Thirty years to the day, that Tommy Cooper died live on stage from a heart attack, I was invited along to BAFTA to watch ITV's Easter Monday treat, Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This.
The two-hour drama is a one-off, based on the life of the legendary comedian Tommy Cooper, and focuses on the dilemma Cooper faced when he fell in love with assistant Mary Kay and embarked upon a 17-year long relationship.Tommy Cooper is played by the brilliant David Threlfall (Shameless, What Remains), whilst his wife Gwen, whom he nicknamed Dove, is played by the wonderful Amanda Redman (New Tricks) and Mary Kay is played by Helen McCrory (The Queen). Everything about Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This is stunning - the script, the characters, the performances and of course, the subject matter. This is one biopic you will not want to miss.
One performance that's particularly spectacular in Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This, is David Threlfall's realistic portrayal of Tommy Cooper.
Threlfall is probably best known for playing Frank Gallagher in Channel 4's long-running series Shameless, and more recently playing Len Harper in BBC One's What Remains. But I'm sure that after this airs, many will know him as "that guy who played Tommy Cooper so well".
So what exactly is it about Threlfall's performance that makes it so phenomenal and will get people talking? Well, aside from the way he has been made up to look exactly like the late comic, Threlfall doesn't stop at the appearance, and has Cooper's mannerisms and accent down to a t providing an eerily realistic performance.
When I watched Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This, there were moments where I forgot that I was watching an actor playing the part of Tommy Cooper, and you'd be forgiven for thinking the same. His performance is so realistic and so on point that it really does feel as though we've been given a real insight into the world of one of life's greatest ever comedians.
Sure, we never saw Cooper at home or having an illicit affair, so how do we know that was how he would've acted? And the answer is, we don't. But the moments we do know what he was like, the moments when he was no stage performing are the moments where you really feel like you are watching Cooper perform those routines as opposed to Threlfall. And most poignant of all is one of the final scenes in Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This, which is in fact the final scene in Tommy's life - the moment Cooper died live on stage on ITV’s Live From Her Majesty’s on Sunday 15th April, 1984 in front of millions at home.
Throughout Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This you really got a sense for what type of man Cooper was. He loved indulging in life and part of that indulging involved woman, so much so in fact that for 17 years, the comedian found himself in a love-triangle between himself, his wife Dove and his assistant Mary Kay.
His wife Gwen (Dove), is played by the wonderful Amanda Redman, whose performance is equally as strong and believable as Threlfall's, because if there's one thing that comes across in her performance, it's that Dove very much has a 'Give as good as she can get' attitude.gave as good as she could get. In particular I'm talking about the scenes where Dove suspects her husband of having an affair.
The second woman in this love-traingle, Mary Kay is played brilliantly by Helen McCrory. She was Cooper's assistant and one who for many years Cooper kept secret from his wife. There's a lot of debate over whether the two ever met or knew each other. There's a wonderful scene at the end of this drama where the two of them pass each other without so much as backward glance.
Guest appearances in Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This, include Jason Manford (Live At The Apollo) and Paul Ritter (Friday Night Dinner). Manford plays magician Ken Brooke, who runs a joke shop and is visited by Cooper when he is looking for new tricks to perform on stage, and Ritter plays Tommy Cooper's good friend and fellow comedian Eric Sykes brilliantly.
So as well as celebrating Tommy Cooper's career and final years, the drama doesn't shy away from showing Cooper's darker side - that he was a heavy drinker and on occasion acted violently towards the two women in his life; Dove and Mary.
Unlike some papers would have you believe, (*cough* Daily Mail), this is not a piece that will shock by portraying Cooper as, and I quote a "wife-beating drunk". Instead, this is very much a celebration of Tommy Cooper's life and just like any good biopic has and should, hasn't ignored the less favourable traits of his character, neither did it exaggerate or glamourise the times where Cooper would have a drink and get violent. The final product is one which I believe is sensitive to the Tommy Cooper legacy but remains true to his character.
When asked at the BAFTA screening whether he was worried about portraying this side of Cooper, writer Simon Nye said "He was physical with his wife and she gave as good as she got. Obviously drink was a huge influence. The quantities were enormous from all accounts. It’s on the record. I hope we did it in a delicate way and didn’t linger unnecessarily. But she (Dove) did put up with a lot."
As someone who didn't know that much about Tommy Cooper before watching this, and of a completely different generation altogether, the one thing over that I took away from watching Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This, wasn't that he was a violent wife-beating drunk, but rather that Tommy Cooper was a funny guy who was loved by millions.
And whether you're a long time Tommy Cooper fan, or like me know very little about him, the jokes told throughout this piece will have you laughing.
The theatre at BAFTA during the screening, erupted with laughter every time Threlfall re-enacted some of Cooper's most famous routines - proving that even to this day, over 30 years on, audiences are still able to laugh at Cooper's comedy. A sign of a true genius. A word which David Threlfall quite rightly pointed out at the screening is overused these days - "He was just a lovely, extraordinary one off. Genius is over-used these days but if you look at the dictionary term..." Cooper was it.
So whichever side of the fence you sit on I'm sure that after watching Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This, your opinion of Cooper may not change but you will have a greater understanding of what life may have been like for Cooper. And if like myself you weren't that familiar with Tommy Cooper or his work, you'll spend some time after watching this, as I did, on YouTube watching old videos of Tommy's performances and understanding why people speak so highly about him.