There is a story of a depressed man in the early years of the last century who went to see the eminent psychiatrist Sigmund Freud at his practice in Vienna. On hearing the troubled man’s account Freud attempted to shake off man’s lethargy by suggesting that he see the famous comedian Grock who was in town. “But I am Grock” the man replied. The story might be fanciful,but I saw it mentioned again after the suicide of Robin Williams illustrating the struggle that many comics seem to have with their inner demons which can overwhelm them.
I am a fan of the great British comedian Tommy Cooper. I sometimes use his joke at work about whisky. “I’m on a whisky only diet- I’ve lost 3 days'”. I noticed a picture of Cooper taken when he performed at the “Dog and Partridge” at Swinscoe on April Fool’s day 1965. In the picture he is performing some trick before an admiring chef. Cooper, along with Morecambe and Wise and Les Dawson, must be considered Britain’s most loved comedian. Who can forget the manic laughter, the wonderfully gormless face , the look of bewilderment, and the fez perched on top of a 6foot 4 inch frame. The fez, I gather, was acquired during Cooper’s military service in the Middle East in the Second World War.
His ability to appear comic without doing anything was legendary. He had a great presence as well as a brilliant sense of timing . I was talking recently to a man who said that he saw Cooper at Leeds and Cooper just stood on stage not saying anything for several minutes while the audience convulsed with laughter. Then there were the dubious tricks. He is supposed to have developed an interest in magic after a relative gave him a box of conjuring tricks when he was young. Was he a dreadful magician with occasional displays of brilliance or – and this is more likely – a brilliant magician who could appear terrible in performing tricks?
I had heard of some unfortunate aspects of his character such as the alcohol problem and his affairs. Someone I knew saw him very drunk in a shop in Bournemouth once. He also had a reputation as being the meanest man in show business. A TV program earlier this year, broadcast on the 30th anniversary of his death portrayed a drunken bully who abused his wife. Members of his family have since come to his defence believing the play was very unfair, misrepresenting a man who was devoted to his children and his wife. Whatever the truth I pose the question of whether knowing that a great comedian behaves appallingly undermines his appeal? Tony Hancock was a comic genius, but had his flaws as did Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Frankie Howerd and Kenneth Williams. I feel a great comic talent off sets any inadequacies that the individual had. This is best illustrated by an incident that happened to a friend of mine who saw Ken Dodd at a pantomime in the late 80s. Dodd had been acquitted on a tax fraud case and was also a fervent supporter of Mrs Thatcher. This was enough to turn my friend against Dodd, but the brilliance of the comedian ‘s act melted opposition . As for Cooper it says something for his immortality that wearing a fez and a gesture with the hands and the phrase “ just like that” can still 30 years after his death prompt laughter