British comedy legend Tommy Maitland will host ABC’s revival of The Gong Show this summer.
So says the press release. And yet. You’d think you would have heard of Tommy Maitland, or followed him on Twitter or seen his Facebook fan page if he were a true legend of comedy. Instead, @mrtommymaitland only went live today. But as my friend Megh Wright over at Splitsider has surmised, underneath that makeup lies one Mike Myers, most probably definitely.
Myers recently re-emerged himself this past month, appearing on the NYC Podfest, and just this week talking up the potential of another Austin Powers movie. Those films found Myers in disguise as a British superspy.
As for Tommy Maitland? Well, here’s the official ABC backstory on him, complete with testimonials from Gong Show executive producer Will Arnett:
“When Will Arnett came to me and asked me to host ‘The Gong Show,’ I said, ‘I’m honoured at the request, but I’m retired,'” said Tommy Maitland. “Then he told me how much I was being paid, in U.S. dollars, and I said, ‘I’m still honoured, but no longer retired.'”
“I have been a fan of Tommy Maitland for years, and I think he is one of the most iconic British comics out there, along the lines of Benny Hill and Ricky Gervais,” said Robert Mills, senior vice president, Alternative Series, Specials & Late-Night Programming, ABC Entertainment. “I think this show is a great vehicle to introduce Tommy to an American audience, and those who are familiar with the original ‘The Gong Show’ and its host Chuck Barris will be pleased with Tommy, who will bring the show into the 21st century with a bang!”
“When Will Arnett brought Tommy Maitland to Sony, we immediately understood why he felt Tommy would be the perfect host for our beloved ‘Gong Show,'” said Holly Jacobs, executive vice president, Reality and Syndication Programming for Sony Pictures Television. “He’s oozing with charm, wit and charisma, and I am certain that viewers will fall madly in love with him!”
“I’ve been a huge fan of Tommy since I first saw his stand-up in the U.K. while traveling as a teenager. He was so funny and original. I had the good fortune to cross paths with Tommy a few years ago and ever since we’ve talked about working together,” said Will Arnett. “I tried for years to come up with a vehicle that was suitable to expose his immense talent on a bigger stage, and ‘The Gong Show’ is the perfect fit.”
Born on July 7, 1944, Thomas Winston Maitland (his middle name is a tribute to Winston Churchill) grew up in Neasden, GLC, Borough of Brent, where his father was an actuary and in the Merchant Marine and his mother was in the RAF. After a failed stint as a pipe fitter’s apprentice, Tommy joined the British Army at the tender age of 15. He later joined the Entertainment National Service Association (ENSA), where he got to know some of the U.K.’s biggest comedians. He played the ukulele, told jokes and drummed (though he drummed badly), and he ended up hosting the show – a talent he would later be known for. He was voted ENSA Entertainer of the Year, for which he was given a guarantee to appear on British radio. He later worked as an announcer for the British radio show, “The Whosey Whats,” and got small roles in the “Carry On” films – either as the over-anxious compart at a men’s club or the strict union pipe fitter. He also appeared in the TV series, “The Lord Mayor,” as the cheeky mayor of a mythical town in East Anglia who struck it rich because they sat atop an oil field.
In 1973, Tommy wrote a book about his time in the British Army fighting the Mau Maus called “The Mau Maus are Revolting,” and he also worked at a Butlin’s Holiday Camp at the same time, for two seasons, in Anglesea, Wales and Brighton.
Hugely popular in Italy, he made four of his 11 films there. Two of the four were Spaghetti Westerns, where he played the fastidious banker, and the other two were James Bond knockoffs – “You Only Live Once, To Be Honest” and “From Russia, Luv.” At the same time, Tommy continued to work the working men’s clubs across England, where he received top dollar as an emcee.
In 1976, Tommy starred in “He Wore a Dustman’s Hat,” about an upper-class London gent who discovers that his dad (Tommy Maitland) is a garbage worker for the council in Hackney. This show played on Canadian TV at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday mornings. Will Arnett saw this show in syndication on Canadian TV in 1980 and thought that Tommy was a comedic genius. Later that year, Tommy bought an estate in Kent called Serendipity, which he found by accident. Serendipity was a mega-celebrity hangout where people could escape, party, do or be anything they wanted to be, free from judgment and the prying eyes of the paparazzi.
In the ’80s, Tommy hosted the British game show “Tell You What,” a charades-based adventure game. He later hosted an Australian game show called “Dingo’s Got the Baby,” in which one contestant would be the dingo and another the baby, and a chase would ensue. In 1990 he returned to England for a series of one-hour specials, called “You’ve Still Got No Proof.”
Tommy retired at the age of 55 but was still doing ENSA gigs. He loves comedy, so he often went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to watch young comics. Will Arnett, who was doing stand-up at one of the festivals, approached and befriended him. Desperately wanting to work with Tommy, Arnett tried for years to come up with a gig that was suitable for his immense talent and “The Gong Show” was the perfect match.
And if you’re looking to compete on The Gong Show?
The Gong Show premieres at 10 p.m. ET/PT, June 22, 2017.