b. Teresa O’Shea, 13 March 1913, Cardiff, Wales, d. 21 April 1995, Leesburg, Florida, USA. A warm, ebullient, and immensely endearing entertainer, ‘Two Ton Tessie’, as she was billed, was taken to watch variety acts perform at Cardiff Empire when she was only four years old.
She later won talent contests for her singing and dancing, and when she was 12, made her solo stage debut at the Bristol Hippodrome. This was followed by an engagement at the Chiswick Empire, and further variety circuit bookings. Always conscious of her more than ample girth - she eventually reached 17 stones in weight - O’Shea dressed initially in comic clothes - elastic-sided boots, striped stockings and over-large hats. In the early days she based her act on the legendary Lily Morris, and belted out numbers such as ‘Josh-u-ah’, ‘Don’t Have Any More, Missus Moore’, ‘Hold Your Hand Out, Naughty Boy’, and ‘Why Am I Always The Bridesmaid’. By the late 30s she was a star, regularly playing summer seasons in Blackpool, and topping bills throughout the land, accompanying herself on the banjulele while singing songs such as ‘I Met Him By The Withered Weeping Willows’, ‘Nobody Loves A (Fat) Fairy When She’s Forty’, and, as war broke out, ‘I Fell In Love With An Airman Who Had Big Blue Eyes, But I’m Nobody’s Sweetheart Now’. During World War II she toured with ENSA, and in 1942 appeared with Leslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson, Cecil Frederick, Robby Vincent, and Harry Korris in Robert Nesbitt’s revue, Happidrome, at the Prince of Wales theatre. In 1944 she topped the bill at the London Palladium with Max Miller, and, two years later, was back at the Palladium starring with Nat Jackley, Jimmy Jewel and Ben Warriss in another Nesbitt production, High Time. In this show, O’Shea made her entrance atop an elephant that became pregnant during the run and threw the star off, necessitating a three-month period of recuperation. However, she was fit enough by November 1946 to take part in the Royal Variety Performance of that year. In 1949, she toured with another of Britain’s favourite ‘characters’, dance band Billy Cotton, and their lively musical revue Tess And Bill was also resident at London’s Victoria Palace for a season.
During the 50s, as the advent of television gradually closed most of the variety theatres, O’Shea continued to work in summer shows and cabaret, and on radio, as well as appearing in provincial productions of plays such as Sailor Beware, and Peter Ustinov’s Romanoff And Juliet. On 8 December 1963, she opened on Broadway in Noël Coward’s The Girl Who Came To Supper, a musical adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play The Sleeping Prince. She was an enormous success as the splendid cockney fish-and-chips seller, Ada Cockle, and stopped the show every night with her exuberant rendition of ‘London’ (‘is a little bit of all-right/nobody can deny that’s true’). She won the Tony Award for Supporting/Featured Actress, and returned to New York in 1966 (complete with Welsh accent) with another musical, A Time For Singing, based on Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley. O’Shea became the toast of Broadway, guested on all the US television chat shows, and played the Nurse in a New Orleans Repertory Theatre presentation of Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet. She also won an Emmy for her part in a television version of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde. She was back in Britain in 1970 at the Blackpool Opera House with comedian Ken Dodd, and also shone in the television comedy As Good Cooks Go. In later years, domiciled in the USA, she had a cameo role as Mrs Hobday in the Walt Disney movie Bedknobs And Broomsticks and starred in a Las Vegas revue. O’Shea continued to return to Britain occasionally, reminding audiences there of her position as a unique entertainer.