Tom E. Finglass (1880?–1957)

 


(Star Music sheet)

In his early years Dublin-born tenor Tom E. Finglass often performed in blackface, and was sometimes billed as “The Ideal Coon.” Music Hall historian S. Theodore Felstead even goes so far as to suggest that he was as good as the immortal American blackface Music Hall star Eugene Stratton1 — indeed, Finglass played Stratton in two films, You Will Remember, the 1941 film of the life of Leslie Stuart; and Variety Jubilee (1943).

Finglass plays an important role in the Fred Godfrey story, as the two of them teamed up in 1929–30 to create a Variety act featuring Godfrey’s hit songs. When the act debuted in late 1929, Godfrey was billed as “The British song writer who is booked for Hollywood,” as he had just been signed to a contract to go there to write songs for movies (unfortunately the Depression intervened and Godfrey never went). The act was a big hit, with Finglass handling the singing while Godfrey played the piano. Reportedly, the audience singalongs would bring the house down, and they would end with Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty, light a “fag,” and walk offstage. The act “topped the bill” in many provincial halls — Godfrey’s daughter Peggie recalled catching it in Glasgow and in Bolton, where Godfrey and Finglass shared the top of the bill with Shaun Glenville. Other knowns stops for the act were the the Hippodrome, Exeter (November 1929); the Theatre Royal, Dublin (January 1930); the Tivoli, Aberdeen (March 1930); the Royal, Edinburgh (April 1930), where the act was described as “a most enjoyable turn, comprising songs, choruses, and dancing, the audience joining heartily in many familiar choruses” (The Stage, 3 April 1930); the Shakespeare, Liverpool (April 1930); and the Alexandria, Pontefract, Yorkshire (May 1930).

(Norris Collection)
Star turns: Tom Finglass, Shaun Glenville, Wee Georgie Wood, Florence Oldham, Fred Godfrey, and theatre manager Alf Booth,
at the Grand Theatre, Bolton, Lancashire, 1930; Alf Booth was
the manager of the Grand for more than 50 years.
(unidentified newspaper clipping).
Advertisement for the Godfrey-Finglass act in the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 8 November 1929.

In Exeter, a local newspaper noted,

The presence on stage of Fred Godfrey, the author of “Take Me Back To Dear Old Blighty,” gave rise to scenes of remarkable enthusiasm at Exeter Hippodrome last night, and the audiences at both houses revelled in the popular war-time chorus, the singing of which, however, was tinged with a feeling of sadness. Rarely, if ever, has there been a more unique occasion at the Hippodrome. Apart from the atmosphere engendered by the appearance on the stage on Armistice Night of the man who wrote a ditty that will always be associated with memories of the war, the popularity of many other songs composed by Fred Godfrey was made manifest, these including “Who Were You With Last Night?” and “Down Texas Way.”....Tom E. Finglass, who has been associated with most of these hits, sang many old favourites in characteristic style, and introduced a topical number based on a ditty that has recently been in great favour. Fred Godfrey was at the piano. The show is brimful of originality and mirth.

Finglass retired from regular performing in the late 1930s and subsequently made his living in London as a hairdresser. He came out of retirement briefly in 1950 to portray Eugene Stratton once more in a BBC tribute to that singer.

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Note

1  S. Theodore Felstead, Stars Who Made the Halls: A Hundred Years of English Humour, Harmony and Hilarity (London: T. Werner
    Laurie, 1946), p. 58.