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Trinder, Tommy (1909-1989)

Actor, Presenter, Writer

Main image of Trinder, Tommy (1909-1989)

Extrovert, self-assured and quick witted, with a line in fast patter, comedian Tommy Trinder (born Thomas Edward Trinder in Streatham, London, on 24 March 1909), was arguably at the height of his popularity during and immediately following the war, when his jovial personality, visibly enhanced by a wide toothsome grin set atop a lantern jaw, seemed to encapsulate the national spirit of good-humoured fortitude. His wartime popularity helped him conquer the big screen during those years, and, despite his reservations about the medium, he would do likewise with television, becoming one of the foremost faces of ITV after its launch in September 1955.

Following youthful experience, dating from 1922, in revues, concert parties and provincial variety as a singer (often with humorous asides), Trinder began to concentrate on his comic act in the 1930s while working in cabaret and radio. This led to his less than propitious screen debut starring in the low-budget comedy Almost a Honeymoon (d. Norman Lee, 1938).

His big break arrived in 1939 when he was invited to join Band Waggon, the popular Arthur Askey-Richard Murdoch show then being staged at the London Palladium. The personal success he enjoyed in this production was followed by a string of his own shows, many staged at the same theatre.

His wartime stage popularity was replicated in cinemas with a run of successful films made for Ealing Studios. Inevitably these encompassed comedies, in the form of the naval farce Sailors Three (d. Walter Forde, 1940) and its sequel Fiddlers Three (d. Harry Watt, 1944), but he also demonstrated his dramatic potential with The Foreman Went to France (d. Charles Frend, 1942), The Bells Go Down (d. Basil Dearden, 1943) and Alberto Cavalcanti's vivid evocation of the world of the Victorian music hall, Champagne Charlie (1944). Although his comic persona was not entirely discarded in these films, he nevertheless demonstrated enough acting prowess to hold his own against the likes of James Mason and Stanley Holloway.

Despite his film success, he concentrated on stage work following the war, continuing his run of hit shows at the Palladium. He did, however, appear in a supporting role in Ealing's Australia-based pioneer drama Bitter Springs (d. Ralph Smart, 1950), and later starred in a dismal army comedy, You Lucky People (d. Maurice Elvey, 1955), the title being Trinder's famous catchphrase.

By the time that latter film was released in July 1955, BBC Television was steeling itself for the launch of its new competitor, the independent channel ITV. Associated Television (ATV), awarded the London weekend and Midlands weekday franchises of the ITV network, was partly owned by the Moss Empires theatre circuit, which included the London Palladium.

On Sunday 25 September 1955, three days after ITV had begun transmission, ATV launched a variety show that would prove crucial in making the new channel an immediate success - Val Parnell's Sunday Night at the London Palladium (ITV, 1955-69). Owing to his close associations with the Palladium, Trinder was a natural choice as host. In tandem with the line-up of first-rank international performers and the regular 'Beat the Clock' public participation game, his ebullient presentational style would become an essential ingredient in the show's success in its early years.

He hosted the show for over two and a half years ( with a break between September 1957 and March 1958), together with another variety show, Sunday Night at Blackpool (ITV, 1956), transmitted during the Palladium show's summer break.

He made his final appearance on the show with the episode of 11 May 1958, although he did host Sunday Night at the Prince of Wales the following week, which retained the same basic format, complete with 'Beat the Clock'.

Despite this success, he never fully warmed to the medium of television, believing that the amount of daily rehearsal sapped performances of their spontaneity.

Possibly as a result of this he only appeared in one series of his own, Trinder Box (BBC, 1959), although he was a panel member on the game show My Wildest Dream (ITV, 1956-57) and hosted another, It's Only Money (ITV, 1960). He was announced for a BBC comedy series called The Sunshine Boy in 1979, but this never came to fruition.

He continued to perform on stage until he was well into his 70s, only making sporadic appearances on television, including a slot in the old-time variety series Super Troupers (Channel 4, 1985) in which he reminisced about some of the performers he had worked with during his long career.

Confined to a wheelchair following a stroke in 1986, he made his final television appearance in I Like The Girls Who Do (BBC, tx 16/2/1989), within the Forty Minutes strand, recalling his contemporary Max Miller.

Always a favourite with the Royal Family (he made six appearances in Royal Variety Performances between 1945 and 1980), he was awarded a CBE in 1975. He died on 10 July 1989.

John Oliver

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From the BFI's filmographic database

Related media

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Bells Go Down, The (1943)Bells Go Down, The (1943)

Stirring film about the Fire Services in Blitz-torn London

Thumbnail image of Bitter Springs (1950)Bitter Springs (1950)

Confused but interesting drama about the plight of Australian Aborigines

Thumbnail image of Champagne Charlie (1944)Champagne Charlie (1944)

Lively recreation of the bawdy atmosphere of Victorian music-halls

Thumbnail image of Eating Out With Tommy Trinder (1941)Eating Out With Tommy Trinder (1941)

1940s comedy star Tommy Trinder persuades the British public to eat out

Thumbnail image of Foreman Went to France, The (1942)Foreman Went to France, The (1942)

Ealing propaganda film about a factory foreman's rescue of vital machinery

Thumbnail image of Sailors Three (1940)Sailors Three (1940)

Jolly wartime naval comedy starring Tommy Trinder

Thumbnail image of Save Your Shillings and Smile (1943)Save Your Shillings and Smile (1943)

Tommy Trinder learns the value of wartime savings

Thumbnail image of You Lucky People! (1955)You Lucky People! (1955)

Successful Army comedy that did wonders for its star Tommy Trinder

Thumbnail image of Music Box, The (1957)Music Box, The (1957)

ITV variety show from the Jack Hylton stable

Thumbnail image of Sunday Night at the London Palladium (1955-74)Sunday Night at the London Palladium (1955-74)

Long-running variety show that helped to make ITV a hit

Related collections

Thumbnail image of Who's Who at EalingWho's Who at Ealing

Meet the team at 'the studio with team spirit'

Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Parnell, Val (1892-1972)Parnell, Val (1892-1972)

Producer, Presenter, Executive

Thumbnail image of Ealing Studios (1938-59)Ealing Studios (1938-59)

Film Studio, Production Company