Tommy Handley was an obscure stand-up comic in Britain when he was offered the lead role in "It's that Man Again", a radio programme that was a distinct influence on "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" (which had some British scriptwriters). "It's that Man Again" (known universally as "Itma") was a fast-cracking, stream-of-consciousness comedy show that placed immense reliance on catchphrases and bizarre supporting characters ... but Handley was at the centre of the maelstrom, and he was justifiably the comedy sensation of wartime England. ("Itma" even gets a mention in Sir William Golding's novel 'Pincher Martin'.)
Before 'Itma', Handley's most famous routine was a musical skit called 'The Disorderly Room'. Remarkably, this skit was written by Eric Blore ... yes, the podgy little actor who played butlers and lackeys in so many Hollywood movies of the 1930s. It's regrettable that Blore never appeared in this skit, in which Handley was abetted by several supporting actors of no consequence.
The skit takes place in a barracks of the British Expeditionary Force during World War One, in the orderly room (hence the title). Handley is the captain attempting to enforce discipline upon his squaddies, who have been brawling. The gimmick is that all the disciplinary proceedings are SUNG, in the form of parody lyrics to the melodies of popular songs. (A gimmick that Allan Sherman would have great success with in the 1960s.)
Handley (assisted by a rotating supporting cast) performed 'The Disorderly Room' at least six times on the early BBC television hookup. At the time, there was no way to record a transmission, so Handley had to perform the routine live each time it was broadcast ... consequently, the musical material in the performance varied widely each time he performed it, and even the running time of the skit fluctuated. According to my copies of BBC transmission logs from the 1930s, here are the air dates and running times for the six occasions when Handley televised 'The Disorderly Room': 17 April 1937 (15 minutes); two performances on 30 August 1937 (35 and 30 minutes); 23 December '37 (15m); 15 August 1939 (30m), 20 August '39 (30m).
It's a shame that so little of Handley's television work survives, as he was absolutely one of the most important figures in wartime radio entertainment.
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