It was enough just for him to walk on stage and the audience would be in hysterics even before Tommy Cooper said a word let alone fumble his way through his version of magic.

Tommy was quite simply the best natural clown that Britain ever produced, his gangling body, absurd red fez perched precariously on his head and unmistakable catch-phrase "Just like that!'' took him to the top of show business.

Born in Wales, Tommy was later to move to Hampshire in his early years living near Hythe where one day he was to discover that he could make people laugh.

At about the age of seven Tommy's Aunt Lucy gave him a magic set and from then on the comic fell in love with performing tricks.

After leaving school Tommy was to gain an apprenticeship at the British Power Boat Company and one Christmas he was asked to perform magic tricks for the other workers in the company canteen.

Tommy was later to say: " 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."

After the start of the Second World War Tommy joined the Guards and his knack of making people laugh meant he was soon doing turns at army concert parties. For this he wore a pith helmet, but one night, at an RAF station near Cairo, he couldn't find it, so he grabbed a fez from a passing waiter and the rest is history.

Over the years he became the nation's favourite and was asked to appear on the bill of the Royal Variety Show after which he was introduced to the Queen. As they shook hands, Tommy asked her if she liked football and when the Queen answered "No'' he said: "Can I have your Cup Final tickets?'' No one told jokes like Tommy, he had a unique style all of his own: A policeman stopped me and said: "Would you please blow into this bag, sir?" I said: "What for, officer?" He said: "My chips are too hot."

Ill health dogged him in his later years and on April 15, 1984 as he was performing his usual mixture of jokes and failed magic tricks to a live television audience he collapsed and died on stage from a heart attack at the age of 63.

Name: Tommy Cooper Occupation: Comedian Date of Birth: 1921 Local link: Lived in Hythe