Harry Tate

Ronald Macdonald Hutchison (4 July 1872 - 14 February 1940), professionally known as Harry Tate, was an English comedian who performed both in the music halls and in films. Tate worked for Henry Tate & Sons, Sugar Refiners before going on the stage, and took his stage name from them.[1]


Tate made his debut at the Oxford Music Hall in 1895, and became well known for his impressions of performers such as Dan Leno, George Robey, and Eugene Stratton. Success came with his comedy sketch, Motoring, in which he played the part of a new car owner trying to repair it. His other sketches included Running an Office, Billiards and Fishing. Several catch phrases he used became popular in Britain in the twentieth century, including "Goodbye-eee", "How's your Father" (used as an escape clause when he was unable to answer a question) and "I don't think", used sarcastically (as in "He's a nice chap I don't think").[2] He used his bristling moustache to express all kinds of emotion by twitching or moving it.

Tate was a proud member of the Grand Order of Water Rats serving as "King Rat" in 1911.[3]

In February 1940 Tate suffered a stroke and died, aged 67, shortly after. While in bed between the two events he told reporters that he had been injured during an air raid, and because they failed to realise that he was joking this is often given as the cause of his death. He is buried at St Mary's, Northolt. For a time, his son Ronnie continued the act as Harry Tate junior.[4]

Selected filmography

Slang usage

The term "Harry Tate" entered the 20th century English (British) language as a form of cockney rhyming slang, initially meaning "late", because of Tate's comedic routines about automotive troubles. Around mid-1915, "Harry Tate" began to serve as slang for "plate". When the Royal Aircraft Factory R.E.8 biplane was introduced in late 1916 and 1917, the "R.E.8" designation spoken aloud was observed to sound similar to Tate's name, so the fliers nicknamed the aeroplane "Harry Tate". After the war, "Harry Tate" settled into a meaning of "state" in cockney rhyming slang.[5]


  • The earliest known celebrity personalised number plate was T 8, owned by Harry Tate[6]


  1. Music Hall history accessed 11 Feb 2007
  2. "Music Hall performers".
  3. "Biography of a Water Rat".
  4. Harry Tate (at British Library) accessed 11 Feb 2007
  5. Julian Franklyn, ed. (2013). A Dictionary of Rhyming Slang. Routledge. p. 75. ISBN 9781136109409. Originally published 1960.
  6. The first personalised number plate accessed 21 Sep 2007
  • "Halliwell's Who's Who in the Movies", published by Harper-Collins - ISBN 0-06-093507-3
  • "The Entertainers" published by Pitman House - ISBN 0-273-01542-7
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