national television,  the audience cracked up with laughter until they realised the tragedy of the moment. “Just like that!” – to quote his most famous catch phrase.

Yet Tommy Cooper had always displayed a disquieting mixture of mania and studied incompetence in his performances, endearing him to audiences who laughed in recognition at his barely-concealed sense of despair. It was an act honed over relentless years playing in the merciless crucible of the variety circuit. The joke was on Tommy, he was a virtuoso at self-humiliation and a fierce parody of his own self-parody, and the poignancy of it was heart-breaking.

In 1967, Dennis Hackett editor of Nova, commissioned John Claridge to photograph Tommy Cooper for the magazine. “He called me up and said, ‘We’re doing a thing on Tommy, could you take some photographs at Thames TV?’” John recalled fondly, “So I took my Hasselblad along in case I had some spare time and, once I had done the colour pictures, I asked Tommy, ‘Have you got a moment, I’d like to do some serious photographs?’”

“When he looked at me, it was very difficult not to break into laughter. We did three rolls of film and it was getting intense, quite serious. He said, ‘This is serious, isn’t it?’ and then he went ‘Aha!’ and I was in fits of laughter.”

“He was courteous to me and, when I said I loved Laurel & Hardy, he started doing impressions of Oliver Hardy until I had tears running down my face and I had to stop him. I think the pictures tell the story, there’s some fun photographs and some serious photographs – I know he had his demons, but I found him a lovely man, very gracious.”

“I said to the chef, ‘Why have you got your hand in the alphabet soup?’ He said, ‘I’m groping for words!’”

“Two cannibals were eating a clown – one said to the other, ‘Does he taste funny to you?’”

“My doctor told me to drink a bottle of wine after a hot bath, but I couldn’t even finish drinking the hot bath!”

“Gambling has brought our family together. We had to move to a smaller house.”

“I sleep like a baby . . I wake up screaming every morning around 3am.”

“Never tell people your troubles. Half of them are not interested and the other half are glad you’re getting what’s coming to you.”

“I went to a fortune teller and she looked at my hands. She said, ‘Your future looks pretty black.’ I said, ‘Are you kidding? I’ve still got my gloves on!”

“Last night I dreamt I was eating a ten pound marshmallow. When I woke up, my pillow had gone.”

“What do you call an out-of-work jester? Nobody’s fool!”

Photographs copyright © John Claridge

John Claridge’s exhibition TOMMY COOPER runs until 31st March 2015 at the Museum of Comedy, The Undercroft, St George’s Church, Bloomsbury Way, WC1A 2SR. A few copies of the limited edition book of the portraits are available here

You may also like to take a look at

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round One)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Two)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Three)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Four)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Five)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Six)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Seven)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Eight)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Nine)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Ten)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Eleven)

John Claridge’s Boxers (Round Twelve)

and

John Claridge’s Clowns (Act One)

John Claridge’s Clowns (Act Two)

John Claridge’s Clowns (The Final Act)

and

John Claridge’s Darker Side

John Claridge’s Lighter Side

and these other pictures by John Claridge

John Claridge’s East End

Along the Thames with John Claridge

At the Salvation Army with John Claridge

In a Lonely Place

A Few Diversions by John Claridge

This was my Landscape

John Claridge’s Spent Moments

Signs, Posters, Typography & Graphics

Working People & a Dog

Invasion of the Monoliths

Time Out with John Claridge

Views from a Dinghy by John Claridge

People on the Street & a Cat

In Another World with John Claridge

A Few Pints with John Claridge

A Nation Of Shopkeepers

Some East End Portraits by John Claridge

Sunday Morning Stroll with John Claridge

John Claridge’s Cafe Society

Graphics & Graffiti

Just Another Day With John Claridge

At the Salvation Army in the Eighties

12 Responses leave one →
  1. October 6, 2014

    Brilliant!

  2. October 6, 2014

    Grand photographs! And what a pity I never had the luck to see Tommy Cooper on stage…

    Love & Peace
    ACHIM

  3. Jude permalink
    October 6, 2014

    He wasnt a handsome man, but these sure are handsome photos. B&W also lends itself to photos full of character.

  4. Rick permalink
    October 6, 2014

    Always loved him. And love these ‘seroius’ photos, Mr Claridge.

    There’s something wistful, far off, always felt was something missing ’round the eyes; trichotillomania.

    God bless.

  5. Peter Holford permalink
    October 6, 2014

    Old gags but still funny. But I doubt they would be as funny without imagining them delivered by Mr Cooper. Great photos as ever.

  6. Alice Neal permalink
    October 6, 2014

    Stunning, what an incredible set of pictures and a lovely article to boot!

  7. October 6, 2014

    Beautiful photographs.

  8. Pauline Taylor permalink
    October 6, 2014

    A man who is still much missed who knew that true comedy needed pathos. How I agree with the sentiment of never telling other people your troubles, the punch line is sadly so true!!

    RIP Tommy Cooper, my favourite comedian of all time.

  9. October 6, 2014

    Interesting detail on the suit – the folded back cuffs on the sleeve. I’ve only seen that a few times, but never know what the style is called

  10. Terry Jones permalink
    October 6, 2014

    I was working on that show, Keith, our Propmaster ran to give him the kiss of life, but sadly …
    wonderful photographs !

  11. Louisa Gonzales permalink
    October 14, 2014

    Beautiful portraits. A life-time of joy and sorrow, frivolity and seriousness, tenderness and pain, laughter and tears are there in Tommy’s eyes in each and every frame.

  12. ian silverton permalink
    January 6, 2015

    Drunk with him many times in Londons West End,great guy, never ever got over the size of his feet, size 18s,had to have his shoes handmade,even in the guards he told me.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS