Thursday, April 23, 2009

Ever since I first discovered YouTube, it's been a source of astonishment and relief that the death of Tommy Cooper on live national television has not been uploaded. My astonishment and relief have come to an end, and it doesn't make for comfortable viewing. I won't supply a link, as I suspect it'll be taken down pretty soon, only to be re-uploaded almost instantly. The really interesting thing is the way that the camera stays firmly on the slumped Cooper, as if expecting him to leap to his feet and make a joke of it. The director will have known this wasn't how it went at rehearsal. So why did they stay on the star? An explanation comes from Harold Fisher, who was drumming in Alyn Ainsworth's orchestra that night.

"The horrible thing was that the balancer who was outside in the scanner thought that it was part of the act. He sort of sank to his knees and you know, what you were hearing was this death rattle, the poor sod. So he turned it up. His doctor was there, apparently. He told him not to do the show. His son was there and his doctor. Obviously he wasn’t feeling very well. What a way to go. It was amazing how it panned out. He did most of his act, as I remember and then he sank to his knees. They cued the band and the adverts came on. It was unbelievable."

I can remember watching it with my great-grandmother. Aged 10, I thought it was part of the act. She could see that something was wrong. When the news came on after the show, her suspicions were proved right.


Roman Empress said...

I saw it live at the time too. I was nine, I think. I seem to remember they were trying to claim he died later, after being on air but it's likely he went there.

LF Barfe said...

He was pulled behind the curtain and given mouth-to-mouth by Jimmy Tarbuck's manager Peter Prichard, who's a trained first aider. I think you're right, though. He'd gone. I'd be more interested to see the part of the show after the break, which, I'm told, continues with Tarbuck doing a lot of front-cloth patter, while all hell is breaking loose behind the curtain.

Dawson said...

Maybe the delay at the end was because of the need to get the dot up in the corner to cue the regional ads? I had the grim task of doing a video transfer of the whole act a few months back and the director cuts between three shots of Cooper for about 10-15 seconds after he slumps down. The cue-dot was up for about 8 of those before going to the break.

Though never a Tarbuck fan, I remember that the way he kept the show on the rails after the break was incredible. Possibly his finest moment.

Matthew Rudd said...

Erm, well having never watched it before, I have found it and taken a look. It's obviously upsetting stuff.

I want to know who the woman was who took his microphone away just as he initially collapsed, and whether she was part of his act and, therefore, knew that it shouldn't have happened.

For any consolation it may offer, LF, there is an 18 certificate on it.

LF Barfe said...

Dawson, I think you might well be right. Incidentally, with that name and an interest in LE, do you have any connection with Les?

Dawson said...

Apart from being a fan, no (it’s Rory C) but I quite liked ‘Dawson Sawdust’ as my gmail name, which I discovered this afternoon also allowed me to post here.

Incidentally, according to the John Fisher book the girl who helped him on with his cloak was one of the dancers, Sandy Lawrence who presumably like the rest of us, thought he was ad libbing a gag.

LF Barfe said...

Ah, hello Rory. I was going to suggest a dip into John Fisher's book, so am glad it's come up trumps. Incidentally, Fisher came up with a great line (in Funny Way to Be a Hero) about the disparity between Tarbuck's considerable technique and the sort of work he seemed happy doing. He described it as "like using a power drill to make holes in cheese".

LF Barfe said...

Director on the Cooper = Alasdair Macmillan?

Sky Clearbrook said...

This is a truly astonishing clip. Utterly haunting.

I was 12, going on 13 and, although I've never seen this before, I remember the evening well.

My mum and dad saw it live, but I was up the stairs playing something like Ant Attack, Jet Set Willy or Atic Atac on the ZX Speccy.

My mum came up in a state of stunned disbelief to tell me what had just happened. It all just seemed so surreal.

Apres la Guerre said...

I've always had a hankering to see it again, not for any morbid reason but just to see whether the memory of what I remember seeing at aged 8 was reliable.

He died a lot more quickly than I recall, but I suppose that's the nature of these things - we tend to remember things like this in a kind of slow-motion.

I laughed (in 1984) when he slumped, thinking it was a joke about the weight of the coat.

I commented on the night that it was a funny way to go to the adverts, though. My Mum said that she thought he'd passed out, and it wasn't part of the act.

The part where my memory is wrong isn't shown on the clip - I didn't recall the programme continuing. It's possible we turned over or did something more interesting instead. I thought for many years that the newsflash appeared on the other side of the commercial break.

Apres la Guerre said...

"I commented on the night that it was a funny way to go to the adverts, though."

I meant funny peculiar, not funny ha-ha.

Thought I'd better clear that one up.

Dawson said...

Yes, I was suprised, seeing it again, how well I'd remembered it. The only difference was that I thought it happened before the second break rather than the first, which makes the decision to press on with the show even braver.

Louis, it was Alasdair Macmillan directing, I think he did them all.

LF Barfe said...

AMcM might have done all of the Live at Her Majesty's shows (with David Bell producing), but I'm pretty sure Ian Hamilton did some of the later Palladium shows (with Marcus Plantin producing).

bertieronbob said...

I've just watched it and agree with Matthew Rudd that it's pretty uncomfortable viewing in hindsight.

You can see how people thought it was funny, but it's pretty clear to me that him falling backwards is when it's all over.

Gives me the shivers just thinking about it now