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. It was written by Ted Kavanagh and starred Tommy Handley in comic situations often related to current war news. It featured popular characters such as Colonel Chinstrap and Mrs. Mopp, and generated certain catchphrases that long outlived the series. ITMA was credited with sustaining wartime morale.


The title ITMA 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.[1] This was humorously transferred to Tommy Handley, the popular comedian around whom the programme was developed. The scripts were written by 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 headline which inspired the name of the show appeared in the Daily Express of 2 May 1939, on the bottom of the front page, above a story about Adolf Hitler leaving his Chancellery on a mystery journey.[2] The first show was broadcast on 12 July 1939, part of an initial run of four shows which were fortnightly.[3]

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.

Some years later, Train reprised the role of Colonel Chinstrap for a couple of guest appearances on The Goon Show including the episode "Shifting Sands". Train would recount how the character was created. Shortly before the show started he was in the office of senior announcer John Snagge having a chat when the door opened and a slightly bleary-eyed gentleman entered. They were introduced, the man being a retired Indian army officer. He then turned to Snagge and said, "John. I have just done the most marvellous piece of business. I’ve bought a water-heater on ten years' hire-purchase and what the gas company doesn’t know is I am drinking myself to death".

Train, along with scriptwriter Kavanagh, developed this into Colonel Chinstrap. The officer on whom Chinstrap was based heard the programme and reputedly totally failed to connect the character with himself but commented: "Wonderful character. I knew silly buggers like that in India".

Then, nine years and five months after the first meeting, Train received a telegram saying: "THE COLONEL BEAT THE GAS COMPANY BY SEVEN MONTHS – SNAGGE".

ITMA ran for over 300 episodes between 1939 and 1949. When Handley died from a brain haemorrhage, announced immediately after the usual second repeat, it was cancelled because he was considered irreplaceable as its star.

Mrs Mopp is referenced in the Kinks' song the "Village Green Preservation Society" from their 1968 album The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society.

Film adaptation

In 1943, a film adaptation was made of the series, also titled It's That Man Again.


ITMA is remembered for a number of catchphrases, some of which entered popular vocabulary.[4]

  • "Don't forget the diver"[4] – spoken by Horace Percival upon entrance and exit as a diver. This became a very popular catchphrase in Britain during the Second World War.[5]
This catchphrase was apparently inspired by a diver who solicited pennies on pier from seaside crowds, saying "Don't forget the diver sir. Every penny makes the water warmer".[6]
New Brighton is a sea-side resort on the Wirral Peninsula. During the late '40s, during the holiday season, there was a man on a bicycle on the landing stage of the New Brighton Ferry from Liverpool. When the ferry approached, he rode off the end of the landing stage, some 10 to 20 feet, into the River Mersey. His accomplice stood on the stage with a collecting box and cried out "Don't forget the diver." as the passengers left the boat.
  • "I'm going down now sir" – Another diver catchphrase, which became widely used in descending lifts during the era of ITMA popularity.[5]
  • "This is Funf speaking" – German spy, spoken by Jack Train.[4] This became a popular telephone catchphrase.[7]
  • "Don't mind if I do" – Colonel Humphrey Chinstrap's catchphrase, spoken by Jack Train, turning any remark into an offer of a drink.[4] The origin of this catchphrase precedes ITMA, but was nevertheless popularised by ITMA.[8]
  • "I go, I come back" – Middle Eastern vendor, Ali Oop. Spoken by Jack Train.[4][9]
  • "It's being so cheerful as keeps me going" – Mona Lott, a depressed laundrywoman played by Joan Harben.[10]
  • "Good morning, nice day" – commercial traveller about to offer some sales line.[11][12]
  • "After you, Claude – no, After you Cecil" – Moving men spoken by Jack Train and Horace Percival.[4][13] This phrase became used by RAF pilots as they queued for attack.[14]
  • "I'll have to ask me Dad" – Mark Time (an elderly ditherer). This "was a political phrase introduced into ITMA when post-war reconstruction was looming."[15] It was spoken by a Jack Train character, Mark Time, who responded to all questions with this phrase.[4]
  • "But I'm all right now" – Hattie Jacques' character Sophie Tuckshop, after describing a long list of food she had eaten.[4][16]
  • "Can I Do You Now, Sir?" and "TTFN (Ta ta for now)" – Spoken by Dorothy Summers' character, Mrs Mopp.[4][17][7]

Diana Morrison's "D'oh"

More an ejaculation than catchphrase, "D'oh!" was the explosive parting shot of the character Miss Hotchkiss as played by Diana Morrison in numerous episodes from 1945 (series 8/166 onwards)[18] through to the demise of the programme in January 1949.[19] Miss Hotchkiss was Tommy Handley's stentorian and authoritarian secretary; her surname was taken from a make of machine-gun.[20] Despite her authoritarian nature, she was susceptible to the amorous blandishments of Handley. However, these would inevitably lead to a put-down,[21] and an explosive "D'oh!" would signal Hotchkiss' exasperated exit.[22]

"D'oh!" was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2004, largely in response to its much later popularisation in the television programme The Simpsons, although ITMA is credited with the earliest recorded use of the term.[23]


On Wednesday, 19 February 1947, Mrs Jean Mann, MP for Coatbridge, introduced the epithet "twerp" to the House of Commons when referring to Tommy Handley during a debate on supplementary estimates.[24][25] She objected to Molly Weir, who played a Scottish girl (Tattie Mackintosh) on the show, "pursuing" Tommy Handley. Mrs Mann commented that in her day, no Scottish girl would be seen chasing a twerp like Handley. The next day ITMA responded by opening the show with the overture revamped to "It’s That Twerp Again".

Evergreen magazine list of characters

In their spring 2010 issue, the article about ITMA listed the following identities:

  • Tommy Handley: Himself
  • Clarence Wright: Commercial Traveller, Man from the Ministry and Inspector Squirt
  • Fred Yule: Johann Bull, George Gorge, Norman the Doorman, Andrew Geekie, Bigga Banga, Mr. Grooves, Walter Wetwhite and Atlas
  • Horace Percival: Ali Oop, Cecil, Percy Pintable, the Diver and Mr. Whatsisname
  • Hattie Jacques: Ellie Phant, Guide and Sophie Tuckshop
  • Maurice Denham: Vodkin, Mrs Lola Tickle (Tess) & the Announcer for Radio Fakenburg
  • Jack Train: Bookham, Bowing, Claude, Colonel Chinstrap, Funf the Spy, Fusspot, Farmer Jollop, Wide Boy, Prattle, Hari Kari, Luke Slippy, Lefty and Mark Time
  • Dino Galvani: Signor So-So
  • Dorothy Summers: Mrs Mopp and First Posh Lady
  • Sam Costa: Lemuel
  • Celia Eddy: Cilly the Secretary
  • Vera Lennox: Dotty (Cilly's sister) and Second Posh Lady
  • Sydney Keith: Sam Scram
  • Bryan Herbert: Butch (Sam's brother)
  • Lind Joyce: Banjeleo, Pam (Sam's sister)
  • Molly Weir: Tattie Mackintosh and Mrs Mackintosh
  • Diana Morrison: Miss Hotchkiss, Nanny and Aunt Sally
  • Jean Capra: Poppy Poopah, Effie and Naieve
  • Hugh Morton: Brigadier Dear, Scraping, Basil Backwards, Wool, Josiah Creep, Sam Fairfechan, Announcer and Wamba M'Boojah
  • Carleton Hobbs: Curly Kale and Major Munday
  • Joan Harben: Mona Lott
  • Bill Stephens: Admiral and Comical Chris
  • Mary O'Farrell: Lady Sonely, Ruby Rockcake and Nurse Riff-Rafferty
  • Paula Green: "Ever So" Girl
  • Deryck Guyler: Dan Dungeon, Frisby Dyke, Sir Short Supply and Percy Palaver
  • Tony Francis: Reg Raspberry


  1. Charles Wintour, "Gunn, Herbert Smith", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  2. "It's That Man Again ... !". Daily Express. 2 May 1939. p. 1.
  3. Wilmut, Roger (26 September 1985). Kindly Leave the Stage!: Story of Variety, 1919–1960. Methuen. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-413-48960-9. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  4. "Local History Liverpool | I don't mind if I do". BBC. July 2002. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  5. Partridge, Eric (2005) [1977], "Don't forget the diver!", A Dictionary of Catch Phrases: British and American, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day (2nd ed.), UK: Taylor & Francis, p. 108, ISBN 9780203379950
  6. Lewis, Peter (1986), "Don't forget the diver", A People's War, Thames Methuen, p. 184, ISBN 978-0423019506
  7. Freedman, Jean Rose (1999). "Chapter 3. Careless talk costs lives: Speech in Wartime London. The Need for Humour". Whistling in the Dark: Memory and Culture in Wartime London. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky. pp. 68–69. ISBN 9780813127361.
  8. Partridge 2005, p.211
  9. Partridge 2005, p.214
  10. Partridge 2005, p.263
  11. Aldgate, Anthony; Richards, Jeffrey (2007). "Chapter 4. Raise a Laugh: Let George do it". Britain Can Take It: British Cinema in the Second World War. New York: I.B. Tauris & Co. p. 92. ISBN 978-1-84511-445-9.
  12. Partridge, Eric (2002), "Good morning — nice day!", in Beale, Paul (ed.), A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English: Colloquialisms and Catch Phrases (8th ed.), Routledge, p. 1384, ISBN 9780415291897
  13. Partridge 2005, p.3
  14. Curran, James; Seaton, Jean (1997), "Chapter 9. Broadcasting and the blitz", Power Without Responsibility: The Press and Broadcasting in Britain (5th ed.), London: Routledge, p. 135, ISBN 0-415-16810-4
  15. Briggs, Asa (1961), The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom: The War of Words, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0192129567
  16. Partridge 2005, p.60
  17. Ferguson, Rosalind (1994), "ta-ta for now!", Shorter Dictionary of Catch Phrases, London: Routledge, p. 125, ISBN 0-415-10051-8
  18. The ITMA Years, A Compilation of Scripts: 2/13, 4/28, 5/8, 8/34, 9/17, 12/6 (Woburn Press, 1974)
  19. The Last ITMA Script, Author Kavanagh (Riddle Books, 1949)
  20. Kavanagh, P J. The ITMA Years.
  21. BBC Sound Archive 1947.12.04 (BBC Audiobooks Ltd ISBN 0563504390 ℗1988, ©1988 & 2005)
  22. British Library Sound Catalogue Find Formats [Diana Morrison] T5636R 1947.12.04, C353/17 1945.5.10 and T3670W 1947.11.07, 1948.09.23 & 1949.01.06
  23. "Ay caramba! A look at some of the language of The Simpsons". Oxford Dictionaries Blog. Oxford University Press. 17 April 2013. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  24. "BROADCASTING HC Deb". Hansard. 433: 1249. 19 February 1947. Retrieved 6 January 2019.
  25. "B.B.C. comedian called a "twerp"". Canberra Times. 21 February 1947. p. 1.
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