Caerphilly is a small town in South Wales located just inland from the capital of Cardiff. Above all, Caerphilly is most associated with its castle, which was built in 1268 and is the largest castle in Wales. Second, Caerphilly is associated with the eponymous hard cheese which originated in the region. Third, Caerphilly is known as the birthplace of Tommy Cooper.
Tommy Cooper was born in 1921 in Caerphilly, but because the city’s air was so polluted at the time, Cooper’s family moved away when he was just three years old. Growing up, he developed an interest in magic and began to practice magic tricks regularly. Cooper came of age at the start of the Second World War and he served with the Royal Horse Guards in the Middle East during the war. However, he continued to perform while in the military. Before one of these performances at Egypt, Cooper needed a hat but had lost the one he was supposed to wear, so he grabbed a fez from a waiter’s head and put it on, much to the audience’s laughter. After that, Cooper would continue to wear a fez as a performer, making it his personal mark.
After serving in the military during and after World War II, Cooper was able to break into the entertainment business, first appearing on television in 1947. His performances were a mixture of stand-up comedy, prop gags, and magic, with his magic tricks often appearing to fail badly. However, sometimes his magic tricks would end with a big reveal showing that the tricks had really worked as intended. Cooper would go on to perform regularly in West End theaters and on British television, even hosting his own television series.
Unfortunately, Cooper was also a heavy drinker and smoker, which impacted not only his health, but also the quality of his performances. Nevertheless, it continued to perform. Ultimately, Cooper died of a heart attack during a live television performance in 1984.
The comedian retained a following even after his death. In 2003 the Tommy Cooper Society was organized to erect a statue to commemorate the comedian and magician in Caerphilly, the town in which he was born. After several years of fundraising, the statue was unveiled in 2008 by Sir Anthony Hopkins, a Cooper super fan and corporate patron.
Today, Cooper and his statue have become symbols of the city of Caerphilly, although the castle is still the city’s most important landmark and tourist attraction.