< Back to Reviews

The Untold Tommy Cooper Reviews

The Untold Tommy Cooper (Channel 4) was – if you will forgive descent into seasonal cliche for a moment – a little cracker. Eschewing the usual method of repackaging of just-about-known-but-generally-ignored facts that traditionally make up an “untold story” of a star, it used recently unearthed letters, audiotapes, interview footage and, above all, his agent Miff Ferrie’s meticulous records to reconstruct its subject in the round.

The talent – and you don’t have to find Cooper funny in order to see it – was beautiful. A lumbering giant of a man with a featherlight touch – for a trick, a fumble or a punchline – seemingly effortlessly snatching victory from the jaws of defeat from the jaws of victory.

The turmoil behind the talent was less so. The film calmly and unflinchingly detailed the story of his alcoholism, which marched in lockstep with his professional success, his long affair with his personal assistant Mary Kay while married to Gwen – a woman he frequently hit when in his cups, and unpicked his love-hate – or possibly hate-hate – relationship with Ferrie. Ferrie was a control freak with, it was attested by several of Cooper’s peers and most vociferously by another former client, Bruce Forsyth, no discernible sense of humour, but Cooper never quite broke ties with him. Perhaps he sensed that only a dour, iron-willed man like Ferrie could help him control the chaos of his life. And in return, Ferrie – who always wanted him to lose the fez – kept him working and his image intact for 40 years. He noted under the final entry in Cooper’s booking diary: “Died on stage.” Usually metaphorical for a comedian, but not that night.

A superb but sobering film.”

Lucy Mangan, The Guardian Wednesday 28th December

Back to Reviews