Tate, whose real name was Ronald Hutchison, was born in 1872. Like many music hall performers he began as an impressionist, imitating well-known performers such as Dan Leno, George Robey and Eugene Stratton.
His first big success came with his 'Motoring' sketch, in which he, a chauffeur and his idiotic son completely failed to get the car started to take the son to college. The son sat in the back of the car making inane comments such as "It's amazing, pa-pa", and "Goodbye-eee" (which became Tate's best-known catchphrase and was the inspiration for the popular World War I song).
'MOTORING' sketch Columbia 320
recorded in London, c. August 1912
Later sketches included 'Fishing', 'Running an Office', 'Golfing' (picture, below right), 'Fortifying The Home' (Tate: 'I say the house is fortified'. Son: 'No, pa-pa.. it's forty-six!') and 'Selling a Car' (which he performed at the 1919 Royal Command performance).
'SELLING A CAR' sketch Columbia 870
recorded in London, March 2, 1921
(Originally 4 sides were recorded, but 2 and 3 were never issued - what a pity - so the original side 4 became the side 2 we have here.)
His son, Ronnie, acted with the company from after the First World War, playing parts such as the chauffeur in 'Motoring' (obviously it's not him on the above record); when Tate died in 1940 Ronnie kept the act going for some years as 'Harry Tate Junior'. I interviewed him in 1981 when I was researching my book on Variety, 'Kindly Leave the Stage'.
He told me: "The original 'son' in the motoring sketch was Tom Tweedly; Dad found him in the Empire Theatre Liverpool - he had a rather peculiar delivery and face, and he turned out to be a real winner. We had a little fellow called Harry Beasley, who was in the original of Casey's court [a famous touring act with children]; we had a fellow called Ken, who used to go to school with my father - he used to go on the drink a bit, but he'd got the funniest face you've ever seen - it looked like a violin! - with rather a red nose and a drooping brown moustache.
"Anything that came out new - like the betting tax, so we had a betting sketch - and then we had flying, when Bleriot flew the Channel - we had about fourteen sketches altogether. There was a man called Wal Pink - my father got him a job with de Courville at the London Hippodrome, and he wrote a lot of review material there - he would write a skeleton for Dad; by the time he and Dad had finished with it there was very little of the original left, but the idea was there. We didn't go round with the same act to all the towns - it we went to Birmingham we'd do 'Motoring' because they make cars there; if we went to Nottingham we'd play 'Fishing' and perhaps 'Billiards' in Manchester; and then change it around to keep it fresh".
Several of Tate's catchphrases went into the English language for a time - 'Goodbye-ee', and 'How's your father?' (said as a get-out for not being able to answer something) - and the expression 'I don't think', used ironically (as in 'He's a nice chap - I don't think') originated in the 'Motoring' sketch and stayed in the language for a long time, although it's obsolete now.
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