Hollywood star crashed plane close to this house in tiny Buckinghamshire village
Narrow escape but Mary Poppins actor was acquitted of reckless flying
For those with a passion for golden age cinema, a new biography of former Bucks resident David Tomlinson is an absolute must-read.
Known to millions for his continually perplexed expression, Tomlinson symbolised post-war British comedy in a string of Rank movies, including All For Mary, Carry on Admiral, Hotel Sahara and Up the Creek.
Nathan Morley’s critically acclaimed biography ‘Disney’s British Gentleman: The Life and Career of David Tomlinson’ tells how he distinguished himself as an RAF pilot during the war, but also endured a turbulent, tumultuous personal life.
Those old enough might recall Tomlinson lived at Brook Cottage in leafy Mursley, which he bought from Adrian Beecham, the son of the famed conductor Thomas Beecham.
By all accounts he loved the real country people and cultivated many long lasting friendships with locals.
“The Tomlinsons threw themselves into local life,” says Morley. “Many in the village held tight to their traditions, so David was delighted to help organise Mursley’s 13th century fair in 1954 by persuading television star Bruce Seton to cut the ribbon.”
However, locals tend to remember the time he crashed a Tiger Moth aircraft 100 yards from Brook Cottage in April 1957. All hell broke loose and it became local legend.
“The family’s delight at their narrow escape was somewhat blunted when four summonses concerning reckless flying in a populated area arrived but David was found not guilty,” Morley adds.
In 1943, his new American wife committed suicide with her two children by jumping from the top floor of a New York hotel.
When he finally found comfort with his second wife, Audrey, he fought to have their son, Willie, recognised as one of the first British cases of autism.
At first doctors believed Willie was hearing impaired because he didn’t respond when spoken to. But the Tomlinsons weren’t convinced and embarked on a search for a proper diagnosis.
“David Tomlinson made outstanding fundraising efforts and helped raise awareness about autism when it was virtually unheard of…this is a part of his life which is not well known,” said Morley.
However, it was playing ‘affable asses’ in a string of British cinema classics and West End shows that would lead to his career upturn.
In the sixties, he became the toast of Hollywood as one of Disney’s most beloved icons, starring in Mary Poppins, The Love Bug, and Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
Morley cast the net far and wide, and the book includes contributions from Griff Rhys Jones, Frances De La Tour, Shirley Eaton, Vera Day, Geoffrey Boycott, Jill St John, Michele Lee, Judy Spires, Gyles Brandreth and countless others.
Comedian Miles Jupp gave the book top marks, saying it was “a wonderful account of a life filled with far more ups and downs than its subject’s languid demeanour ever suggested”, while Craig Brown called it “a terrific new biography”.
David died in 2000 and is buried in Mursley.
‘Disney’s British Gentleman: The Life and Career of David Tomlinson’ is published by the History Press