Tommy Cooper collection at V&A, by various

Tommy Cooper’s card props Victoria and Albert Museum, London © The Tommy Cooper Estate
Tommy Cooper’s card props
Victoria and Albert Museum, London © The Tommy Cooper Estate

Poster designs, props and stage design notes are among the items of Tommy Cooper ephemera recently acquired by the V&A.

The collection is the largest of its kind, comprising more than 116 boxes of archive material and 24 props and posters. Among the items is Cooper’s “gag file” – a large, alphabetically ordered paper storage system for jokes, and the prop used in the comedian’s “Head Twister” illusion.

Alongside performance-related pieces are a number of personal notes, letters and his contracts – including the 1984 document that went unfulfilled when Cooper died on stage during a live broadcast from Her Majesty’s Theatre, London.

A selection of the pieces in the collection will be going on public display in the V&A’s Theatre and Performance Galleries this autumn, and the organisation is making the archive available for research once cataloguing has been completed. Digital records will be available on the V&A’s Search the Collections site.

Simon Sladen, senior curator of modern and contemporary performance at the V&A, says: “The Tommy Cooper Collection offers a fascinating insight into one of the best-loved entertainers of the 20th century and reveals much about his practice, process and legacy. Although it doesn’t contain one of his iconic fezzes, the rich collection contains thousands of hand-written gags as well as unique examples of his comedy props.”

The V&A also houses ephemera from comedians including Ronnie Barker, Tony Hancock, Morecambe and Wise and Stan Laurel.

Trombone band part for a Tommy Cooper performance Circa 1970s Victoria and Albert Museum, London © The Tommy Cooper Estate
Trombone band part for a Tommy Cooper performance Circa 1970s
Tommy Cooper’s ‘Head-Twister’ illusion Victoria and Albert Museum, London © The Tommy Cooper Estate
Tommy Cooper’s ‘Head-Twister’ illusion
Poster for The Tommy Cooper Show at the Palace Theatre, Blackpool 1968 © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Poster for The Tommy Cooper Show at the Palace Theatre, Blackpool 1968
Tommy Cooper’s ‘gag file’ Victoria and Albert Museum, London © The Tommy Cooper Estate
Tommy Cooper’s ‘gag file’

All photos Victoria and Albert Museum, London © The Tommy Cooper Estate