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Terry-Thomas (born Thomas Terry Hoar Stevens; 10 July 1911 – 8 January 1990)[a] was a distinctive English comic actor. He was famous for his portrayal of disreputable members of the upper classes, especially cads, toffs and bounders, with the trademark gap in his front teeth, cigarette holder, smoking jacket and catch-phrases such as "What an absolute shower!", "Good show!", "You dirty rotter!" and "Hard cheese!".
Early life: 1911–33 
Terry-Thomas was born Thomas Terry Hoar Stevens at 53 Lichfield Grove, Finchley, North London. He was the second youngest of four children, born to Ernest Frederick Stevens, a butcher at Smithfield Market, and part-time amateur actor, and his wife Ellen Elizabeth Stevens (née Hoar). As a child, Terry-Thomas was often referred to as Tom, a nickname given to him by his family. He led a generally happy childhood, but regularly felt—albeit wrongly—that his parents harboured a secret desire to have a daughter in his place. By the time he reached adolescence, his parents' marriage had begun to fail and both became alcoholics. In an attempt to bring them together, Terry-Thomas often entertained them by performing impromptu slapstick routines, reciting jokes, and singing and dancing around the family home. The performances seldom ever worked, and his father became more distant with the family by the day. His parents had eventually divorced by the time he had become a teenager in the 1920s.
In 1921, Terry-Thomas began to nurture his distinctive, well-spoken voice. His reasoning was that he felt "...using good speech automatically suggested that you were well-educated and made people look up to you." He used the speech of the actor Owen Nares as a basis for his own delivery. Terry-Thomas became interested in the stage as a boy, and regularly attended the Golders Green Hippodrome to see the latest shows. It was there that he developed an interest in fashion, and adopted the debonair dress-sense of his hero Douglas Fairbanks. Terry-Thomas attended Fernbank School in Hendon Lane, Finchley which was a welcome escape from the stresses of his parents break-up. When he was 13, he transferred to Ardingly College, a public school in West Sussex. He excelled in Latin and Geography and briefly took up drama, which he was later expelled from for his frequent and inappropriate use of ad lib. Aside from this, he took up a position in the school jazz band, first playing the ukulele and then percussion. As well as his ability to play instruments, he often performed comedy dancing routines to the band's music.
Terry-Thomas enjoyed his time at Ardingly, and the association with his upper middle class schoolmates. His academic abilities were modest, and he only came to notice through his tomfoolery. His confidence at school grew causing him to mature more quickly. Upon his return to Finchley in 1927, his more grown-up manner impressed the family's housekeeper Kate Dixon, who seduced the young student at the family home. Terry-Thomas stayed at Ardingly for one more term and returned home to London, but made no plans to further his education or start long-term work. Instead, he accepted a temporary position at Smithfield Market, where he earned 15-shillings-a-week as a junior transport clerk for the Union Cold Storage Company. By his own admissions, he never stopped "farting around" and often kept his colleagues entertained with impersonations of the Hunchback of Notre-Dame and Erich von Stroheim. Terry-Thomas also invented various characters including Colonel Featherstonehaugh-Bumleigh and Cora Chessington-Crabbe, and frequently recited comic stories involving them. His characterisations soon came to notice by the company's management who prompted him into enrolling in the company's amateur drama club, where he became a popular member. His debut with the drama company came in the role of Lord Trench in The Dover Road which was staged at the Fortune Theatre in London. The production was popular with audiences, and Terry-Thomas became a prolific performer in many amateur theatre productions.
Terry-Thomas made his professional stage debut on 11 April 1930 at a social evening organised by the Union of Electric Railwayman's Dining Club in South Kensington. He was billed as Thos Stevens, and appeared only as a minor turn. The engagement brought heckles from the drunken audience, but earned him a commission of 30 shillings. After this, he took on some minor roles in a few Gilbert and Sullivan operettas which were produced by the Edgware Operatic Society, and staged latterly at the Scala Theatre. In 1933, Terry-Thomas left Smithfield Market to work with a friend at an electrical shop. The employment was brief and he eventually took to selling electrical equipment as a travelling salesman. He enjoyed the job and relished in being able to dress up in elaborate clothing in order to make his pitch. In his spare time, he began playing with a local jazz band called the Rhythm Maniacs for whom he played the ukulele. Together with his role in the band, he took up dancing and formed a partnership with the sister of Jessie Matthews. The act starred in local exhibitions and at minor venues, and the act earned well from it. News soon travelled of the couple's talent and they were engaged as ballroom dancers at a hall in Cricklewood. However, Terry-Thomas found the dance-style too restrictive and the act left to try other mediums.
Early performances: 1933–39 
By 1933 Terry-Thomas had moved out of Finchley and into a friend's mews flat overlooking Lord's Cricket Ground; the friend was a film extra who introduced him to the idea of also working in the industry. Terry-Thomas made his uncredited film debut in the 1933 film, The Private Life of Henry VIII, which starred Charles Laughton in the title role. Between 1933 and 1941 Terry-Thomas appeared in 16 films, as an uncredited extra in all but one;[b] he later said that "the work suited me down to the ground. It wasn't really like work to me. I got an enormous kick out of it". His first speaking role came in the 1935 Buddy Rogers comedy Once in a Million where he shouted "A thousand!" during an auction. During the 1936 musical comedy This'll Make You Whistle, starring Jack Buchanan, he permanently damaged his hearing as a result of jumping into a water tank. In between his film work he developed his cabaret act and was employed at the Aida Foster School of Dancing in Golders Green, giving dance lessons; he also played jazz on the ukulele with the Rhythm Maniacs.
During this period he billed himself as Thomas (or Thos) Stevens, but changed the name to its backward spelling of Mot Snevets; the name did not last long and he changed it to Thomas Terry. He soon realised that people were mistaking him as a relative of Dame Ellen Terry, so changed it to the un-hyphenated Terry Thomas. He did not add the hyphen to the name until 1947; he later explained that it was "not for snob reasons but to tie the two names together. They didn't mean much apart; together they made a trade name": the hyphen was also "to match the gap in his front teeth". He developed a unique sense of style both on and off stage. In order to avoid staining his fingers with smoke, he used a cigarette holder and later purchased "the most irresistible holder in Dunhill's. It was slightly outré because it was made of lacquered, black whangee ... with a gold band twisting neatly round it".[c] Adding to his look were a "monocle, raffish waistcoat and red carnation".
In the autumn of 1937, Terry-Thomas met the South African dancer and choreographer Ida Florence Patlansky, who went by the stage-name Pat Patlanski,[d] she while she was auditioning in London for a partner for her flamenco dancing act.[e] Patlanski, was keen to employ Terry-Thomas as a comedian rather than a dancer, and they established a cabaret double-act billed as "Terri and Patlanski", which was immediately popular with audiences. The couple became romantically involved and married on the 3 February 1938 at Marylebone registry office and moved to 29 Bronwen Court in St John's Wood. Despite the success of Terri and Patlanski, the act only lasted three months and they took on small engagements on the cabaret circuit. During this time, they were hired by Don Rico, a band leader, who incorporated them into his orchestra, with Patlanski playing the piano, and Terry-Thomas acting as the compere. On 6 June 1938, Terry-Thomas made his first radio broadcast on the BBC London Regional dance programme Friends to Tea. He later recounted that "I didn't give a very good performance ... I was a dismal failure". At the end of the summer of 1938 Patlanski obtained a job as a pianist with the dance leader Don Rico, and Terry-Thomas became the compere.
Second World War 
Entertainments National Service Association (ENSA) was formed in 1938 in order to provide entertainment to British forces;[f] Terry-Thomas and Patlanski signed up in 1939 and were posted to France during the Phoney War where they appeared in a variety show. From early in their marriage, Patlanski had started having affairs, a move which prompted him to do the same; he ensured that he was sent on tour to France where his girlfriend was due to perform, although Patlanski accompanied him on the trip. During the tour, Terry-Thomas ensured Patlanski was sent back to the UK to enable him to continue his affair. On his return to the Britain, he continued with his solo variety act, while also acting as the head of the cabaret section of ENSA at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane; he clashed regularly with his counterparts running the drama sections, Sir Seymour Hicks and Dame Lilian Braithwaite. Terry-Thomas aimed to produce "good shows, sophisticated, impeccable and highly polished", which included the violinist Eugene Piri playing light classical music and the Gainsborough Girls chorus line.
In April 1942 he received his call-up papers; he later wrote that "it would have seemed rather rude and ungrateful to refuse", so he left ENSA and reported to the Royal Corps of Signals training depot in Ossett, West Yorkshire. Within two weeks of his arrival he hired Ossett Town Hall and staged a concert, which included a freshly written sketch about his feet, which had been suffering in the army boots. After basic training he was promoted to the rank of corporal and he applied for a commission. He was turned down because training had caused a duodenal ulcer, and his hearing was still problematic, following the damage caused during the filming of This'll Make You Whistle; as a result he was downgraded from A1 to B1 fitness at the start of 1943.
Terry-Thomas continued to appear in cabaret and variety shows while in the army and, while appearing in cabaret at the Astoria cinema in York, he was seen by George Black, son of the impresario George Black Snr. Black founded the entertainment troupe, Stars in Battledress, which composed of entertainers who were serving in the forces, and invited Terry-Thomas to join. In February 1943 he appeared in his first Stars in Battledress show at London's Olympia where he introduced the sketch "Technical Hitch". The sketch involved Terry-Thomas portraying a harassed BBC announcer introducing records that are missing. In order to cover up for the absent records he would use his vocal range of four and a half octaves to mimic the singers, which included "impersonations of Britain's clipped crooner Noël Coward, the African-American bass-baritone Paul Robeson, the Peruvian songbird Yma Sumac, the Austrian tenor Richard Tauber and ... the entire Luton Girls Choir". The show went on a national tour, with stand-up comedian Charlie Chester as compere, during which Terry-Thomas refined and polished his act and finished as "one of the most prominent and influential members of Stars in Battledress".
Terry-Thomas, along with his Stars in Battledress unit, travelled through Britain and Europe, on a tour that lasted several months. After the tour, and with his demobilisation approaching, he took compassionate leave in order to have free time while still receiving army pay. During his leave period he went on a tour of the UK organised by George Black, and accompanied by a former colonel, Harry Sutcliffe, who accompanied on the piano. Terry-Thomas finished the war as a sergeant,[g] and was finally demobbed on 1 April 1946.
Early post-war work: 1946–55 
The ENSA and Stars in Battledress tours of Britain and Europe had raised Terry-Thomas' profile and, by October 1946, he was appearing alongside Sid Field in Piccadilly Hayride at the Prince of Wales Theatre, London. The show was a success and ran for 778 performances, with over a million people attending; £350,000 was taken at the box office[h] and the show was described as "the West End's biggest money spinner for years". Terry-Thomas compared the show, as well as appearing in some of the sketches, including his own "Technical Hitch" routine. In 1959 he described the effect of Piccadilly Hayride on his career, saying "This show made me overnight. I'd arrived". Ivor Brown, writing in The Observer remarked on the "glorious rag of BBC modes, moods and intonations by Mr. Terry Thomas, a grand discovery". Within three weeks of starting his run with Piccadilly Hayride, he was invited to appear at the Royal Variety Performance on 4 November 1946 at the London Palladium. The show ran until 17 January 1948, during which time he undertook a number of other additional one-off appearances in cabaret and private functions. He also appeared in editions of Variety Bandbox and Workers' Playtime on the BBC Light Programme and Home Service. His ever-evolving act consisted of imitations, including of his friend Leslie Hutchinson (known as "Hutch"); sketches, including "Technical Hitch"; urbane monologues; and "languid shaggy dog stories".
At the end of his run with Piccadilly Hayride, Terry-Thomas took a three week break to recover from nervous exhaustion and a recurrence of his stomach ulcer. He went back to cabaret and acted as a compare at the London Palladium before making his radio breakthrough on 12 October 1948 with his own series on the BBC Home Service. Consisting of a "mixture of sketches, solo routines, musical interludes and a range of popular and topical star guests", To Town with Terry was broadcast weekly and ran for 24 episodes until 28 March 1949. He was disappointed with the series, saying "I was never totally satisfied with [it] ... The perfectionist in me always made me aware of anything that was less than first class". He also appeared in his first post-war film, A Date with a Dream in 1949, along with his wife Pat; the film was the first in which Norman Wisdom made an appearance.
On 26 October 1949 Terry-Thomas started a new series on the BBC Television Service, How Do You View?, which was the first comedy series on British television. The programme was based around an on-screen persona of Terry-Thomas as "a glamorous, mischievous and discreetly cash-strapped man-about-town", introducing a series of sketches in which he also appeared, alongside Peter Butterworth as his chauffeur, Janet Brown (Butterworth's real life wife), Avril Angers and H.C. Walton as the family retainer, Moulting. The programme was broadcast live and often included Terry-Thomas walking through control rooms and corridors of the BBC's Lime Grove and Alexandra Palace studios. The series is described by the author and historian Mark Lewisohn as being "inventive ... truly televisual and not just a radio programme in costume". The series, which was also written by Terry-Thomas, ran until 21 December 1949; a second series followed between April and May 1950, with Sid Colin taking over the scripting duties and Terry-Thomas proving additional material for the programme. By the third series, which was broadcast between November 1950 and February 1951, the audience reached four million viewers. In total there were five series of How Do You View, with the final episode on 11 June 1952. Writing about Terry-Thomas on screen, Wilfred Greatorex observed that "he has ... physical attributes that make him a gift to visual entertainment: a large, rather gaunt face, pre-fabricated for close-ups; the notorious space of one-third of an inch between his two most prominent top teeth; a mouth that is full of expression. Add to these pictoral advantages his eight-inch cigarette holder and Eddie Cantor eyes".
In between filming How Do You View, and in between series, Terry-Thomas continued performing on radio, in shows such as Variety Bandbox, Variety Fanfare and Workers' Playtime, as well as on stage in cabaret, both in Britain and the US. In October and November 1949 he appeared at the Palma House Night Club, Chicago; in June 1951 he appeared at The Wedgwood Room, Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York, and between 22 December 1951 and 29 February 1952 he returned to the London Palladium for 109 performances in Humpty Dumpty. In September 1952 he travelled to Malaysia to entertain British troops in a series of concert parties, before returning to the UK to appear in the Royal Variety Performance in November. He finished the year in South Africa, as Honorable Idle Jack in Dick Whittington, which finished in January 1953; he considered the pantomime to be "so tatty and unrehearsed it was pathetic".
In June 1953 Terry-Thomas broadcast a pilot episode of radio show, Top of the Town; the show was successful and the BBC commissioned a series of 16 episodes, which ran between November 1953 and February 1954. In between recording sessions, he also appeared at the London Palladium in the revue Fun and the Fair, with George Formby and the Billy Cotton band, from October 1953. Fun and the Fair was not a success at the box office and closed on 19 December 1953, after 138 performances. Terry-Thomas then reprised his role of Idle Jack for a run of performances in Granada, Sutton; Granada, Woolwich; and Finsbury Park Empire, which ran to the end of January 1954. That year, he separated from Patlanski due to the increased level of arguing and the plethora of affairs that they had each indulged in. Patlanski moved out and they lived separate lives which went unreported by the press until 1957.
Terry-Thomas spent the 1954 summer season performing at the Winter Gardens Pavilion, Blackpool before a second series of Top of the Town ran from October 1954 to February 1955. At the end of the series he appeared as Hubert Crone in the play Room for Two, which had a UK tour prior to a run at the Prince of Wales Theatre, London. The last stop on the UK tour was at the Brighton Hippodrome, where Terry-Thomas broke his arm on stage; he returned to the show five days later when the tour reached London. He later remarked that "the audience roared with laughter when I fell and made horrible faces, so much so that I considered breaking the other arm for an encore". The London run was not a success and the show closed after only 48 performances.
British film years: 1956–61 
In February 1956 Terry-Thomas appeared on Desert Island Discs, and chose two songs from his "Technical Hitch" routine as part of his selection.[i] Later that year he appeared in his first major film roles; Charles Boughtflower in The Green Man, and Major Hitchcock, "a charlatan military officer on the take", in Private's Progress, directed by the Boulting brothers. Terry-Thomas only appeared in the latter film briefly, with a total screen time of about ten minutes, but his biographer Graham McCann thought that Terry-Thomas "came close to stealing the show from the central character." His depiction of the character was not how he wished to play it. His desired characterisation was that of a silly-ass sergeant major, but the role was written as a strict, alcohol and prescription drug dependent Army officer instead. He was initially disappointed with the role, and turned it down but, after being persuaded to accept it by his agent, he embraced its possibilities. The Boulting brothers were so impressed with his performance, that they signed him up to a five-film deal. One of his lines, delivered in his clipped upper-class voice, was "You're an absolute shower", which became a catchphrase for him.
The first film in the deal was Brothers in Law, in which Terry-Thomas played the spiv Alfred Green, a performance which was based on Sid Field's characterisation in Piccadilly Hayride. Roy Boulting later recounted that one short scene with Terry-Thomas, Richard Attenborough and Ian Carmichael took 107 takes because of Terry-Thomas' unfamiliarity with filming techniques; he initially struggled to hit his marks, or give his line and move on, while still acting. Filming the scene took two days and Boulting described it as "an unique experience for him, and had a wonderful after-effect", with Terry-Thomas becoming thoroughly prepared and organised in future. Following Brothers in Law he was cast as Romney Carlton-Ricketts in Blue Murder at St Trinian's by producers Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, before again appearing for the Boulting brothers in the cameo role of a local policeman in Happy is the Bride. He starred in two further films in 1957. The first was as Bertrand Welch in Lucky Jim, an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Kingsley Amis. Amis thought that Terry-Thomas has been "totally miscast as Bertrand, the posteuring painter and leading shit" of the book. The critic for The Manchester Guardian considered Terry-Thomas' as being "the nearest to a complete success" in the film, in a portrayal that "suggests possibilities for more serious roles". His final film of 1957 was as Lord Henry Mayley in The Naked Truth; it brought him together with Peter Sellers for the first time, and the two of them appeared frequently together over the next few years in scenes that Graham McCann considered seemed "to highlight what was special about the other". During one scene Terry-Thomas was dumped in a near-freezing lake, and his health was affected for sometime afterwards.
In 1958 Terry-Thomas received the first of his two film award nominations, the BAFTA Award for the "Best British Actor in 1959" for the part of Ivan in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film tom thumb. He later described the film as his second favourite; he appeared opposite Sellers for much of his screen time, and later said that "my part was perfect, but Peter's was bloody awful. He wasn't difficult about it, but he knew it". Terry-Thomas was still suffering with poor health following the filming of The Naked Truth, and suffered an attack of lumbago; filming went on for 85 days during 1957–58, and he took painkillers to be able to continue. The role was physically demanding, and required him to ride a horse, run long distances and fight in a duel. He stated that he fought and ran "just as [he] had seen Douglas Fairbanks Snr do in The Mark of Zorro". Towards the end of filming, Terry-Thomas went to a Christmas party at the Trocadero, where he drank champagne,[j] as well as taking codeine tablets, and was subsequently arrested on suspicion of being drunk and disorderly. He considered the arresting policemen to have been rude, and "their attitude made me extremely angry and when I get angry ...I just go completely off my nut". The case eventually came to court on 14 March 1958 and he was supported by the legal team from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and other supporters, including Sellers. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer provided a medical report which showed Terry-Thomas had been under a gruelling filming schedule and had been on prescription painkillers at the time; along with inconsistencies in the arresting policemen's notes, the case proved inconclusive and was dismissed. For much of the rest of 1958, he appeared on stage at the London Palladium in Large as Life, alongside Harry Secombe, Eric Sykes and Hattie Jacques. Terry-Thomas played one of the Three Musketeers in one sketch and had another turn called "Filling the Gap", which ran for a total of 380 performances between May and December 1958.
In 1959 Terry-Thomas published his first autobiography, Filling the Gap, named after his spot in Large as Life; he explained that "everything that has been printed about me is lies. I'm not suggesting the writers were lying, I was". During the year he also appeared in two further instalments of the Boultings brothers' "series of institutional satires", having appeared in the previous three.[k] The first, in which he was joined again by Sellers, was Carlton-Browne of the F.O., in which he played Cadogan de Vere Carlton-Browne, a character he described as being "rubble from the nostrils up", "a certain type of Englishman, the Englishman who reads The Times and no other newspaper. A brolly carrier. A squash player. A bowler hat wearer. White collar, stiff, of course". Film writer Andrew Spicer thought that Terry-Thomas' role "was the quintessential upper-class 'silly-ass', a sad relic of a vanished world". The film was initially chosen as Britain's entry for the 1959 Moscow International Film Festival until the Foreign Office petitioned the British Film Producers' Association for it to be withdraw on the basis that the Russians might consider the film accurately portraying British diplomatic behaviour.
Terry-Thomas' final film with the Boulting brothers was I'm All Right Jack, a post-war follow-up to Private's Progress with Terry-Thomas reprising the role of Major Hitchcock to an industrial setting, as the "tetchily incompetent" personnel manager. Many of the other cast from Private's Progress also returned, including Attenborough, Carmichael and Dennis Price; they were joined by Peter Sellers, who took most of the plaudits from the critics, although Stanley Kauffman, writing in The New Republic also delighted in Terry-Thomas' "finesse" and "extraordinary skill". The Los Angeles Times retrospectively considered I'm All Right Jack and Carlton-Browne of the F.O. to have been his best works. His final film of 1959 was as William Delany Gordon in Too Many Crooks. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times thought that Terry-Thomas provided "some of the fieriest conniptions to be seen on the contemporary screen", going on to say that the actor's "skill is exercised in demonstrating how magnificently and completely a mad-cap comedian can completely blow his top. His eyes flash, his lips curl, his sibilants whistle and he glares like a maniac". While filming took place during the daytime, he also appeared at the London Palladium in the evenings, something he found trying on his nervous system.
In 1960 Terry-Thomas appeared as Raymond Delauney in School for Scoundrels, a film his biographer, Robert Ross, called "the definitive screen presentation of his frightfully well-mannered, well-read and well-educated lounge lizard: T-T the man as T-T the film star". He again appeared opposite Ian Carmichael, and they were joined by Alastair Sim and Janette Scott. Michael Brooke, writing for the British Film Institute, thought Terry-Thomas was "outstanding as a classic British bounder". Later the same year he appeared in Make Mine Mink as Major Albert Rayne, a veteran of the Second World War who forms a gang of mink thieves with this female co-lodgers. When he made an appearance at a screening of the film in Dalston, north-east London, he was presented with a white mink waistcoat by a local furrier. In 1961 Terry-Thomas played Archibald Bannister in A Matter of WHO, which he described as "my first (fairly) serious role". He was joined in the film by his second cousin Richard Briers, with Terry-Thomas noting that he provided "no nepotic help" in getting Briers the part. The film was not well received by the critics; an internal BBC memo described that in the UK the film was "murdered by the critics", although it was "something of a success" in America.
By this time Terry-Thomas had decided to stop being a stand-up comedian and compere and instead concentrate solely on making films. He turned his back on television and radio shows of his own too, declaring "it was the cinema for me and me for the cinema!" Having already spent time appearing in British films, he decided to try Hollywood, and moved to America. His time spent in the British film industry had served him well, with film historian Geoff Mayer writing that "his creative period was confined primarily to the period between 1956 and 1960".
International roles: 1961–71 
Terry-Thomas spent part of 1961 in America, filming the role of Professor Bruce Patterson in Bachelor Flat—his first Hollywood role—before flying to Gibraltar to film Operation Snatch, teaming up again with Lionel Jeffries. By the end of 1961 Terry-Thomas was appearing on radio, in guest spots on American television shows, such as the December broadcast of The Bing Crosby Show, and was frequently the subject of newspaper interviews. In 1962, Bachelor Flat and Operation Snatch were both released, followed by a third film, a large-budget biopic from Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer called The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm, in which he shared his scenes with the American comedian Buddy Hackett.
On 1 February 1962 Terry-Thomas and Pat Patlanski divorced having just spent the previous eight years estranged. He had also split from his girlfriend of the previous few years Lorrae Desmond who returned to Australia shortly afterwards and married a surgeon; Terry-Thomas resumed his bachelor life-style. The break-up with Desmond caused him great upset and he sought solace with Belinda Cunningham, a 21-year old whom he had met on holiday in Majorca two years previously.[l] The couple began a romance and married in August 1963 at Halstead Registry Office in Colchester, Essex. The following year, she gave birth to their first son—Timothy Hoar—at the Princess Beatrice Hospital.[m]
In 1963 Terry-Thomas was offered the role of Lt-Colonel J. Algernon Hawthorne in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and turned down the opportunity before leaving for the UK. By the time his flight arrived in London he had changed his mind, so he telephoned producer Stanley Kramer from the airport to signal his acceptance, and "popped back on a plane to be fitted for the part" the same day. He was not comfortable with many of the other actors on set, later commenting that "I was the only non-American, and I found it exhausting and embarrassing because they never relaxed. They were always 'on'." One of those appearing in the film was Spencer Tracy, who Terry-Thomas found difficult to treat normally, calling him "an extra-special man"; Tracy and Buster Keaton—who also appeared in the film—were described by Terry-Thomas as "the only two people who ever produced in me this awe of greatness".
Later in 1963 he picked up his second film nomination, for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for his portrayal of Spender in The Mouse on the Moon.[n] He also decided to try his hand at production, and produced three 15 minute travelogues, Terry-Thomas in Tuscany, Terry-Thomas in the South of France and Terry-Thomas in Northern Ireland. He did not enjoy the producers role, complaining that "for some extraordinary reason that I could never understand, everybody was always out to do the producer of any film whoever he was. I had to be on the watch the whole time".
In 1966, he played a notable but very different role as an RAF airman travelling through occupied France – and nicknamed "Big Moustache" by his French helpers – in the French film La Grande Vadrouille, which for over forty years remained the most successful film in the history of cinema in France.
Dealing with Parkinson's: 1971–90 
In 1971 Terry-Thomas was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, which gradually got worse by the 1980s. In 1977 he starred in The Last Remake of Beau Geste and The Hound of the Baskervilles, the latter of which saw him in the small role of Dr. Mortimer. By now, he was exhibiting hypokinesia, and was a sign of how serious his condition had got. His distinctive voice had developed a softer tone, and his posture was contorted with disfigurement. Between 1978 and 1980, he had spent the majority of his time with medical consultants. Despite this, Terry-Thomas was offered a few engagements of work and had been voted the most recognisable Englishman among Americans in a poll which also featured Laurence Olivier, Robert Morley and Wilfred Hyde-White. As a result, he secured a lucrative advertising contract with the Ford Motor Company. The director Derek Jarman offered Terry-Thomas a role in The Tempest, but the actor was forced to pull out as a result of his deteriorating health.
By 1980 he had retired from film making and spent periods working on and off with ghostwriter Terry Daum on an autobiography, Terry-Thomas Tells Tales, which was published posthumously in 1992.
Final years and death 
Towards the end of his life, he resided at Busbridge Hall nursing home, Godalming, Surrey. In 1989, actor Jack Douglas and Richard Hope-Hawkins, organised a benefit concert for Thomas, after discovering he was living in virtual obscurity, poverty and ill health. The gala, held at London's Theatre Royal, ran for five hours, Phil Collins topping the bill along with 120 artists. Michael Caine was the gala chairman. The show raised over £75,000 for Thomas and Parkinson's UK.
Legacy and reputation 
Filmography and other works 
Notes and references 
- A number of sources—including Terry-Thomas' two autobiographies—show the date of birth as 14 July 1911. Terry-Thomas' biographer, Graham McCann notes that the date on the birth certificate is actually 10 July.
- The 16 films in which he appeared between 1933 and 1941 are: The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933); The Ghost Goes West (1935); It's Love Again (1936); Once in a Million (1936); Rhythm in the Air (1936); This'll Make You Whistle (1936); When Knights Were Bold (1936); Things to Come (1936); Cheer Up (1936); Rhythm Racketeer (1937); Flying Fifty-Five (1939) (his only credited role); Sam Goes Shopping (1939); Climbing High (1939); For Freedom (1940); Under Your Hat (1940); and Quiet Wedding (1941).
- Even after he stopped smoking in 1945 he continued to use a cigarette holder as a prop.
- Although spelled as "Patlansky" on official documents, she used the variant "Patlanski" on all other occasions.
- Ida Patlanski was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1903. Her father was a hotelier, and she later helped run a small dancing school before moving to London in 1937. She assumed the nickname "Pat".
- The formation of ENSA was actually a re-formation, as the organisation had been active during the First World War.
- He was promoted on 4 September 1944.
- £350,000 in 1946 equates to approximately £10,761,939 in 2013 pounds
- His full selection was "Ciacarlia" – Dinicu and his orchestra; "Getting to Know You" – Gertrude Lawrence; "St. Louis Blues" – Paul Robeson; "Cloudburst" – Don Lang; "Danse des petits cygnes" – Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Robert Irving; "Heidenröslein" – Richard Tauber, accompanied by Percy Kahn; "Danza Espanok" – Andrés Segovia; and "Zampa Overturn" – London Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Basil Cameron. His luxury item was a saddle.
- one glass of Krug, 1947 vintage. He also drank two brandies and soda.
- The series in full covered the British Army, in Private's Progress (1956); the legal system, in Brothers in Law (1957); universities, in Lucky Jim (1957); the Foreign Office, in Carlton-Browne of the F.O. (1959) and British industrial relations, in I'm All Right Jack (1959)
- Belinda Cunningham was born in Lincolnshire in 1941 and was the daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Geoffrey Cunningham. Belinda was working in Majorca when she first met Terry-Thomas and they remained in close contact when they each returned home to England. Geoffrey opposed the relationship and made many efforts to separate his daughter from the actor, including securing her a job as a personal assistant in Singapore which she did not take.
- Although named Timothy at birth, he was often called Tiger by his parents.
- The award eventually went to Alberto Sordi for his performance in To Bed, also known as Il diavolo.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Terry-Thomas|
- Terry-Thomas at the BFI
- Terry-Thomas at the British Film Institute's Screenonline
- Terry-Thomas at the Internet Movie Database
- Terry-Thomas at the TCM Movie Database
- Terry-Thomas on Pathé News