Terry-Thomas was born Thomas Terry Hoar-Stevens in Finchley on July 14, 1911. He began his working life as a clerk with Union Cold Storage Co, but soon drifted into showbusiness. Terry worked in cabaret and as a film extra before finding success as an entertainer during World War II.
After the war, he worked steadily in films, TV, radio and variety. Terry was always fascinated by the gentry and it was from this fascination that he created his caddish English Gent persona. During the mid-1950s he began to develop that persona, first in his television series, How Do You View?, and then in films.
His performance as Major Hitchcock in the Boulting Brothers Private's Progress (1956) gave birth to his catchphrase, "You're an absolute shower", and made him a favourite in British comedy films for the next decade. He reprised the role of Hitchcock in I'm All Right Jack (1959), and appeared in several of the Boultings' other films, including Lucky Jim (1957) and Brothers in Law(1957).
During the 1960's Terry became Hollywood's favourite Englishman. He played a variety of exuberant, malevolent and silly characters in such films as "It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World" (1963) and "How To Murder Your Wife" (1965) and became famous for his portrayal of the archetypal cad, bounder, and absolute rotter.
He made three films in particular which typified his screen persona perfectly "Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines" (1965), "Monte Carlo or Bust" (1969) and "Jules Verne's Rocket to the Moon" (1967).
In the 1970s he reprised his character from the first film along with his partnership with Eric Sykes to make high quality cinema and TV advertisements for Benson and Hedges cigarettes.
In 1971 Terry was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and by the mid-1970's his condition made it increasingly difficult to work. His last notable films of the 70's were "Spanish Fly" (1975) with his friend Leslie Phillips and "The Hound Of The Baskervilles" (1978) alongside Peter Cooke & Dudley Moore.
In 1981 he filmed a short series of ads for Cadbury's Flake and supposedly recorded a voice-over for an episode of Inspector Gadget (All That Glitters) in 1983. Having seen the episode I can confirm that it is not Terry's voice. Sadly by then it was obvious he could no longer continue to work and he duly retired.
In 1989, writer and broadcaster Richard Hope-Hawkins, and actor Jack Douglas, organised a benefit concert for Terry after discovering he was living in virtual obscurity and ill health. The show raised over £75,000 for Terry and the Parkinson's Disease Society.
As a result of the charity gala, Terry was moved to nursing home in Surrey. He received round-the-clock care and specialist treatment. Such was the improvement in his condition that he was able to talk again.
He was a second cousin of the actor, Richard Briers, who eventually became President of the Parkinson's Disease Society.
Terry-Thomas died on January 8, 1990 at the age of 78. At his funeral on January 17, the props which had served him so well in life and helped define both his on-screen and off-screen persona, his monocle, his cigarette holder and a red clove carnationwere placed on a silk cushion and carried at the head of the procession by one of his nephews. The theme tune to Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines was played during the ceremony.
Terry-Thomas will be forever remembered as the silver screen's ultimate gap-toothed, charming cad.
The Terry-Thomas Fellowship