Thomas Reginald Handley was born at 13 Threlfall Street, in Toxteth Park, on 17th January l892. His father, John, a cow keeper, died soon after Tommy’s birth. Tommy, like so many performers before and since, discovered a talent at school for making people laugh, and he took part in concerts at St. Michael’s school in Aigburth, and at Toxteth Congregational Church. He had a fine voice, and sang in the choir there.
He was fascinated with disguise and spent what money he might have on moustaches, masks and make up. He loved Ventriloquists and magicians and practised throwing his voice, and springing tricks on unsuspecting neighbours and fellow pupils.
Holidays were taken on the Isle of Man, where the family had relatives. And the "end of the pier" shows there exposed Tommy to another facet of show business. He used to go on Saturdays to New Brighton, a favourite spot for thousands of Merseyside day trippers - taking the famous ferry across the Mersey. Not to go on the sands - but to go to the theatre there. Tommy left school at 14 he started work in a stationers and then, more famously, selling prams at a shop in Duke Street, Liverpool city centre for the princely wage of 8s.6d. a week. He was there ‘til l917.
|New brighton, Victoria Road 1900s|
Tommy joined the Aigburth Amateur Dramatic Society, and the Wellesley Society, based in Dingle, appearing in various parts including Charley’s Aunt, and many Dickens productions.
Then came 1914 and the first world war. But the man, whose name became universally known in the second world war for ITMA, was not called up until l917.
He served with a kite balloon section of the Royal Naval Air Service during World War I.
He went on to work in variety, and in the infancy of radio became known as a regular broadcaster. He worked with people such as Arthur Askey and Bob Monkhouse, and wrote many radio scripts, but it is the BBC comedy series ITMA for which he is best known. It's That Man Again, was a BBC radio comedy programme which ran from 1939 to 1949. The title refers to a contemporary phrase concerning the ever more frequent news-stories about Hitler in the lead-up to World War II. The headline which inspired the name of the show appeared in the Daily Express of 2 May 1939, on the bottom of the front page, above a story about Adolf Hitler leaving his Chancellery on a mystery journey. The first show was broadcast on 12 July 1939, part of an initial run of four shows which were fortnightly. He later starred in the ITMA film in 1942 and in Time Flies in 1944.
|Tommy Handley rehearses with actors from his ITMA show|
ITMA is remembered for a number of catchphrases, Don't forget the diver" - spoken by Horace Percival upon entrance and exit as a diver. This became a very popular catchphrase in Britain during World War II. his catchphrase was apparently inspired by a diver who solicited pennies on New Brighton pier from seaside crowds, saying "Don't forget the diver sir. Every penny makes the water warmer". When the ferry approached, he rode off the end of the landing stage, some 10 to 20 feet, into the river Mersey. His accomplice stood on the stage with a collecting box and cried out "Don't forget the diver." as the passengers left the boat.
"I'm going down now sir" – Another diver catchphrase, which became widely used in descending lifts during the era of ITMA popularity.
"This is Funf speaking" – German spy, spoken by Jack Train. This became a popular telephone catchphrase.
"I don't mind if I do" – Colonel Humphrey Chinstrap's catchphrase, spoken by Jack Train, turning any remark into an offer of a drink. The origin of this catchphrase precedes ITMA, but was nevertheless popularised by ITMA.
"I go, I come back" – Middle Eastern vendor, Ali Oop. Spoken by Jack Train.
"It's being so cheerful as keeps me going" – Mona Lott, a depressed laundrywoman played by Joan Harben.
"Good morning, nice day" – commercial traveller about to offer some sales line.
"After you, Claude – no, After you Cecil" – Moving men spoken by Jack Train and Horace Percival. This phrase became used by RAF pilots as they queued for attack.
"I'll have to ask me Dad" – Mark Time (an elderly ditherer). This "was a political phrase introduced into ITMA when post-war reconstruction was looming."It was spoken by a Jack Train character, Mark Time, who responded to all questions with this phrase.
"But I'm all right now" – Hattie Jacques' character Sophie Tuckshop, after describing a long list of food she had eaten.
"Can I Do You Now, Sir?" and "TTFN (Ta ta for now)" – Spoken by Dorothy Summers' character, Mrs Mopp.
In later years, he suffered with high blood pressure, the result of his driving commitment to ITMA, and died suddenly on 9 January 1949 from a brain haemorrhage, eight days before his 57th birthday. He was cremated and his ashes placed in the rhododendron bed at Golders Green Crematorium. In a eulogy at his memorial service at St Paul's Cathedral, the Bishop of London, John W.C. Wand, said that "he was one whose genius transmuted the copper of our common experience into the gold of exquisite foolery. His raillery was without cynicism and his satire without malice".
On 7 November 2006, BBC Radio 4 broadcast a review of one of his partnerships, Mr Murgatroyd and Mr Winterbottom: "The story of Tommy Handley and Ronald Frankau, a comedy partnership which had its heyday in the 1930s world of radio. There was no straight man, so the partnership was a rare one. Tommy was a fast talking Liverpudlian, while Ronald in contrast was upper class and Eton-educated. Presented by Nicholas Frankau, actor and grandson of Ronald.