PERFORMERS: TOMMY TRINDER

Born: March 24 1909
Died:  July 10 1989

 by Peter Tatchell (copyright 2011)

He was a long-jawed, singing comedian who, throughout most of the 1940s, became the resident laughtermaker at the London Palladium, the greatest variety theatre in the world. In the dark days of the Second World War, Tommy Trinder personified the indefatigable spirit of Londoners with his cheery songs and cheeky wisecracks.  He was also a popular movie star who achieved great success in New York, South Africa and (almost a second home) in Australia. And when commercial television came to Britain, he resumed his spot as chief comic at his old stomping ground.

Tommy was born in the London suburb of Streatham (to non-show business parents) in 1909 and by age 12 was appearing as a boy soprano at Collins Music Hall in Islington. As the twenties began to roar, he and a partner worked up a singing and dancing act called The Stable Lads and he performed as a single at working men’s clubs (often wearing a fake moustache to look older). When his voice broke the adolescent Trinder started telling jokes and before he was twenty, was compering concert party shows in Brighton and the Isle of Wight.

It was while entertaining rowdy and unresponsive night club audiences that Tommy first started adlibbing put downs to hecklers and his brash “you lucky people” catchphrase was born.

Never lost for a word, by the late 1930s Trinder had developed a persona all his own and was ready to conquer just about everything show business had to offer.

Leading parts in the revues Tune Inn and In Town Tonight lead to appearances on the big screen with a supporting role in Almost a Honeymoon in 1938, followed by increasingly bigger roles in Save a Little Sunshine, She Couldn’t Say No and Laugh it Off.

He also signed a contract with various labels of E.M.I. which eventually released a number of vocals (including I Don’t Do Things Like That and Der Fuehrer’s Face) plus a live recording of his stage act (covering four sides of two 78s).

In July 1939 Tommy landed a featured spot in the stage adaptation of BBC Radio’s Band Waggon with Arthur Askey and Richard Murdoch at the London Palladium. (Tommy himself would make several appearances on the airwaves on the series Up with the Curtain in the weeks leading up to the outbreak of war).

Throughout the 1930s, the clown princes of the theatre had been The Crazy Gang and Trinder was signed to join them in their new production called Top of the World in September 1940. But four days after the opening, with the Battle of Britain raging overhead, a bomb lodged in the Palladium’s roof and the show was forced to close.

He wasn’t idle for long, though. Tommy was back in front of the movie cameras for perhaps his most successful film Sailors Three, in company with Michael Wilding and Claude Hulbert. He also got to sing a couple of bouncy musical numbers, All Over the Place and Happy-Go-Lucky Song.

In December 1941 Tommy had another chance to face the Palladium footlights, joining Americans Bebe Daniels and Ben Lyon (then hugely popular on radio with Hi Gang!) in Gangway.

In the midst of World War Two Tommy filmed the flagwavers The Foreman Went to France and The Bells Go Down which he followed with Fiddlers Three and a tribute to the early days of music hall, Champagne Charlie. In 1943 the B.B.C. signed him for his own series on the Forces Network called Tommy Get Your Fun.

At the same time, a busy Trinder was rewriting the record books for long runs at the London Palladium with Best Bib and Tucker (490 performances from November 1942) and a follow-up Happy and Glorious which started in October 1944 and had racked up a mammoth 938 performances before closing in 1946.

With the war now over, the annual Royal Variety Performance was revived and Tommy was invited to appear in the 1945 edition, staged that November at the London Coliseum. The following year it was off to the other side of the globe … to South Africa and Australia.

In October 1946 Tommy Trinder became the first major overseas star to appear on Australia’s leading Tivoli circuit after the war (paving the way for tours by George Formby, Chico Marx and many others). Paid ₤1260 a week for two shows a night, his initial Melbourne season was extended to seven weeks. He became a huge favourite with local audiences and was signed to appear in his own radio series during his stay.

After the tour Trinder returned to England for another long-running London Palladium show Here, There and Everywhere (466 performances from April 1947) and a further Royal Command Performance (November 1947 at the Palladium). He then headed back down-under to star in the movie Bitter Springs.

Tommy was home in time to take part in the 1950 Royal show before starting work on his next west end venture Fancy Free, which opened in May 1951 at a new venue, the Prince of Wales. Later that year he starred in a BBC radio series The Trinder Box, though he was disappointed he wouldn’t be able to make it a largely adlib affair (as had been his 1946 series in Melbourne).

The following year Trinder headed off for a third momentous tour of Australia, and en route penned his memoirs The Tommy Trinder Story, sold as a sixteen page souvenir programme at the theatres where he performed.

Tommy began the lengthy stay with two editions of his live show and the pantomime Cinderella at the Melbourne Tivoli, before heading north for a successful season at its Sydney stablemate, where he also headlined a Royal Gala on February 6 1954 for the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth, then making her first commonwealth tour.

Whilst in the Harbour city Tommy found time to host a twice-weekly radio series My Friends the Stars, reminiscing about his show business compatriots while spruiking the joys of a newly perfected product called Laminex.

Advertisements would soon play a major role in Trinder’s life with the coming of commercial television to British viewers in September 1955. The franchise holder licensed to operate in the London area over the weekends was called A.T.V. and (with substantial ties to the major theatre interests) it was hardly surprising they’d come up with a weekly variety show called Sunday Night at the London Palladium. And who better to host the series than the man who’d dominated the theatre throughout the 1940s … Tommy Trinder.

Commercial television revitalized the medium (which had actually started in Britain some twenty years earlier) and Trinder’s programme quickly became the top-rating show on air.

He also found time to make another film You Lucky People, star in a couple of specials for Associated-Rediffusion and be a panelist in the radio (and later TV) game show My Wildest Dream. 1955 also saw his fourth Royal Variety show (and he’d later appear on the 1959 edition).

Tommy compered Sunday Night … for three years until behind-the-scenes personality clashes saw him depart (eventually to be replaced by Bruce Forsyth). Six months later he agreed to host another 60-minute Sunday night variety series, London Lights, on the BBC Light Programme (where it ran until the middle of 1959). Soon after, the B.B.C. signed him for Trinder Box, which aired fortnightly on BBC Television.

It was around this time that Tommy became a semi-regular on the Jimmy Edwards radio jokefest Does the Team Think, and he could be heard on the programme until late 1971.

By the 1960s Tommy’s tumultuous career was finally winding down and, apart from regular appearances on the BBC’s Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life in 1964/5 and a BBC2 special in 1967, he was limited to guest spots, movie cameos and a solo performance in The Old Boy Network series in 1979. A year later, Tommy joined a roster of entertainment greats on the Royal Variety Performance celebrating of the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday.

Throughout his final years, he could be seen in various radio and television tribute programmes recalling the good old days and telling anecdotes about his fellow show business legends.

A stroke in 1985 curtailed his performing and he died four years later at the age of 80.

Films

Almost A Honeymoon (1938)

After Dinner (1938 short)

Save A Little Sunshine (1938)

She Couldn’t Say No (1939)

Laugh It Off (1939)

Sailors Three (1940)

Eating Out With Tommy (1941 short)

The Foreman Went To France (1942)

The Bells Go Down (1943)

Fiddlers Three (1943)

Champagne Charlie (1943)

Staggered Holidays (1946 short)

Family Guide (1947 short)

Bitter Springs (1950)

You Lucky People (1955)

Make Mine A Million (1959)

The Beauty Jungle (1964)

Under The Table You Must Go (1969)

Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (1974)

 

DVDs 

Tommy Trinder Collection
Studio Canal 5-disc set
includes:
Save a Little Sunshine
Sailors Three
The Foreman Went to France
The Bells Go Down
Fiddlers Three
Champagne Charlie
Bitter Springs

(several of the above films are also available separately)

 

Radio

Up With The Curtain
BBC National August 5 and 16, September 2 1939, 60 min

Tommy Get Your Fun
BBC Forces April 16 to July 23 1943

The Tommy Trinder Show
3AW Melbourne November 5 to 26 1946
three of the broadcasts survive with collectors

The Trinder Box
BBC Home October 1 to November 5 1951

My Friends The Stars
2UE Sydney Fridays March 5 to May 7 and Tuesdays March 9 to April 13 1954
two of the broadcasts survive with collectors

My Wildest Dream
BBC Light  1955 to 1956

London Lights
BBC Light September 28 1958 to June 21 1959 (60 min)

Does The Team Think?
BBC Light/Radio 2/Radio 4 June 1 1958 to November 30 1971
see the separate Laughterlog file on this longrunning series

Trinder’s Hall Of Fame
BBC Radio 4 December 26 1979 (60 min)

The Trinder Box
BBC Radio 2 June 4 to 25 1986 (4 x 15 min)

You Lucky People (tribute)
BBC Radio 2 August 27 1989 (60 min)

Recordings 

His Mother’s Pride And Joy / I Don’t Do Things Like That
Regal Zonophone 78rpm MR-2813 (July 15 / August 13 1938)

Happy-Go-Lucky Song / All Over The Place (both from the Sailors Three soundtrack)
Columbia 78rpm FB 2531 (November 7 1940)

Tommy Trinder’s Stage Show (at the Embassy Theatre, Peterborough)
Columbia 78rpm FB 2552/3 (November 1940),
reissued on Aust. Columbia 10″LP 33OS 7570

No, No, No, No, Columbus / Der Fuehrer’s Face
Columbia 78rpm FB 2885 (December 11 1942)

Champagne Charlie / Everything Will Be Lovely + Man On The Flying Trapeze
Columbia 78rpm FB 3050 (c. 1943/4)

TOMMY TRINDER’S PARTY (at Butlin’s Holiday Camp, Clacton-On-Sea)
Fontana LP TFL 5073
Who Were You Out With Last Night?
Susie, Susie, Sitting at the Shoe-Shine Shop
Let the Rest of the World Go By
Always
Side by Side
Let’s All Walk Around the Town
My Old Man
Cecillia
Whispering
Tea for Two
In the River with his Toes Turned Up
Somebody Stole My Gal
Sweet Fanny Adams
Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner
I Belong to Glasgow
She’s a Lassie from Lancashire
Bleyden Races
When Irish Eyes are Smiling
Home Town
Joshua
Champagne Charlie
I Guess I’ll Get the Papers and Go Home
For Me and My Gal
By the Light of the Silvery Moon
Just a Song at Twilight
Any Old Iron
If You Were the Only Girl
Oh! Oh! Antonio
Show Me the Way Home

La Plume De Ma Tante / On The Sunny Side Of The Street
Fontana 45rpm H 204

YOU LUCKY PEOPLE
Silverline LP DJSL 037
Daisy Bell + She was One of the Early Birds + Call Round Any Old Time + Down at the Old Bull and Bush
My Old Dutch + Only a Working Man + Knees Up Mother Brown
Friends and Neighbours + Side by Side + Strollin’
Strollin’ Down the Strand + Let’s All Go Down the Strand + Lambeth Walk
Nellie Dean + A Bird in a Gilded Cage + I’m Henry the VIII I am + Bolied Beef and Carrots + Any Old Iron
I Can Do Without London
The Simple Things of London
Champagne Charlie + Ale Old Ale + Glorious Beer
If Those Lips Could Only Speak + Two Lovely Black Eyes + She Told Me to Meet Her at the Gate + Where Did You Get That Hat?
The Man on the Flying Trapeze + I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside + The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo
Oh It’s a Windy Night Tonight + Show Me the Way to Go Home + Hold Your Hand Out, You Naughty Boy + Hello, Who’s Your Lady Friend + Who Were You With Last Night?
Maybe It’s Because I’m a Londoner

reissue

BILLY RUSSELL / TOMMY TRINDER
Aust. EMI / Axis LP AX 260475
includes 78rpm reissues:
Tommy Trinder’s Stage Show
Champagne Charlie
Everything Will Be Lovely + Man On The Flying Trapeze


Television

Sunday Night At The London Palladium
ATV 1955 to 1958

Friday Night with Tommy Trinder
Associated-Rediffusion November 2 1956 and January 4 1957

My Wildest Dream
Granada 1956/7

Trinder Box
BBC fortnightly June 20 to October 24 1959 (10 x 45 min)

Not So Much a Programme, More a Way of Life
BBC1 Friday/Saturday/Sunday November 13 1964 to April 11 1965

Suddenly It’s …
BBC2 July 24 1967

The Old Boy Network
BBC2 September 28 1979 (40 min)

 

DVD

Sunday Night at the London Palladium
Network 3-disc set
includes the one surviving Trinder edition (April 13 1958)


Bibliography 

The Tommy Trinder Story (16 page magazine)
by Tommy Trinder (W.H. McKenchnie, Melbourne. 1952)

You Lucky People! – the Tommy Trinder Story
by Patrick Newley (Third Age Press, London. 2008)

A chapter on Tommy will also be found in

Funny Way to be a Hero
by John Fisher (Frederick Muller, London. 1973)

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