Tommy Cooper theatre tour early 1983
As I recall it was only 5 dates. I was hired to play keyboards as part of the backing trio. Along with M.D. and drums Geoff Brain and Gary Culshaw on bass.
It was a classic variety show. The only act I can remember was a Female singing due who opened with the song “Fame” There must have been other acts on the bill but the focus of my memory is on the Headliner, Tommy Cooper!
As someone who is in a permanent state of anxiety, live work has always been hard work. Tommy Cooper, I’m doing some shows with one of the world’s funniest men, at the same time as telling everyone I knew, my Dad was particularly impressed. I did my usual pre-gig self-flagellation.
He (T.C) will present me with unreadable scores, I will be found out, everyone will hate me, I hope the car breaks down, if you recognise these symptoms you have my sympathy.
The first show was at a theatre near Altrincham, I think it’s a Bingo hall now.
For the technically minded my rig then comprised of a Rhodes 73 stage piano and a Korg Polysix synth, both fed through a Fender Twin amp loaded with JBLs, wish I had them now!!
We, the trio where placed at the back of the enormous stage.
As we set our gear up, a chap was setting Tommy Coopers props up in front of us. There they were, the parrot in the cage, the white picket gate, tables laden with all manner of bits and pieces and a large suitcase. Tommy’s helper turned out to be his son, who looked like a younger version of his Dad, although as I was about to find out not quite as big.
As we were running through the other acts music a heavily made up lady wondered across the Stage with a large bottle of Brandy, or similar, and headed towards the dressing rooms. I assume it was his legendary assistant Mary Fieldhouse.
With the words “Tommy would like to see you “we were ushered of to the dressing room area and shown into a well-worn room. There he was, Tommy Cooper, he was enormous, sat facing us filling the room with size and presence.
He said hello and shook our hands, he explained there wasn’t much to do and handed me two very old scores, “The Sheik of Araby” and a standard I can’t recall the name of, it was never played anyhow.
We were to play “The Sheik of Araby” until we heard his voice then we were to come to a stumbling halt. Tommy would be on the microphone off stage announcing he was locked in the dressing room, every night the audience was in tears even before he had appeared.
There was one more thing” could one of you help me with a routine? You just have to catch a rubber ball” I stepped forward immediately. I was on the correct side of the stage so it made sense and I could not miss an opportunity like this.
On his cue, I was to stand in front of him whilst he attempted to juggle three bowling balls. One of these was a rubber one that he would head for me to catch, at the same time as heading it he would bang the two real balls together causing a loud crack!
He then staggered around the stage in a supposed daze, pure genius. He was precise, his timing immaculate, and he was very funny. It was probably one of his last tours, he famously collapsed and died on stage the following year.
Working with him, although briefly, was a great privilege.