Amanda Redman and David Threlfall star in a new TV biopic about iconic comedian Tommy Cooper on Easter Monday.
He was one of Britain’s best-loved comedians, known for his trademark red fez and memorable stage routines, combining magic tricks, slapstick and brilliant one-liners.
Yet, away from the spotlight, Tommy Cooper was an altogether darker man.
Now, 30 years after his death, it is this, the private side of the TV superstar, that is the focus for new one-off ITV drama Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This.
The two-hour TV movie, scripted by Men Behaving Badly writer Simon Nye and starring Shameless actor David Threlfall in the title role, will give viewers a revealing insight into the legendary comic behind closed doors.
In particular, the drama will explore the Welshman’s volatile relationship with wife Gwen, known as Dove (Amanda Redman), and his 17-year affair with his personal assistant, Mary Kay (Helen McCrory).
“He was a man in love with two equally devoted women, unable to choose between them and living a complicated double life,” explains Amanda, 56.
“Dove was a clever woman and I think she knew what was going on. But she was in love with Tommy and, so long as he didn’t humiliate her publicly, she was happy to turn a blind eye.
“It seems unthinkable that a woman could put up with this kind of behaviour,” continues Amanda. “But it was a very different time. Remember that this was a generation who had lived through the war and were used to hardship. The attitude was stiff upper lip, grin and bear it, you’ve made your bed and now you must lie in it.”
As well as his romantic entanglements, this frank account of Tommy’s life also touches on his battle with alcoholism and his violent temper.
His fits of rage were often directed at his wife, although Dove was known for giving as good as she got.
“Gwen was nicknamed ‘Dove’ by Tommy, after the exploding dove he used in his stage routines, and he used to say of her: ‘She kills first and asks questions later’,” laughs Amanda.
“I think if you’d asked Dove about being in an abusive relationship, she’d have said: ‘What abusive relationship?’. She genuinely wouldn’t have thought of it like that, because she was giving it right back. Their fights were legendary.”
Amanda admits that the cast were all keenly aware of the responsibility of portraying real-life people, reports the Daily Express.
“I was apprehensive about taking on the role, although not quite so nervous as David – Tommy Cooper is such an icon.”
Not Like That, Like This is Amanda’s first TV drama role since quitting the BBC1 crime series New Tricks last year, where she’d portrayed DSI Sandra Pullman for 10 years.
Now writing her own material, she is hopeful that her first drama, which she pitched to production company Daybreak Pictures, could be hitting our TV screens soon.
One thing she certainly isn’t planning is retirement. Like Tommy Cooper, who collapsed on TV in front of an audience during Live From Her Majesty’s, in 1984, Amanda wants to keep working until the end.
“I think it’s wonderful that actors don’t retire,” she says. “As long as I can keep playing people who really speak to me, I have no intention of walking away.”
Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This, ITV, Monday, April 21