Comedian Thomas Frederick Cooper (Tommy) was born in Llwyn Onn Street, Caerphilly, Wales
on the 19th of March, 1921 to Tom and Gertrude Cooper.
Though technically Welsh, it was Devon that gave him his identity and his faint West Country burr. His father was from Caerphilly and his mother from Devonshire. Tommy inherited his determination from his mother and his unique sense of humour from his father.
The family later moved to Southampton but Tommy returned to Exeter to go to
college. After leaving school at fourteen, he had a brief career as an apprentice
shipwright in Hythe, Kent. He was sent home for a week whilst in this job. And why
did he get sent home? Because he was constantly honing his magic skills on the
other apprentices and so holding their work up.
It was on that ship that Tommy gave his first public performance. At the ripe old
age of 16. Cooper stood up in front of a lunchtime audience of riveters, platers
and boiler-makers. Up he got, just like that, and proceeded to dazzle them by
producing a series of fancy coloured hankerchiefs from a cylinder and, hey!,
what's that behind my ear? Why it's the ace of spades! Only thing was the hankies
got stuck in the cylinder and while he was trying to free them what fell out of his
sleeve? The ace of spades!
The audience fell about and the young 16-year-old ran off with tears streaming
down his face. When the tears had dried and the embarrassment had faded, Tom
sat down in his quarters and started to practice again.
Interviewed later by Sylvia Duncan Tommy was asked,
"But how did you discover you could get a living by making mistakes?"
Tommy paused. "It was Auntie's fault. She gave me a conjuring set when I was eleven. Then when I worked as an apprentice shipwright, I used to entertain the fellows instead of getting on with the job. After that came the Army. That took me to the Middle East. I got married in Cyprus and picked up a fez in Egypt. I still wear it. Now it's branded on me, like George Robey's eyebrows and Little Tich's feet. When I was demobbed I took up conjuring professionally.
That was when the trouble started. I was nervous, so nervous that tricks wouldn't go right. I couldn't keep my hands still - so I waved at the audience, they waved back at me and we were buddies. Then I
produced an egg. Every magician has to have an egg, it proves his skill. Usually they come in
for breakfast next morning. Mine didn't. It broke. I nearly cried. The audience howled. So I went
on breaking eggs. Of course it's all simple humour. See this?" Tommy solemnly plucked a hair
from hishead and put it in a large carrier bag. "Now I'll show you how that short hair becomes a
long hair." much weaving of hands over the bag and Tommy produced a very long hare, cut out of
white paper!! "Dear me this will never do." TC was busily plucking bits of hair from his jacket.
"My bit of fluff" - a suggestive giggle. Then out of his pocket came a toy angora rabbit. "The one
that jumps out of my hat. Always before I'm ready of course."