WEST END actor Daniel Taylor stars as comedy legend Tommy Cooper in a production that he both co-wrote and co-produced. Featuring original routines and jokes, The Tommy Cooper Show promises to present a “celebration” of the fez-wearing comic’s work.

The narrative merges Cooper’s unique tics and catchphrases – including his famous “just like that” line – with a retelling of his life and times. The production has the blessing of Cooper’s family and has been critically lauded. Taylor stars alongside Gareth Jones, who plays Cooper’s manager, and Sharon Byatt, who plays the comedian’s longterm wife Gwen.

Taylor has just finished a US theatre run of Lennon: Through a Glass Onion, a musical production based on The Beatles’ icon’s life. He has played Cooper on and off over the last two years. The actor is also known for his role as Sammy in the classic play Blood Brothers. He speaks to EDWIN GILSON.

You’ve just finished a run playing John Lennon. Will you be sad to let go of him?

We’ve been away for a long time but it’s been a great success. It’s a strange one because I took over the role from John Walters, who created the role. In America, people react in different ways to Lennon. The show sold out in a lot of places. When we did it in Liverpool you had blokes in their 50s being very cheerful about it and one woman said it was “the greatest funeral” she’d ever been to.

I remember meeting loads of drama students in Los Angeles, 18-year-old kids who are mad about The Beatles. It’s amazing when you think what they did in terms of changing popular culture. That’s still very visible.

When did the idea to write a production based on Tommy Cooper strike you?

People know me from a show called Blood Brothers, in which I play Sammy. I was writing the Tommy Cooper show while I was on tour with that. I don’t know why but I’ve ended up playing dead icons for the past year and a half.

How do you go about mingling the events of Cooper’s life and his much-loved jokes?

I had to work out what had been done before on Tommy and what I wanted to address as a performer. We focus on his writing and how his work developed, which you see in the performances of some of his famous routines. I had a conversation with my dad when I was putting it together.

He’s not an avid theatregoer but he does say it like it is. He just told me: “Make sure you celebrate Tommy.” That’s what I wanted to do. People have talked about his drinking and other things in the past but I didn’t feel that was for me to talk about because he’s not here. You can still tell the story of Tommy’s rise, from joining the Army and becoming a performer, without those things.

Talking of The Beatles and work ethic, Tommy had an incredible passion for what he did and worked really hard. He was terrified of running out of material. It’s every comedian’s fear – what do you do when the jokes run out?

Is it all Cooper’s original jokes or did you create your own sequences, too?

We want to keep the show respectful to Tommy’s memory. We keep it as authentic as possible. We’ve got a wonderful director called Lisa Taylor Ellis who manages to balance poignancy and humour. The story is a threehander, told by Tommy’s wife Gwen, Tommy’s manager and Tommy himself. All the routines are in there.

You said that Tommy Cooper was able to “make people laugh just by standing there”. How do you get across the aura of the man independent of his jokes? Well, as a performer I can play him without saying anything. It’s all in that look he had – that bewilderment that is so familiar. He was a big fellow, with size 14 feet. I’m quite tall myself but I wear a fat suit to play him. That’s probably not politically correct these days. I’m very comfortable in his size 14s. You can read all you want but the best thing is to watch clips of him in action. That’s what I did with Lennon too.

What kind of impact did Cooper’s time in the Army have on him, if any?

He was taken out of the front line and joined the Travelling Army Concert Party. Don’t quote me on this but he might not have been the finest solider ever. They probably looked at him and went “Yeah, we might have another place for this fellow.” That’s where he met his wife, who was a showgirl. We talk about that meeting in the show. She was a real rock to him throughout his life and always encouraged him in his performance. Tommy’s first audition for the BBC went wrong, which is a fear that we all have as actors.

The show highlights Cooper’s relationship with Miff Ferrie, his manager, which was often strained. What was the source of the tension between the two?

Ferrie was a really interesting character. He was a dour Scotsman and it was welldocumented that he and Tommy never saw to eye to eye. I think it was the most talked about relationship between performer and manager at the time. I think Tommy got on Ferrie’s nerves. Outside of what Tommy was doing on stage, he didn’t go to bed early and he liked a drink. We’re doing this show with the backing of the Tommy Cooper Appreciation Society and his daughter, though, and we don’t talk about that stuff much.

What’s the story behind Cooper’s trademark fez?

He once saw a waiter going by wearing one and Tommy put it on his head – the place went into uproar. A few years later he was in Egypt and saw a man selling a fez. Tommy went over and the guy said “just like that”. Tommy asked him how he knew his catchphrase, and the seller said, “I don’t know anything about a catchphrase. All I know is when an English person tries the hat on they turn to their friends and say ‘just like that’.” Priceless. That’s a moment we let the audience digest for a little bit. We’ve got the stuff about him meeting the Queen, too. You don’t see him die onstage in our performance, though.

Do you feel pressure when taking on such iconic roles? Isn’t there quite a lot to lose?

Lennon’s the really interesting one because everybody knew him. There’s pressure there. As soon as Love Me Do was released he was very much in the popular consciousness. There’s pressure with any performance, though, because it’s just you standing onstage and you have to deliver. With Tommy Cooper there’s the added pressure that I've written and produced the show.

THE TOMMY COOPER SHOW, The Hawth, Hawth Avenue, Crawley, Friday, December 16, and Saturday, December 17, Starts 7.30pm, tickets £17.50, call 01293 553636