Tommy Cooper

Jus' Like That publicity photo
Jus’ Like That publicity photo

The show Jus’ Like That! started touring on March 5, 2003, and was a tribute to the late Tommy Cooper.  Accompanied by the “Cooperettes” dance troupe, Jerome starred as Tommy – performing some of the great man’s “magic” tricks, and giving a monologue style dressing room scene, to help give an impression of Cooper’s inner character.

Jerome’s involvement ended after a couple of years, but the show visited many UK destinations including, Malvern, Oxford, Plymouth, the West End, Northampton, Woking, Stoke-On-Trent, Surrey, Mold, Norwich, Sheffield, Cornwall, Cardiff, Eastbourne, Windsor, Peterborough, Cheltenham, Nottingham, Southend-on Sea, St Helier, Newcastle, Cambridge, Birmingham, Dorset, Manchester, Bath, Coventry, Brighton and Liverpool. The show has received numerous outstanding reviews from the media and the general public.

John Fisher’s play provided an insight into the working life of one of the nation’s most beloved natural clown’s.  All the familiar trademarks are here – the fez, the laugh, the ‘hats’ routine, the bottle and the glass – just like that.

But the play also offers a look at the more private man, providing a behind the scenes insight into a night in the working life of the manic magician. We meet the perfectionist, and worrier, whose energy and anger, doubts and anxieties were the driving force of the outwardly genial giant who died the most public of deaths on live television before an audience of millions.

Jerome spoke to Michael Hellicar about the challenge of stepping into the comedy magician’s size 13 shoes..

Jus' Like ThatI suppose there is a physical resemblance between myself and Tommy – people tell me I have the same bulldozer jaw as him and that we share a manic look around the eyes. But I don’t match up to his shoe size. I can only muster a pathetic 11, and I haven’t yet mastered clumsiness as an art form. Nor did I think I was very good at magic tricks, although I’ve been getting ready for my role by having materclasses from magician Geoffrey Durham, and he tells me I’m a natural. Natural what? Clown? Conjuror? Comic? Tommy was all three, which made him an enduring star.

As a lad, I used to watch Tommy on TV but I just didn’t understand what people saw in him. My logical schoolboy’s mind couldn’t get round the fact that here was someone who got applause, basically, for messing things up. I found that disturbing. Later, when I was studying to become an actor, I saw him through different eyes. Here was a man who didn’t mind playing the fool and was happy to laugh at himself. It was a thrill to watch him because he seemed to be living on the edge. You never knew what might happen – Tommy was like a live hand grenade rolling around with the pin out.

That was when I first became a fan. After he died, I sat down one night with a gang of friends and watched a tribute programme. We stumbled around, imitating his crazy walk, his chuckle, his ‘just like that’ catchphrase and we told and retold his pathetic jokes. I can’t deny we were vodka-fuelled, but a strange thing happened that night: we all felt his presence. There was definitely something happening, something eerie. Even now, it’s too personal, too mystic for me to go into details.

After that, Tommy was in my system. He became part of my life, always in the background. Then, last year, I was asked to play him in this show. I didn’t particularly want to do it, because I was taking a long rest from working, and I didn’t feel ready to go back just yet. But then my Father died (Eric Flynn had shot to fame as BBC’s Ivanhoe in the 1970’s) and I felt I owed it to him to at least give it a try.

Dad and I had talked about the part and he was very keen for me to do it. The audition was set for the day before his funeral, and so walking out on stage and being funny was the last thing I felt like doing. But I went ahead with it and, as the audition began, I felt myself being taken over by two people – Tommy and Dad. It worked out very well and the rest is history. I’m daunted by the role because it’s such a challenge. He was so well loved and so much a part of our comedic heritage, that it seems almost audacious of me to take it on. But, as Tommy and Dad made it clear to me : I really have no choice.