The Cooper magic comes to Caerphilly

Following years of campaigning, the great comic is honoured with a 9ft statue in the town of his birth
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They always said Tommy Cooper was larger than life and now he really is.

Yesterday the 6ft 4in comic legend was immortalised as a 9ft-tall bronze statue standing in front of the castle in Caerphilly, South Wales, the town of his birth.

The unveiling was performed by Sir Anthony Hopkins, patron of the Tommy Cooper Society, actor, and, judging by the speech he gave for the occasion, wickedly accurate impersonator of the great man. As he took the stage to pull the red cover off the statue, Sir Anthony adopted an uncanny Cooper voice and said: "Before I start I just want to say this – this. Or that. Or this is as funny as that."

Sir Anthony then delighted the crowds with a comic set that recalled the finest moments of Cooper, who died on stage in 1984.

When he finally came out of character, Sir Anthony said: "I just want to say what an honour it is to be here. Tommy Cooper was a one-off. He was a kind of tragic comedian – that great big face of his and great big hands and his boots and that ridiculous fez."

Comparing Cooper to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, he added: "He was the comedian's comedian because he was such a self-mockery artist."

The £45,000 statue, which depicts a laughing Cooper with a magic wand in his hands, is the work of sculptor James Done.

The Tommy Cooper Society campaigned for many years to raise the money for the tribute to the comic, who was born in 1921 in the town's Llwyn Onn Street before leaving with his family for Exeter as a small boy.

They then moved to Southampton, and it was there, as an apprentice at a power-boat factory, performing in a canteen concert, that he discovered his act as a magician who struggled with tricks. Cooper said: "I did everything wrong. But the audience loved it. The more I panicked and made a mess of everything, the more they laughed. I came off and cried, but five minutes later I could still hear the sound of the laughter in my ears and was thinking, maybe there's a living to be made here."

In the years to come he added the fez – nicked off the head of a passing waiter while performing during the war in Cairo – and was soon one of the biggest names in show business.

But heart problems brought on by prodigious drinking – he once ordered a large gin and tonic to be poured over his cornflakes at a Bournemouth hotel – led to a fatal heart attack during a live television broadcast from Her Majesty's Theatre in the Haymarket, London.

Fez-adorned David Lewis, from Caerphilly, was among those at the unveiling yesterday. He said: "My family used to run a club in the town called the Double Diamond, where Tommy appeared on three occasions in the 1970s. You never knew from one minute to the next what he was going to do."

Maybe that is still true. Yesterday, as the daylight started to fade on the statue of the big-jawed comic, you could almost imagine one of those famous guffaws coming from its great metallic mouth.

Or maybe one last gag. "Here y'a," as he used to say to taxi drivers, handing them a tea bag, "have a drink on me."