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28 July 2014
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Tommy Handley

Tommy Handley
Tommy Handley

Audio Listen to the songs of Tommy Handley
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Thomas Reginald Handley was born at 13 Threlfall Street, in the then named Toxteth Park, on 17 January l892. His father, John, a cow keeper, died soon after Tommy’s birth. It’s not known how the young widow supported herself, and her young son, but there’s no doubt they struggled.

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. Ventriloquists and magicians were food and drink to the young Liverpudlian, who practised throwing his voice, and springing tricks on unsuspecting neighbours and fellow pupils.

ITMA 1947
Fred Yule, Tommy Handley and Hattie Jacques, ITMA 1947

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.

Audio Listen to Tommy's wartime recipies
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Of course New Brighton appeared much later in Tommy’s career - in the persona of Deep End Dan the Diver - and ITMA’s famous catchphrase - "Don’t forget the diver"… a reference to a one legged man who used to dive for pennies off the pier, thrown in by day trippers on the ferry.

Tommy and Mrs Mop's tea.
Tommy with a cup of Mrs Mop's tea

Unlike many children in the early years of the last century, Tommy left school at 14, because education was important to Mrs. Handley - she saw it as the way ahead for her son’s success.

He started work in a stationers and then, more famously, selling prams at a shop in Duke Street, Liverpool city centre for the princely sum of 8s.6d. a week. He was there til l917.

Meanwhile, the acting bug was biting harder. 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. But the man whose name became universally known in the second world war for ITMA, was not called up until l917 - and it was during those years he turned professional. He auditioned at the Royal Court, Liverpool, for a part in a musical comedy, and began touring with "The Maid of the Mountains". And the rest, as they say, is history.




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