The Victoria and Albert Museum have today confirmed the acquisition of the Tommy Cooper Collection, the largest collection of its kind to trace the life and career of the beloved comedian.
Comprised of over 116 boxes of archive material and 24 props and posters, this latest acquisition for the museum will showcase its desire to documenting key figures of comedy such as Ronnie Barker, Morecambe and Wise and Tony Hancock.
Known for his shambolic magic tricks and sharp comedy, Tommy Cooper is one of the most beloved British comedians of all time.
From his early career in the army to the height of his television performances, the collection will also reveal a man who was exceptionally well-organised and the extent of his writing.
During his career, Cooper only used a small percentage of what he put in the ‘gag file’, a way in which he stored his material – ordered alphabetically. In the collection, Cooper’s writings are included, some jotted down on backs of posters and shirt packaging cardboard, as well as documents relating to the inner workings of his career, such as contracts from 1946 to his death in 1984 – including those he could not fulfil following his unexpected passing during a live performance.
Highlights in the collection include: stage props, such as Cooper’s infamous ‘Head Twister’ illusion; details of early auditions at the BBC and engagements; a folio notebook full of his gags; personal correspondence; posters; theatre programmes and merchandise charting his career spanning almost four decades. A selection of these objects will be on display to the public in the Autumn in the Theatre and Performance galleries.
Simon Sladen, Senior Curator of Modern and Contemporary Performance at the V&A, said: “The Tommy Cooper Collection offers a fascinating insight into one the best-loved entertainers of the 20th century and reveals much about his practice, process and legacy. Although it doesn’t contain one of his iconic fezzes, the rich collection contains thousands of hand-written gags as well as unique examples of his comedy props.”
Meanwhile, Vicky Cooper, daughter of Tommy Cooper, 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.”