Tommy Cooper’s ability to keep the audience in hysterics whilst apparently doing very little is firmly in evidence at the start of this Christmas Special. Maybe it’s simply because the audience can see tables laden with magic props and therefore know that almost anything could happen ….
The first fifteen minutes is typical freewheeling Cooper – a captive audience, a wide selection of props and an almost endless supply of gags (“my wife’s just had a facelift. But it’s not high enough, I can still see her”). How scripted this part of the show was is open to debate – there’s certainly a few sharp edits which suggests that some flab was excised (the fact that Cooper dashes from one trick to the other, apparently at random, may not entirely be an act then). There are a few successes (a vanishing watch for example) but the standard of illusions here never rises above trick shop fare – although he does have a nice line in dexterity. But then nobody watches Tommy Cooper for skilful magic.
In order to pad things out to an hour, Cooper later takes part in various sketches. These are often not quite as entertaining as his magical efforts, but two of the longer efforts – playing snooker with Allan Cuthbertson and cooking with a puppet duck – stand out.
Cuthbertson was a Cooper regular during this time. He’s the perfect straight man – able (almost always) to keep his composure whilst Cooper causes anarchy. The premise of the sketch (Cooper is a golfer, not a snooker player, and so attempts to clamber on the table to take his shot, etc) may be thin but the pair of them make it work. One of the best moments is an unscripted one after Cuthbertson has a temporary dry and garbles the order of the colours. His slight loss of composure is palpable, although after sharing a wry grin with Cooper he pulls himself together (it’s noticeable that Cooper didn’t attempt to make capital from Cutherberton’s stumble – easy to imagine some other comics wouldn’t have been so forgiving). The arrival of snooker legend Joe Davis (attired, like Cooper, for the golf course) proves to be a nice moment to close the sketch on.
Clodagh Rodgers and Sacha Distel provide the music. Both have their own solo spots before joining forces for a duet. Rogers essays a Christmas medley whilst standing in front of a series of silvery Christmas trees (maybe there was a lack of baubles that year – the trees look very underdressed). Distel plumps for the non-Christmassy Playground in My Mind. He doesn’t have to contend with denuded Christmas trees – instead he’s surrounded by slightly menacing masks.
Although Tommy Cooper tended to work better in the half hour format (The Tommy Cooper Hour, although boasting some impressive guests – including Abba – across its run, did sometimes feel a bit padded out) this is a decent special. Unusual to see Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke on scripting duties, as they were much better known for sitcoms than sketches.