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‘The moment he would come on I would crease up, don’t ask me why. There was this iace and this huge body, he used to wear these boots to make himself look more clumsy and that was it. He could do anything alter that to me. He was more than iunny — he was miraculous.’ The lace and huge body belonged to Tommy Cooper, oi course, and the man doing the creasing up is Spike Milligan, who oi all people should know a natural comedian when he sees one. Mllligan’s tribute to Cooper in the iirst oi a new series called Heroes of Comedy is by iar the most moving, delivered in a quavering voice on the verge oi melancholic hysteria.
It’s eleven years since Cooper died on stage; not died in the sense oi went down badly but literally died in iront oi a live television audience. llo one is corny enough to suggest he would have wanted it that way, but the irony oi this departure to the great variety dinner in the sky by a man who had been in on television comedy irom the start was lost on nobody.
Cooper started as a comedian during the war when he was part oi a iorces entertainment group. The iez which became his trademark iirst appeared during a posting in Egypt when his usual stage headgear - a pith helmet - was stolen. Quite simply the iez got more laughs so it stayed, though Cooper wasn’t averse to messing
Tommy Cooper: comic hero
around with other hat-related gags from then on. Unusually ior entertainers oi that era he was put on television in 1947 beiore he’d paid his dues on the British variety circuit. Using a kind oi This Is Your Life format, this compilation oi classic Tommy Cooper moments, interspersed with eulogies irom Tarbie and Monkhouse and Eric Sykes. The Cooper impressions are bad and the sincerity at times overdone, but the mainstream Iuvviness oi the whole exercise highlights the most important thing about Cooper. Though he has iniluenced a whole generation oi alternative acts from Harry Hill to Gerry Sadowitz, he was never himseli a cult comic, but a periormer who included everyone in a truly universal ionn oi humour. (Eddie Gibb) Heroes of Comedy - Tomm y Cooper is on Fri 13 act at 9pm.
I Cover Stories: Writers oi the North- East (Radio Scotland) Mon 16 Oct. noon. David Stenhouse takes a hike up north to seek out the rich literary tradition yielded by years of farming and working the land. The focus is on talents like the author of the classic A Scots Quair. Lewis Grassic Gibbon. as well as new faces like author of The Year’s Midnight. Alex Benzie.
I Ciispring (Radio 4) Sat 7 Oct. 6.50pm. First it was a column in the Radio 'Iimes on the ups and downs of family life. Now it's an entire radio series. Some might say John Peel. the laid-back and cynical voice of the indie music scene. has gone soft. But not us. This is prime-time Peelie. Eight programmes elucidating all that’s funny. ridiculous and embarrassing about your average everyday domestic scene. complete with live-in grannies and annoying offspring.
I A Week in the lite: Veronica (Radio 4) Sun 8 Oct. 10.45pm. Veronica is a model. Which is absolutely fabulous until you get sair feet and jet lag after yet another transatlantic assignment. not to mention the trauma when yet another birthday rolls round. you get playboys thrust your way in Paris. and the unmentionable things you're expected to do for a $20,000 fee in Japan.
I Dear Diary (Radio 4: FM only) Mon 9 Oct. 10.02pm. 1989 and Eastern Europe was beginning to crumble. And every time another chip fell off the old bloc. a British journalist was there getting it all down on paper. The fall of the Berlin Wall. the Velvet Revolution in Prague. and the end of the Ceaucescu regime in Romania. Annette Kobrak presents eye-witness accounts of all three events. from the diaries ofJohn Simpson. Misha Glenny and Timothy Carton-Ash.
I Putting the Boot ln (Radio 4) Wed 1 1 Oct. 8.30pm. in the wake of government
proposals to combat youth crime with US style boot camps. 25 year-old politics student Martin McNeer goes in at the deep end of short. sharp. shock with this first-hand report from the none too pleasant—sounding Southampton Intensive Treatment Centre in South Virginia.
I Essential Mix: Live Tour (Radio 1) Sat l4 Oct. midnight. When nights are cold and clubs are expensive. it's good to know you can have top dance-music DJs Pete Tong and Danny Ratnpling in your kitchen cooking up fine tunes for six Essential Mix club dates being beamed live to the nation. The first show comes from the illustrious Cream in Liverpool. I One Year (in (Radio 4) Mon 16 Oct. 8.43am. A new nine-part series with Nigel Farrell taking a look at yesterday‘s news. Each week Farrell gets on the trail of headlines run a year ago to see what's happened to the stories. and talks to those who've had their stories seized upon by the media. only to be summarily dropped when the newshounds move on to the next big thing.
I A Passage Through India (Radio 2) Wed 18 Oct. 9pm. Yet another series on travelling for all those intrepid armchair backpackers out there. Over the weeks. broadcaster Sujata Barot will take in the broad sweep of lndia. starting out with Calcutta and various cultural pitstops there. including its famous coffee bars. eating laces. theatres and film industry. I Wor d Tonight: TV's True Coniessions (Radio 4) Thurs 19 Oct. 7.20pm. Whether it be Oprah Winfrey or Rikki Lake. there’s never a shortage of people willing to bare their souls for the purposes of American prime-time TV. Simon Dring dives headfrrst into the increasingly outrageous talk-show industry. with this trail round the sets of America's most popular daytime shows. talking to stars. producers and the people who take part in the programmes. (Ellie Carr)
‘This is the universe. Big isn’t it?‘ murmurs the unseen narrator at the start of Powell and Pressburger‘s classic A Matter of Life and Dear/i neatly pre- echoing the thoughts of the ex~Soviet Cosrnonauts featured in ‘States of Weightlessness’. part of the Equinox series (Channel 4). ‘There is no end to it. This came as quite a shock.‘ whispered one wistful comrade. ‘lt sent shivers down my spine.’ lt's maybe on its way to becoming a cliche’ ranking up there alongside the traumatised Vietnam veteran - the figure of the former astronaut unable to adapt to living again on a world he could once cover with his thumb — but there‘s still something almost hypnotically fascinating about these men.
Visually. Equinox started out on the usual 200/ tack. dramatic. almost abstract shots of a glowing blue earth framed by pieces ofengine machinery or portals. turning to the strains of classical music. The cosmonauts. for the most part radiating an intense. otherworldly (naturally) cairn. spoke a language suffused with casual poetry. of sixteen sunsets and dawns a day. the bright colourful maps of the earth unfolding below. and ‘free floating as you fly in your dreams'. Beneath all this though. lay a murky undercurrent. a mania signified by the first quote heard: ‘lt‘s so tempting to dive into this huge limitless space. Just hover there facing the station and push away with both hands. Perhaps that‘s where your real home is.‘ As the programme progressed a darker path was described.
The rot began with physical considerations. it‘s painful to urinate. Bowels and stomach begin to operate differently. ‘My feet are not a pleasant sight.‘ someone is heard to mutter into his flight recorder before describing how he has to Hoover up the ﬂakes of skin from his socks to prevent them from floating around the ship perpetually. “They say after six months all the hard skin comes off. The new skin feels like baby skin. it’ll be strange having baby skin'. Crushing
hornesickness. anger. even happiness — all strong emotions must be supressesed. to the extent that. once it‘s close to the mission‘s end. the Psychological Support services on the ground have to supply the crew members with pornography — ‘nice colour frlms' — to reanimate desires they’ve forgotten they had. One crew member begins to feel someone watching him.
But these were the lucky ones. The real victims were those who were left behind. Unsuitable for mission status. their thirst to fly led them to volunteer to be used along with the dogs. rats and monkeys in physiological and psychological experiments into the effects of extended stays in space. ‘They gave rne the anaesthetic which blocks out all pain.‘ one burly man rnonotoned. ‘but 1 was still conscious. i can remember every detail of what they did to me.‘ The programme ended with shots of wrecked and rotting launch silos. symbols of the collapse of the Soviet Union and its dream of conquering the stars. a long way from the days of parades and Gagarin. ‘No one knows who‘s in space now.‘ sighed an ageing professor. ‘And we still haven't found a practical purpose for man in a state of weightlessness.‘
More laughs were to be had in Shooting Stars (BBC2) the latest Reeves and Mortimer televisual Trojan horse in their ongoing campaign to subvert and disturb as many people as they possibly can. The premise is simple; get some cheesy celebrities together in two teams. and ask them ridiculous questions. Sounds fair enough. but everything here. from the opening introductions (a disconcerting series of ultra close-ups of. say. Carol Vorderman staring grimly into the camera as she rotates silently on a pedestal or Martin Clunes being described as being ‘only a head with a leaf for a body at binh‘) to the score keeper (a grotesque with a baby fetish) is seriously scary stuff. (Damien Love)
as The r in ﬁ-IQ (in 100s