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
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.
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
Yule, Tommy Handley and Hattie Jacques, ITMA 1947
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.
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.
with a cup of Mrs Mop's tea
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.
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.
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.
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.