TOMMY COOPER was always going to be a hard act to follow.
But at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Westminster, on the night of April 15, 1984, Les Dennis and Dustin Gee found it more difficult than they could possibly have imagined.
The comedians were the next act on the bill of LWT’s Live At Her Majesty’s, and Cooper had just collapsed from a fatal heart attack midway through his routine in front of millions of TV viewers.
An assistant had helped Cooper put on a cape, and host Jimmy Tarbuck was hiding behind the curtain, passing different props to Cooper who then pretended to pull them from under his cape.
Believing it was part of the routine, the assistant smiled at Cooper and the audience laughed uproariously as he fell, gasping for air.
But as Tarbuck’s manager tried to drag Cooper back through the curtains, the director realised something was seriously wrong and cut to an unscheduled break.
In the best theatrical tradition, it was decided the show must go on and Dennis and Gee, as well as the rest of the acts, continued the performance in the limited space in front of the stage as efforts were made to try to revive Cooper backstage.
The situation was hampered by the darkness and it wasn’t until a second commercial break that ambulancemen were able to move Cooper’s body to Westminster Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
Although the incident led the TV news bulletins that night, it wasn’t until the following morning that Cooper’s death at the age of 63 was officially announced.