July 12, 1939 on UK radio: It’s That Man Again

It’s That Man Again (or, commonly, ITMA) was a BBC radio comedy programme which ran from 1939 to 1949. The title refers to a contemporary phrase concerning the ever more frequent news-stories about Hitler in the lead-up to the Second World War, and specifically a headline in the Daily Express written by Bert Gunn. This was humorously transferred to Tommy Handley, the popular comedian around whom the programme was developed. The scripts were written by the prolific Ted Kavanagh. ITMA is believed to have played a major role in sustaining morale on the UK’s “home front” during the Second World War. As King George VI said, “We always listen.”

The show was broadcast for much of the war from the BBC Wales studios in Bangor, Caernarfonshire in Wales, where the BBC’s Light Entertainment Department was based during the Second World War after an initial brief move to Bristol.

ITMA followed the adventures of Tommy Handley as he undertook a series of (fictional) bizarre jobs that involved working with strange characters. The first series began with Handley working on a private radio station, but he later moved on to work as Minister of Aggravation and Mysteries at the Office of Twerps; the Mayor of seedy seaside resort Foaming at the Mouth; and Governor of the South Sea island Tomtopia.

Other performers in the show included Jack Train, a master of voices; Clarence Wright, who played the commercial traveller; the man from the ministry, Deryck Guyler; and Joan Harben (sister of Philip Harben) as Mona Lott. Hattie Jacques, who played Sophie Tuckshop (the earliest of Jacques’ roles dependent upon her physical size) joined the cast towards the end of the run. The programme featured dozens of other characters, such as Mrs Mopp and Colonel Chinstrap. The speed at which the performances were delivered is still considered remarkable, even given later technical developments. Many gags were dependent on breaking news – Ted Kavanagh once admitted to being unable to understand some jokes in earlier scripts.

In 1943 a film adaptation was made of the series, also titled It’s That Man Again. [Wikipedia]

Find out more at www.bbc.co.uk.

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