Terry-Thomas is one of the stars of ‘Lucky Jim’, the 1957 film adaptation of Kingsley Amis’ debut novel. The Boulting brothers’ comedy about unfortunate university lecturer Jim Dixon is on BBC One this afternoon. Terry-Thomas’ slapstick performance as Bertrand Welch in the film was one of the star’s earliest roles. With the gap between his two front teeth, sharp dress sense, and cigarette holder, the actor developed a reputation as the cheeky English gent.
He is well-known for the line ‘You’re an absolute shower’, which became somewhat of a catchphrase for him.
He spoke the phrase as he played Major Hitchcock in ‘Private’s Progress’, during his era of British film appearances.
Terry-Thomas later got his break in Hollywood in the Sixties but turned his back on American films after becoming disenchanted with the industry.
The actor’s world changed forever however when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1971.
He opened up about life with the neurodegenerative disorder in a heartbreaking interview with the Daily Express in 1984.
He said: “One doctor said I’ve got about four more years to live.
“God forbid! I shall probably blow my brains out first.”
During the Seventies and Eighties, Terry-Thomas and his wife Belinda Cunningham’s finances began to spiral.
Graham McCann, the author of the 2008 book ‘Bounder! The Biography of Terry-Thomas’, gave his take on the star’s life during this period.
Writing for the Daily Mail, who were serialising his book, he said: “It was the beginning of a long, slow and particularly cruel decline that would leave the great raconteur silent and virtually penniless and his poor wife physically and psychologically exhausted.”
Terry-Thomas and Belinda had enjoyed stints in Spain’s Balearic Islands but eventually were forced to relocate to England permanently.
They ended up renting a housing association flat in London and received support from the Actors’ Benevolent Fund.
His friend, the actor Richard Briers, recalled seeing him during this period.
He said: “He was just sitting there, motionless; a crippled, crushed shadow. It was really bloody awful.”
Terry-Thomas’ fellow actor Jack Douglas and the writer Richard Hope-Hawkins staged a gala for him, which raised more than £75,000 for him and the Parkinson’s Disease Society.
The money helped get him into a nursing home in Surrey, where he passed away in 1990.
‘Lucky Jim’ airs on BBC One today from 1pm-2:30pm.