Ted Kavanagh

(1892—1958) scriptwriter

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(1892–1958), was the main scriptwriter of the famous BBC radio comedy programme, ‘ITMA’, a key source of Britain's resilient morale during World War 2 and a major influence on later radio and television comedy. He was born and educated in Auckland, and was long remembered for his part in the 1912 Auckland University capping revue. Travelling to England in 1914 to study medicine, he turned instead to writing journalism, humorous monologues and revues, forming a partnership in the 1920s with the quick-fire Liverpool-born comedian Tommy Handley. In July 1939, with war imminent, the pair found their moment with the satiric, irreverent, roguish, absurdist ‘ITMA’. The title itself parodied wartime acronyms, code for ‘It's That Man Again’, the mocking headline coined by the Daily Express for Adolf Hitler. Kavanagh was a master of comedy by catchphrase, many of his eccentric characters and their identifying phrases entering British cultural consciousness for at least half a century. The morose Mona Lott (‘It's bein’ so cheerful as keeps me going'); the bibulous Colonel Chinstrap (‘I don't mind if I do’); the loquaciously servile Mrs Mopp (‘Can I do yer now, sir?’ and ‘Ta-ta fer now’, coded as ‘TTFN’)—all can still sometimes be heard in England. Kavanagh's ability to capture recognisable British types perhaps came, as with that other wartime observer, David Low, from his semi-detached position as a New Zealander. His Dickensian fertility with character and phrase was perfectly articulated by Tommy Handley's crisply mischievous delivery and acute timing, and by a strong cast of English character actors.


From The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Literature in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literature.

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