1) Tommy Cooper faces his final curtain, Her Majesty’s Theatre, 1984
Most comedians have died on stage at some point in their career, but few have done it as literally as Tommy Cooper. During a live TV broadcast from Her Majesty’s Theatre, Tommy collapsed dramatically. The audience, assuming this was all part of the act, mistook tragedy for comedy and laughed. It wasn’t until the producers brought on Les Dennis instead that the reality hit home.
2) Piers Morgan leaves these shores, 2010
The UK breathed a hearty sigh of relief when Morgan – journalist, TV pundit and Segway stunt driver – headed Stateside to become the new prince of late-night chat. His sieve-like memory of his involvement in the phone-hacking scandal combined with a flurry of irritating TV appearances failed to endear him to the British public. Worryingly, he’s not faring much better over there, with Americans starting a petition to have him deported. No, keep him!
3) Tracey Emin walks out of the Turner Prize TV debate, 1997
‘Don’t you understand? I want to be free!’ There was something poetic about Emin’s drunken exit line as she stumbled out of a disastrous live TV panel debate about 1997’s Turner Prize. After slurring her way through some nonsensical art waffle and saying she wanted to call her mum, Trace yelled ‘Get this fucking mic off!’ and staggered artfully into the night.
4) Winston Churchill gets a decent send-off, 1965
On January 24 1965 Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill, soldier, politician, author, artist, occasional bricklayer, and wine and spirits enthusiast, died aged 90. London saw him off in fine style: 321,360 people filed past his coffin as it lay in state in St Paul’s Cathedral, and as his funeral barge progressed along the Thames, the arms of hundreds of dockside cranes were lowered in tribute while RAF jets roared overhead. Almost as impressively, BBC live coverage of the funeral finished in time for ‘Doctor Who’.
5) The Bee Gees blow out Clive Anderson, 1997
Calling your celebrity guests ‘tossers’ might not be textbook interviewing technique, but Clive Anderson was never the most affable of TV chatshow hosts. In a mere three-and-a-half minutes, Anderson managed to be so obnoxious to the Bee Gees that Barry and Robin stormed out, Barry saying, ‘You’re the tosser, pal.’ Maurice followed, leaving Anderson to deal with a TV ‘Tragedy’ of his own.
6) Margaret Thatcher moves out of No10, 1990
When riots against her cash-raising poll tax – in which every individual, from a streetsweeper to an earl, would pay the same – broke out across the country, the prime minister’s cabinet lost faith and brought her down. The famously unsentimental Iron Lady wept as she left Downing Street. But it wasn’t all bad: as individual poll tax became household council tax, having one less residence ultimately saved her quite a bit of money.
7) Richard Harris checks out, 2002
After his star turn as Albus Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films, Harris retired to his £6,000-a-week Savoy suite. Years of hellraising had started to catch up with him and his health was failing. So his family intervened, breaking down the door and carting him out on a stretcher. As the packed lobby gawped at this spectacle, Harris brilliantly announced: ‘It was the food! Don’t touch the food!’
8) Syd Barrett sets off for Cambridge, 1982
Syd’s first great exit was leaving Pink Floyd as they were on the verge of huge commercial success. After years of psychological twilight, the psychedelic genius had one last shot at living in London, then decided it was time to go home. Since he’d run out of money, or maybe just because he felt like it, Syd walked 50 miles to Cambridge. Charity memorial walks, retracing the crazy diamond’s steps, are now commonplace.
9) Will Kempe exits stage left, 1599
The funniest man in sixteenth-century London, Kempe created roles like Falstaff for Shakespeare. But in 1599 he mysteriously left the company that had helped make his name as a clown. No one knows why – though it’s possible that he got the hump when The Bard penned the not-exactly-LOL ‘Hamlet’ (bodies: eight) and ‘Julius Caesar’ (bodies: eight and counting). Whatever the story, he exited in style. Instead of just walking out, he morris danced all the way to Norwich.
10) Judy Finnegan’s breasts escape from her dress, 2000
More of a surprise appearance than an exit, Judy’s puppies came out to play at the National Television Awards. Unbeknown to the queen of daytime TV, her dress had slipped, revealing her lady lumps as she and Richard accepted a gong. The sight of an exposed Judy grinning madly while Les Dennis (again!) peers over from behind is one of the most haunting images of modern times.
Compiled by Eddy Frankel and Caroline McGinn