In 1949 six thousand people attended the memorial service of Liverpudlian comic Tommy Handley in St Paul’s Cathedral. Thousands more lined the route of the funeral procession and the director general of the BBC personally announced his death on the radio.
No-one born in the post war era can begin to appreciate how much Handley’s rapid-fire patter in It’s That Man Again helped raise morale during the Second World War. The ITMA title, by the way, was taken from a headline regularly employed by the Daily Express whenever Adolf Hitler reared his spectral head.
One of the longest running and most popular British radio comedies ever, ITMA started out lampooning bureaucracy and then took on a holiday atmosphere as the mood darkened during wartime. The show provided countless catchphrases which remain in circulation today. Notably Dorothy Summers as Mrs Mopp with: ‘Can I do yer now, Sir?’ and Colonel Chinstrap (Jack Train) who would always accept a drink with the phrase: ‘Don’t mind if I do.’
As the Fast Show pointed out through the meaningless blatherings of spoof 40s comic Arthur Atkinson, the catchphrases seem to mean nothing now, but their importance to British comedy history should not be underestimated.