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Handley was born in Liverpool. He was already a seasoned radio performer, when in 1939 the phenomenally successful ‘It’s That Man Again’ - better known by its acronym ‘ITMA’ - was created to showcase his wisecracking personality.
Early stage success had led to him being booked for the Royal Command Performance of 1924, and he made his radio debut the following year in the revue ‘Radio Radiance’, where he met his future wife Jean Allistone. He put together more radio revues, among them ‘Handley’s Manoeuvres’ and ‘Tommy’s Tours’, often in partnership with scriptwriter Ted Kavanagh, who was to create ‘ITMA’, and in 1934 teamed up with fellow comic Ronald Frankau as the radio duo Murgatroyd and Winterbottom. But it was ‘ITMA’ that made him famous.
Though launched in the final days of peace, on 12 July 1939, it was the onset of war that allowed Handley to give vent to topical, Hitler-baiting gags, making ‘ITMA’ essential listening – ‘that man’ in the title being Hitler himself. For the wartime second series, Handley became the Minister of Aggravation and Mysteries at the Office of Twerps, and was joined by a troop of eccentric characters - played by a cast that included Sam Costa, Maurice Denham. Deryck Guyler and Jack Train - all with their own catchphrase. The fourth series introduced Mrs Mopp (Dorothy Summers) with perhaps the most famous catchphrase of all, ‘Can I do you now, sir? The show survived the war, but three days after its 310th edition, on 6 January 1949, Handley died suddenly.
One of the characters in ITMA was Frisby Dyke, named after a household textiles shop in Lord Street, Liverpool.