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The BBC's Valerie Jones
"The programmes were unsophisticated.... but livelier than might be suspected"
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Monday, 16 April, 2001, 11:07 GMT 12:07 UK
Comic Cooper footage unearthed
Tommy cooper
Cooper was 27 when the film was made
The earliest known TV footage of legendary comic Tommy Cooper on stage has been found in a garden shed - 51 years after it was filmed.

It shows the 27-year old star performing an early routine at a gala screening to celebrate the opening of the Lime Grove Studios in December 1950.

The precious footage is to be displayed later this year at Bradford's National Museum of Photography, Film and Television.

The fez-wearing comic, who died after collapsing on stage in 1984 during a live TV performance, was one of the UK's best-loved entertainers.

As well as being a master of the one-liner, he was also expert at performing bizarre and often deliberately doomed magic tricks.

Tommy Cooper
He wore his trademark fez
Desmond Campbell, who shot the footage, is a widely respected veteran of television lighting.

He would often shoot behind the scenes film to study the lighting sets, but in this case he also captured a young Cooper going through his early routine.

The actual broadcast went out live and so no recording was made, leaving Campbell's footage as the only version in existence.

After leaving the BBC, he stored his old film reels in his garden shed where they lay undiscovered for 50 years until his son, Neil, started to sort through them late last year.

Campbell's son gave the footage to the Alexandra Palace Television Society (APTS), who work to preserve the history of early TV pioneers.

The APTS's archivist Simon Vaughan traced the history of the film, offering it to the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television when he realised its importance.

A spokesman for the museum told BBC News Online: "The APTS were invaluable in doing a lot of the background research, and identifying who the people are in the footage."

Experts at the museum have been working on the film to restore it to its original condition.

'TV history'

Along with other rare pieces of television history, the footage will form part of the display in the museum's new research centre Insight, which opens later this year.

Also found in the garden was footage which showed glimpses of the first TV gardener, Mr M Middleton and the BBC's first Christmas pantomime.

John Trenouth, senior TV curator at the National Museum of Photography, Film & Television, said: "This is TV history I never expected to see.

"These programmes were literally beamed into the ether, never to return, and TV historians could only speculate on their contents.

"This footage changes completely our view of what those early TV broadcasts were actually like. We're absolutely delighted."

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