Thomas Tom (H B)


Tom Thomas

Herbert Beverley Thomas (known to everyone as Tom Thomas) was born in Dalston, Hackney, East London in June 1902. He was educated at an London County Council School and, aged 14, started work as a clerk in a stockbrokers.

His father, although a staunch trade unionist and President of the London Society of Basketmakers, was a supporter of the Liberal Party.  The First World War and the Bolshevik revolution added to the young Herbert (or Tom) Thomas’ socialist convictions and he became active in the Daily Herald League, then joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP), and then the Labour Party, when individual membership became possible in 1918.

Thomas was also working as a clerk, and studying a course in commercial subjects at a London County Council evening institute. The course included some English and Drama. When faced with a choice of studying for a degree in commercial subjects, or continuing the non-vocational literature and drama studies, he chose the latter. Thus, Thomas joined an amateur drama group and became acquainted with the repertoire of the West End Theatres.

He became appalled at the triviality of the world of theatres and his political interests focused on the simple aim of enlivening the normally dreary Saturday night socials which the Labour Party organised.

Thomas set up a permanent theatre group of about 20 people, the Hackney Labour Dramatic Group, early in 1926, supported by the Hackney Trades Council. Founder members of the group included Kath and Sandy Duncan, two teachers who were well known and respected ILP and later Communist Party activists (see separate entry for Kath). After the General Strike Thomas promptly left joined the Communist Party.

An adaptation of Robert Tressell’s novel, `The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists’ followed as did a change of name to “People’s Players” before the group became the Hackney Group of the Workers Theatre Movement”.

In October 1929, as National Organiser of the Workers’ Theatre Movement, Thomas issued a leaflet on “How to Start a W. T. M. Group”, along with a list of recommended plays. In May 1930, he gave a report on the 11th conference of the German Workers Theatre League, which had recently been held in Dortmund, Germany, to an open conference organised by the Workers Theatre Movement in the East End of London.

From June 15th 1930 to July 11th 1930, the Soviet Union mounted an “Olympiad of the Theatres and Arts of the Peoples of the USSR, which Thomas attended. He was also at the first congress of the International Workers Dramatic Union (later the International Union of Revolutionary Theatres) and was later elected to its praesidium.

Tom Thomas began a Daily Worker column on the Workers Theatre Movement from almost s soon as it was published.

The Workers' Theatre Movement central committee supported the establishment of “Left Theatre”, the professional left production group started by Barbara Nixon and André Van Gyseghem (see separate entries) in December 1933. Thomas joined its EC despite an understanding that a quite different role existed for both organisations, with street agitation being uppermost with WTM.

Thomas eventually returned to Labour and became a playwright and author. 

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