Tommy Atkins

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"Tommy Atkins" is a name given to a number of people and things, from its long-standing use as a name for a British Soldier (hence, for example, the "Tommies" of the Anglo-Boer War) to the name of a famous mango cultivar[1].

Tommy Atkins in performance

The name has often been in the titles of variuous kinds of literary and performance pieces (poems, songs, plays, etc.), not all of them necessarily familiar in Southern Africa. Among the better known have been:

In 1890 Rudyard Kipling wrote and published the poem Tommy[2], featuring "Tommy Atkins" and intended to honour the ordinary British soldier. It was reprinted in 1892 in Kipling's Barrack-Room Ballads. (Sometimes listed as The Ballad of Tommy Atkins.)

In 1893, Henry Hamilton (lyrics) and Samuel Potter (music) wrote the song "Private Tommy Atkins"[3] for the musical play A Gaiety Girl[4] (by Owen Hall (book, on an outline by James T. Tanner), Harry Greenbank (lyrics) and Sidney Jones (music)).

In 1895 a stage play called Tommy Atkins was written by Ben Landeck and Arthur Shirley. (See performance details below)

In August, 1898, Robert W. Paul directed Tommy Atkins in the Park a short silent comedy film about a soldier and a serving-girl who are courting on a bench, when a fat old lady sits on the bench, interrupting them. The film was apparently a remake of Alfred Moul's The Soldier's Courtship (1896).

In 1915 Tommy Atkins, a British silent war film[5], directed by Bert Haldane and starring Blanche Forsythe, Jack Tessier and Roy Travers, was released. It was based on the 1895 play and adapted by Rowland Talbot.

In 1928 another film, also called Tommy Atkins, was produced by British International Pictures, with a screenplay adapted from the 1895 stage play by Eliot Stannard and Ian Hay (1876-1952) and directed by Norman Walker. Produced with the co-operation of the Army Council.

In 2009 the Spaniel In The Works Theatre Company performed Tommy Atkins and The Canary Girl, a play based on Gloucester Archive recordsand focusing on the lives and experiences of workers at the Gloucester munitions factory, and local soldiers, during the First World War (1914-1918).

In 2014 Peter Gill created and performed a one-man play called Meet Tommy Atkins as part of the centenary of the First World War (1914-1918).

Tommy Atkins by Landeck and Shirley (1895)

The original text

A romantic melodrama written by Ben Landeck (1864–1928) and Arthur Shirley (1853-1925), set against the backdrop of the British intervention in The Sudan in the 1880s. First performed in London at the Pavilion Theatre on 16 September, 1895, followed by a run at the Duke of York's Theatre, from 23 December, 1895, , the play was not popular with critics, being dismissed as a preposterous piece, "an outrageous East-end melodrama..." etc.

However it was later revived by Milton Bode's Company (26 September to 1 October 1898), who described it as a "Great Military Drama" on the promotional material issued for the production..

South African performances

1913: Performed as Tommy Atkins in the Palladium Theatre, Johannesburg by the Hoffman-King Company, with a cast including Hilda Attenboro.


J.P. Wearing. 2013 (2nd revised edition). The London Stage 1890-1899: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel, Scarecrow Press: p. 277[6]

New Zealand Herald, 16 October 1915

NZ Truth, 7 October 1916

Rand Daily Mail, 10 June 1919

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