Eddie Mair: I’m slightly ashamed to say I watched a man die on television

I wish I’d never searched for Tommy Cooper online admits Mair

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Idling on the internet the other day, I’m slightly ashamed to say I watched a man die on television.

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No, not one of my old appearances on Marr. I’d been footling about online, clicking through life stories of various comedy heroes – Morecambe and Wise, Mel Brooks, Corrie Corfield – when I searched for Tommy Cooper. I learnt a lot of stuff I didn’t know and saw one link promising Tommy Cooper Death Video.

Suddenly I recalled that sometime in the 1980s, the poor man died on stage in front of an audience not just in the hall, but tuned in to ITV. I hadn’t seen it at the time, and it’s not really something you go out of your way to look for. But there was the link on my computer screen.

I wrestled with a moral dilemma. Was I really the sort of person who would click on a link knowing it contained footage of someone dying in the most public circumstances? I’d already read the stomach-churning description of the event on Wikipedia: “The assistant smiled at him as he collapsed, believing that it was a joke. Likewise, the audience laughed as he fell, until it became apparent he was seriously ill.”

I wish I could lie to you and tell you that I clicked away from the video but I’m ashamed to say I watched it. I felt the whole time like a rubber-necker ogling a road crash. What sort of a person does this, I wondered.

I wanted to stop the video several times but could not. Sure enough, there he was being Tommy Cooper, faffing about with his props and being effortlessly hilarious. I scanned his face for any sign that he might be feeling unwell but, no, he looked fine. In that crazy way you do towards the end of Casablanca, I hoped maybe the ending would not be the one I was expecting. But the Wikipedia description was correct. I found myself watching this poor man slumped on stage, his final moments there for the world to see.

I remember some discussion after his death about whether it’s what he would have wanted. Many artists declare a wish to die on stage. I’m not in a position to say what Tommy Cooper would have wanted. I can say that he was a great man, and I wish I’d had the courage to be a better man and not watch the damn thing.


Downton’s big mistake

Another series of Downton and no one has picked up on the most ridiculous anachronistic howler that bungling TV bosses somehow let onto the screen. The action is supposed to be taking place in the early years of the 20th century, right? And yet in scene after scene the characters are clearly being recorded using 21st-century full colour HD cameras and state-of-the-art digital sound equipment. Why, oh why, will no one… etc.


Highs and lows

Can I end by thanking all the readers who responded so magnificently to last week’s column, which told the heartbreaking story of my fight to come off caffeine. Headlined “Docs warn me one more sip of caffeine and I will drop dead”, it prompted several kind souls to send me bags of extra-strength coffee beans, including my doctor, who sent four.


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Eddie Mair hosts PM Monday-Friday 5:00pm and iPM Sat 5:45am and 5:00pm Radio 4