Rhodri Marsden's interesting objects: Comedian Tommy Cooper's trademark fez

Sophisticated men with style used to wear a fez as part of their luxury smoking garb. Cooper transformed it into a comedy prop

* Thirty years ago this week, with his trademark fez atop his head, Tommy Cooper died of a heart attack while performing at Her Majesty's Theatre. He got big laughs throughout his career by putting on any item of headgear, but remained inextricably linked with the fez – and vice versa, despite a spirited challenge in the early Seventies from the shopkeeper in kids' cartoon Mr Benn.

* Sophisticated men with style used to wear a fez as part of their luxury smoking garb. Cooper transformed it into a comedy prop.

* When performing in Cairo during the war, legend has it that he swiped a fez from a nearby waiter, put it on, got a laugh and kept it in the show. In what may have been his only TV interview, he appeared without it; Michael Parkinson repeatedly asked him where it was, but Cooper evaded the question with an irrelevant story of how he'd lost £200 on a horse, punctuated with guttural sobs.

* As part of the Ottoman military uniform, the fez was something of a liability as it was too easily aimed at by the enemy. Cooper discovered this during an early performance, when a belligerent crowd tried to knock his fez off with bread rolls. “Stop!” yelled Cooper, according to Eric Sykes in his book Comedy Heroes. When one man asked why he should, Cooper said, “Because I haven't got an ad lib for people throwing bread rolls at my hat”.

* The superstitious, Cooper is said never to have left the fez with its top down (“in case it trapped the spirits”). The last fez from his estate (made of burgundy wool) was sold at auction in November 2010 for the princely sum of £4,750; if you fancy seeing a bronze replica, it's sitting on top of the bronze statue of Cooper that overlooks Caerphilly Castle.

@rhodri

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