The magic of Tommy Cooper

John Hewer as Tommy Cooper in Just Like That
John Hewer as Tommy Cooper in Just Like That

Actor John Hewer, co-founder of Hamnbledon Productions, takes centre stage at the Lantern Theatre in Sheffield next week with a one-man tribute to much-loved funnyman Tommy Cooper.

Here he talks about the man who could make millions laugh by just walking on stage.

What aspects of Tommy Cooper does the audience see?

Commemorating 30 years since his sad passing, this is a special tribute show compiling rarely seen material from his early days and the very best of his gags and tricks from his extensive career. A celebration of Tommy Cooper and his unique comic genius – with magic, music and mirth.

What parts of his life does the show look at?

Imagine you’re going to see him live, in the late 60s or early 70s, when he was at the very top of his game. That’s exactly what we’re trying to recapture.

Were you a big fan before you started work on the show?

I appreciate his excellent comic timing and his joy at making other people laugh. He was unique. “There are hundreds of good magicians in this country,” he said. “I’m going to be the fool.” The production came about when I read a brilliant, eye-opening biography on him and my admiration for his talent and performance grew. He was certainly one of the very biggest icons of the 20th century. Recognisable everywhere.

Has doing it changed your view of him at all?

I’ve come to really understand and appreciate his perfectionism and professionalism. He didn’t drink before a show. He triple-checked his props. He always adapted his act to the venues, and always brought something new to keep the show lively and fresh. He was ruthless in his craft.

Why do you think he is still so popular today?

He is simply timeless. He relied on word play, slapstick, surprise and storytelling to entertain thousands. The fact he looked ‘funny’ and had ‘funny bones’ also went in his favour.

Was it hard learning to do his tricks?

It’s like Les Dawson playing the piano – you need to know how to do it well, to do it wrong.

How did you go about that?

The process has taken 18 months. That includes finding material and watching it. Tommy was a professional, which meant that, when he found the best, most assured way to do a trick or tell a gag, he performed it the same for the rest of his career. I met fans, colleagues and relatives, to appreciate what made him ‘tick’ and have the full support of his daughter, Vicky, and the Tommy Cooper Estate.

Just Like That! is at the Lantern on Saturday, May 3.