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Tenuous connections: Terry-Thomas – Subud and gold-plated Bentley’s

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(Above) Stage pass from gala benefit show to rescue T-T (1989)

(Left) Book cover of the new Terry-Thomas biography

(Right) J.G. Bennett (1973) the man who brought Subud to the West.

I‘ve just started reading the new biography of the life of Terry-Thomas – one of the funniest screen actors of my generation – and it’s hard to think of him without smiling, until his final years of illness and destitution come to mind.

Terry-Thomas (or his projected persona) was a cad, a bounder, a wide-boy, a character – every inch an English eccentric of the first order.

I had a very tenuous link with him, mainly via his first wife Ida Patlanski, who was a childhood friend of my late Mother, Irene.
They were ‘flapper‘ chums in the 1920’s in Johannesburg, until Ida’s career as a ballet dancer (and later as an actress) took off, and she migrated to London.

In 1952, my parents and I were in Europe for a few weeks, and we met up with Ida and her already famous husband, in Blackpool. Terry was performing one of his radio shows which we watched being recorded in front of an audience, and then had lunch together……
It was 8 years later before I saw either Pat or Terry again.
By that time they were divorced, and I was in my final year of osteopathic training – earning extra funds as a film-extra. On the set ofI’m alright Jack’ I spotted the dandyish figure of T-T and obsequiously introduced myself, mentioning the Blackpool lunch….amazingly he remembered it, and we chatted briefly.
A further connection emerged when he told me that my uncle, Boris Chaitow ND DO, had successfully treated him for knee problems.
That was the last time I had any direct contact, although periodically I met with Ida, by that time living in a cottage on Box Hill, near Leatherhead, Surrey. I would visit her at weekends, sometimes staying overnight in a gypsy caravan parked in her front garden…. a surreal experience, to say the least.
No less surreal was one Sunday at Ida’s cottage, when she was madly preparing for a surprise birthday party for someone very special to her…..and who at that time I’d never heard of.
This was J.G. Bennett who is credited with introducing the spiritual practice of Subud to the West (he was also author of Concerning Subud). See Bennett’s black and white photograph above.
The party, as I recall, was jolly and somewhat associated with cake and wine – although not necessarily in that order.
Life being what it is, this tenuous connection has come full circle, so that – as I write this – my gifted daughter Sasha is responsible for editing, as well as translating, from English into Greek, a biographical monograph by a now deceased, former close family friend of my wife Alkmini, who became in his later years a major figure in the now world-wide Subud movement.
One more even more tenuous link emerges in the biography I’m reading.
There’s an anecdote of a period during the 1940’s when an ill and exhausted T-T went to stay at Champney’s, the famous naturopathic clinic, under the supervision of my father’s cousin Stanley Lief ND DO DC.
As the story is told T-T was horrified at the strictness of the dietary detoxification regime, and told Lief – in no uncertain terms – that he liked to eat – not grapes and oranges – but beef, lamb, pork etc etc.
Apparently T-T, in the dubious company of Lord and Lady Docker, regulars at Champneys for many years, was prone to sneaking out (in the Docker’s famous gold-plated Bentley) for excursions to nearby Tring, for ‘wicked’ snacks. Despite these evasions of the rules (typical of a bounder and a cad I guess!) the biography notes that T-T returned to London fully invigorated and back to good health.
All this is rather poignent when the final act of Terry-Thomas’s life is told, for in the 1980’s he was bankrupt, and ill with Parkinson’s disease.
He was apparently located, virtually by chance, by old friends, living in absolute poverty in Barnes near London.
A show-business rescue plan was organised – involving a gala concert at Drury Lane in 1989 (see stage-pass image, above), which allowed his final months to be spent in the safety, and relative comfort, of a nursing home, until his death in 1990.
My memories are of a larger than life, beaming, gap-toothed, wicked grin….a one-off, comic-genius
I say, jolly good show chaps

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