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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Harry Tate
Harry Tate.jpg
Ronald Macdonald Hutchison

(1872-07-04)4 July 1872
Lambeth, London, England
Died14 February 1940(1940-02-14) (aged 67)
Years active1890s–1940

Ronald Macdonald Hutchison (4 July 1872 – 14 February 1940), professionally known as Harry Tate, was an English comedian, who performed in the music halls, in variety shows, and in films.


Born in Lambeth, the son of a Scottish tea merchant, he worked as a clerk for the sugar refiners, Henry Tate & Sons, and also performed at evening smoking concerts.[1] At Marie Lloyd's suggestion, he took his stage name from that of the company for which he worked.[2] He made his professional stage debut at the Oxford Music Hall in 1895, and at first was known for his mimicry of performers such as Dan Leno, R. G. Knowles, George Robey, and Eugene Stratton.[3]

Greater success came with his comedy sketch, "Motoring", which he introduced in 1902 and in which he played the part of a new car owner trying to repair it. He soon decided to abandon mimicry and concentrate on sketches, most of which he wrote with Wal Pink.[3] His other sketches included "Running an Office", "Selling a Car", "Billiards", and "Fishing". Tate's sketches "presented him as a blustering – if basically good-humoured – incompetent, convinced that he was in charge of the situation, but never failing to increase the chaos which surrounded him."[4] He toured with a company of six performers, at first including Tom Tweedly and Harry Beasley.[4] He also appeared in West End revues,[2] and appeared in four Royal Variety Performances, in 1912, 1919, 1925, and 1938.[5]

He wore a false moustache, which he could use to express all kinds of emotion by twitching or moving it. Several catch phrases he used became popular in Britain in the twentieth century, including "Good-bye-ee!", which inspired the popular First World War song written by Weston and Lee; "How's your father?", which Tate used as an escape clause when his character was unable to think of an answer to a question; and "I don't think", used as an ironic postscript, as in "He's a nice chap – I don't think".[3][4][6]

Historian and writer Roger Wilmut described Tate as "the greatest of all the pre-Second World War sketch comics, and one of the few artists from before 1914 to be able to maintain his popularity in Variety right through the inter-war period".[4] By the 1930s, the costs of touring with a company became too great, and Tate performed sketches with his son, Ronnie (1902–1982).[4]

Tate was a member of the Grand Order of Water Rats charity, serving as "King Rat" in 1911.[7] He was also a keen motorist. The earliest known celebrity personalised number plate was T 8, owned by Tate[8]

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 Jr.".[9]

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.[10]


  1. ^ "About Harry Tate", Arthur Lloyd. Retrieved 12 February 2021
  2. ^ a b George Le Roy, Music Hall Stars of the Nineties, 1952, British Technical and General Press, pp.59-60
  3. ^ a b c Richard Anthony Baker, British Music Hall: an illustrated history, Pen & Sword, 2014, ISBN 978-1-78383-118-0, p.240-242
  4. ^ a b c d e Roger Wilmut, Kindly Leave the Stage: The Story of Variety 1919-1960, Methuen, 1985, ISBN 0-413-48960-4, pp.44-48
  5. ^ "Artistes at the Royal Variety Show 1912 - 2015", Royal Variety Charity. Retrieved 12 February 2021
  6. ^ "Harry Tate (1872 -1940) and ‘how’s your father ?’", Shoes and Feet. Retrieved 12 February 2021
  7. ^ "Biography of a Water Rat: Harry Tate", GOWR. Retrieved 12 February 2021
  8. ^ The first personalised number plate accessed 21 Sep 2007
  9. ^ Harry Tate (at British Library) Archived 10 February 2007 at the Wayback Machine accessed 11 February 2007
  10. ^ Julian Franklyn, ed. (2013). A Dictionary of Rhyming Slang. Routledge. p. 75. ISBN 9781136109409. Originally published 1960.

External links

This page was last edited on 23 May 2022, at 15:59
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