TV review: Tommy Cooper – Not Like That, Like This and Jamaica Inn

Truly remarkable… David Threlfall as Tommy Cooper and Amanda Redman as his wife Gwen. Photograph: ITV
24 Apr 2014 @ 4.32 pm
| News
Truly remarkable… David Threlfall as Tommy Cooper and Amanda Redman as his wife Gwen. Photograph: ITV
Truly remarkable… David Threlfall as Tommy Cooper and Amanda Redman as his wife Gwen. Photograph: ITV

Tommy Cooper – Not Like That, Like This (ITV, April 21, 9pm)
Jamaica Inn (BBC One, from April 21)

Eagle-eyed fans of Eric Morecambe might have spotted Bob Golding in a cameo role this week.

Golding, who is returning to York soon in Tim Whitnall’s wonderful one-man play about Morecambe, was seen briefly as Eric in Not Like That, Like This, sharing a drink and a laugh with Tommy Cooper.

The two comedians were show-business aristocracy in the 1960s and 70s. But, as human beings, they were poles apart. The hyper-active Morecambe was a genuinely lovely man whose main “fault” was an excessive loyalty to his sidekick, Ernie Wise.

The apparently loveable Cooper, alas, had feet of clay and this biopic made no bones about it.

Where do you start? Well, Cooper was handy with his fists, with both wife and mistress. While other faults might pale into insignificance comparatively, he was mean with his money and mean-spirited for the most part with the general public who idolised him.

The rueful, resigned smile of the stage hand when Cooper says: “Have a drink on me”, and gives him a tea bag, said it all.

However, this was no hatchet job in Simon Nye’s telling of the Tommy Cooper story. The comic seems to have been tormented by his own weaknesses and loved by his family.

David Threlfall gave a truly remarkable performance. The voice and the timing were spot-on and it would be interesting to hear the actor’s views on what the make-up artists did with him.

Perhaps, like Derek Jacobi playing the artist Francis Bacon in Love Is The Devil, Threlfall was alarmed by how close they got to that astonishingly grisly face; the young Cooper must have given even his mother pause for thought.

While Threlfall was capturing Cooper’s genius, Nye came brilliantly close to explaining its nature when a drunk Tommy says of his act to Eric Sykes (Paul Ritter): “The more chaotic it is on stage, the more precise it needs to be.”

Not Like That, Like This inevitably brought a heap of protests from Cooper’s family, of the “It wasn’t like that” variety.

There’s no easy answer to that one. I do feel uncomfortable about biopics that play hard and fast with the truth for dramatic effect, or indeed any drama that takes liberties with historical events.

What’s the point, as Hollywood so often does, of telling the “remarkable story” if it’s not the story?

For all that, Just Like That felt more authentic than some recent dramas laying bare the wasted lives of people who have become lost in showbiz.

I loved Tommy Cooper. Watching this, I wanted to laugh over the comedy and magic, and cry over the man.

I have to bear in mind, as so often with writers, artists and musicians, D H Lawrence’s dictum: “Trust the tale, not the teller.”

If your comic hero, like Eric Morecambe, is a mensch, that’s just a bonus.

Just Like That went head to head with Jamaica Inn over Easter.

Unfortunately, I was one of those viewers who didn’t make it to episode two. In fact, I only lasted half an hour, and admitted defeat when I had to rewind constantly to catch the inaudible dialogue.

There’s no doubt about it, some actors were mumbling and I can understand why the sound technicians were up in arms when they came under attack.