Harry Tate

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For other people named Harry Tate, see Harry Tate (disambiguation).
Harry Tate

Ronald Macdonald Hutchinson (4 July 1872 - 14 February 1940), professionally known as Harry Tate, was an English comedian who performed both in the music halls and in films. Tate worked for Henry Tate & Sons, Sugar Refiners before going on the stage, and took his stage name from them.[1]


Tate made his debut at the Oxford Music Hall in 1895, and became well known for his impressions of performers such as Dan Leno, George Robey, and Eugene Stratton. Success came with his comedy sketch, Motoring, in which he played the part of a new car owner trying to repair it. His other sketches included Running an Office, Billiards and Fishing. Several catch phrases he used became popular in Britain in the 1930s, including "Goodbye-eee", "How's your Father" (used as an escape clause when he was unable to answer a question) and "I don't think", used sarcastically (as in "He's a nice chap – I don't think").[2] He used his bristling moustache to express all kinds of emotion by twitching or moving it.

In February 1940 Tate suffered a stroke and died, aged 67, shortly after; while in bed between the two events he told reporters that he had been injured during an air raid, and because they failed to realise that he was joking this is often given as the cause of his death. He is buried at St Mary's, Northolt. For a time, his son Ronnie continued the act as Harry Tate junior.[3]

Selected filmography[edit]

Slang usage[edit]

The phrase "Harry Tate" entered the 20th century English (British) language as slang, initially as a nickname for the Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 biplane. When used as an adjective it came to mean "amateur" or even "incompetent".

In cockney rhyming slang it could mean a "plate" or "worried" (from the expression "in a state").

In the British merchant navy (merchant marine) it is used to refer the chief officer (second to the captain of a ship) whose title in official documents is 'Mate'. This use is believed to have come from the London docks where the majority of the workforce were Cockneys.

During the First World War, the Royal Naval Patrol Service - staffed mostly by naval reservists and using out-dated and poorly armed vessels, such as requisitioned trawlers crewed by ex-fishermen - came to bear the unofficial title "Harry Tate's Navy".In recognition of the gallant efforts of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reservists who participated in the famous Zeebrugge Raid, which took place on St George's Day, 23 April 1918 they were never called "Harry Tates Navy" again.[4]

During the Second World War the nickname "Harry Tate's Navy" (or variations such as "Tattymen" or "Tattymob") was also used to refer to the Royal Navy's Rescue Tug Service (HMRT); a specialist naval unit based at Campbeltown in Scotland operating deep sea tugs to escort convoys, salvage ships damaged by enemy action and related work. HM Rescue Tugs were mostly crewed by former merchant seamen recruited under T124 articles (like the RN Patrol Service who often worked alongside them).


  • The earliest known celebrity personalised number plate was T 8, owned by Harry Tate[5]


  1. ^ Music Hall history accessed 11 Feb 2007
  2. ^ Harry Tate entry at Music Hall Performers website
  3. ^ Harry Tate (at British Library) accessed 11 Feb 2007
  4. ^ Petty officer George McKnight, CMM MB1928
  5. ^ The first personalised number plate accessed 21 Sep 2007

External links[edit]