Entertainment & Arts

Tommy Cooper's 'gag file' to be preserved by Victoria & Albert museum

Tommy Cooper
Image caption Some of the material will go on display at the V&A later this year

Tommy Cooper's "gag file", in which the late comedian meticulously recorded his jokes, is to be preserved by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London.

The V&A has acquired an archive of papers and props once owned by Cooper, which show he was less shambolic off stage than he appeared when performing.

The gag file is among 116 boxes of his papers going into the V&A collection.

The museum said he used a system for storing his jokes alphabetically "with the meticulousness of an archivist".

'Funniest of all time'

On stage, Cooper was known for his apparently chaotic magic routines as well as his trademark red fez and his catchphrase "just like that".

But the file shows how he carefully sorted his jokes into dozens of categories, ranging from boxing and bull fighting to wives and women.

The material sheds light on his "scrupulously organised working methods, the business side of his vocation and the extent of his writing", the V&A said.

As well as the gag file, the V&A has acquired personal correspondence, contracts, notebooks and his famous head twister illusion, plus posters and cardboard from shirt packaging that he jotted notes on.

However, the museum has not acquired his most famous possession - a fez.

Image copyright Tommy Cooper Estate/Victoria & Albert Museum
Image caption Cooper organised his jokes into categories ranging from boxing and bull fighting to wives and women

The collection also contains details of his early auditions.

A report from his first BBC audition in 1947 described him as an "unattractive young man with indistinct speaking voice and extremely unfortunate appearance".

He was given a BBC series in 1952, however, before moving to ITV, which screened numerous series and specials from the 1950s to the '80s.

Cooper suffered a fatal heart attack during a live TV broadcast in 1984.

In 2004, he was voted the funniest Briton of all time.

Image copyright Tommy Cooper Estate/Victoria & Albert Museum
Image caption The archive includes a plan for Cooper's props table

V&A curator Simon Sladen said the collection offered "a fascinating insight into one the best-loved entertainers of the 20th Century and reveals much about his practice, process and legacy".

The archive was bought from collector John Fisher and will become part of the V&A's growing comedy collection, which also contains material from the lives of Ronnie Barker, Tony Hancock and Morecambe and Wise.

Cooper's daughter Vicky said: "It is wonderful that the V&A has acquired the Tommy Cooper Collection and that the public will get to see some of his material on display later this year.

"I hope it brings as much enjoyment to people as he did when he was alive.

"My dad would be very proud knowing he was now represented in the National Collection of Theatre and Performance, sitting alongside the likes of Ronnie Barker's archive and costumes worn by Morecambe and Wise and Stan Laurel."

In a statement, Cooper's friend and fellow entertainer Ken Dodd said: "He loved laughter and he loved to laugh. I'm sure he would have been very proud to see so many people enjoy his sense of humour."

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