With his sly little moustache, broad gap-toothed grin, garish waistcoats and ostentatious cigarette holder, Terry-Thomas was known as an absolute bounder, both onscreen and off. Graham McCann’s hugely entertaining biography celebrates the life and career of a very English rascal.
Born in 1911 into an ordinary suburban family, Thomas Terry Hoar-Stevens set about transforming himself at a very early age into a dandy and a gadabout. But he did not put the finishing touches to his persona until the mid-1950s with his groundbreaking TV comedy series How Do You View?, a forerunner of The Goon Show and Monty Python.
Terry-Thomas went on to carve out a long and lucrative career in America, appearing on TV alongside Judy Garland, Bing Crosby and Lucille Ball, and in Hollywood movies with Jack Lemmon, Rock Hudson and Doris Day. He became every American’s idea of a mischievous English gent.
After a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, he died in 1990 in comparative obscurity, but his influence lives on. Basil Brush was a polyester tribute to Terry-Thomas, and comedians including Vic Reeves and Paul Whitehouse hail T-T as a role model.
‘Dandyism is the product of a bored society,’ D’Aurevilly observed. Terry-Thomas cocked a snook at the dull sobriety of post-war Britain with his sly humour. As he would say himself: ‘Good show!’
‘[A] lucid, empathetic biography.’
‘As Graham McCann outlines in his welcome biography, T-T’s origins were far from top-drawer.’