Terry-Thomas became known to a worldwide audience through his films during the 1950s and 1960s. He often portrayed disreputable members of the upper classes, especially cads, toffs and bounders. In 1971 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which slowly brought his career to a conclusion.
About Terry-Thomas in brief
Terry-Thomas was an English comedian and character actor. He became known to a worldwide audience through his films during the 1950s and 1960s. He often portrayed disreputable members of the upper classes, especially cads, toffs and bounders. In 1971 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which slowly brought his career to a conclusion. His last film role was in 1980. He spent much of his fortune on medical treatment and, shortly before his death, was living in poverty, existing on charity from the Actors’ Benevolent Fund. A charity gala was held in his honour, which raised sufficient funds for him to live his remaining time in a nursing home. He was the fourth of five children born to Ernest Frederick Stevens, managing director of a butcher’s business at Smithfield Market, and his wife Ellen Elizabeth Stevens. As a child he was often referred to as Tom, the diminutive used by his family. He led a generally happy childhood, but believed his parents secretly desired a daughter in his place. By the time he reached adolescence, his parents’ marriage had failed and both became alcoholics. In 1921 Terry-Thomas began to nurture his distinctive, well-spoken voice, reasoning that using good speech automatically suggested that you were well-educated and made people look up to you. He used the speech of the actor Owen Nares as a basis for his own delivery. He adopted the debonair dress-sense of his hero Douglas Fairbanks.
He also took up the ukulele and percussion and performed comedy routines to the band’s music. His striking dress sense was set off by a 1⁄3-inch gap between his two upper front teeth. He enjoyed his time at Ardingly College, a public school in Sussex. He excelled in Latin and geography, and briefly took up drama. The latter subject later led to his expulsion from the school, after his frequent and inappropriate use of ad lib during lessons. On his return to Finchley in 1927, he stayed for one term at the family’s house, seduced by Kate McCann’s more mature manner. He returned to the family home and stayed for more term. He later took up comedy routines and performed at the Golders Green Hippodrome to see the latest shows. It was there that he developed an interest in fashion, and adopted thedebonair Dress- sense of his idol Douglas Fairbank. He then took up a position in the school jazz band, first playing the u kulele, then the percussion and dancing routines. In the mid-1960s he frequently starred in European films, in roles such as Sir Reginald in the successful French film La Grande Vadrouille. Beginning the 1960s by starring in School for Scoundrels, he then began appearing in American films, coarsening his already unsubtle screen character in films such as Bachelor Flat, It’s a Mad, Mad,Mad, Mad World and How to Murder Your Wife.