WITH timing that would surely have made him smile had he realised, Tommy Mundon died aged 80 last week just as The Bugle, for whom he supplied jokes for decades, was going to press.
Our Tum was very much the last of his kind. He was best known as a staple of the Black Country Night Out show, the youngest of its three leading acts, alongside Harry Harrison and Dolly Allen. He was the last of the trio to leave the stage, four months after his 80th birthday.
He announced his retirement two years ago, when, not long after being diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease, he decided that, as he put it, he couldn't really be a stand-up comedian when he couldn't stand up for very long.
And it was the Black Country Bugle's honour and privilege to play host to his final stage performance, at our 40th anniversary party in Cradley Heath in 2012, when he lit up the room as he had been doing for decades.
His first public performance, he would often recall, was at the age of five, when he was beckoned to the front of the class at school in Halesowen, the town he lived in all his life.
His first shows were at church concerts and Sunday School events.
Acting the clown, as he put it, Tommy would pretty much make it up as he went along, performing in broad dialect and going down a storm from the off.
"In them days, they'd laugh at anything," he recalled, with characteristic modesty.
Despite this early taste of the spotlight, when Tom left school at 15 he lived a very average working class life, working as a delivery man for Blackheath Co-op and later for Dudley Council.
And it was this solid grounding in Black Country normality that made the Mundon act what it was.
By his early 20s, Tom was working five days a week for the council and performing three or four nights. As part of the Mundon, West and Marsh Show, with the West brothers and Linda Marsh, he took his act all over the Black Country's club circuit; performing monologues which brought out the humour in the mundanities of working class life, liberally sprinkled with top-class one-liners; always full-on Black Country, always clean. Sometimes the group would venture a bit further afield, but Tommy soon realised that the further he went, the more the audience struggled to understand what on earth he was talking about.
It was in the early 1970s that his reputation was cemented, when he joined the Black Country Night Out show.
As well as packing out clubs, they would also release records and on occasion appear on television.
And although, with the nature of his delivery, Tommy was destined to remain a local phenomenon, his reputation did reach far beyond his own neck of the woods. Ken Dodd, one of the best, most admired and hardworking comics in the business, was a big fan and a firm friend.
By the mid 1980's Tommy realised that something had to give, and it was only then, at the age of 55, that he finally retired from the day job to concentrate on the comedy full-time.
He gave it his all for almost the next quarter of a century, until he began to feel ill and had to slow down his hectic work rate.
It was, he soon discovered, the early onset of Parkinson's Disease, and he decided to bow out gracefully while he could still perform at the peak of his powers.
Tom's face and voice were a constant in The Bugle for decades thanks to the Mundon cartoon strips. The Bugle's editor during that era, Rob Taylor, was the first to contact us when he heard of Tom's passing, and told us: "I first saw Tommy's routine as a teenager of 18, in 1972, at Halesowen British Legion. Also in the audience was my dad Harry, plus David James and Derek Beasley, the three co-founders of The Black Country Bugle. They all knew Tommy well and there were a lot of link-ups between Tommy and the newly-established Bugle back then – links which were to last over the decades, culminating in his last public appearance on stage at our anniversary party in 2012.
"He was Halesowen born and bred, of course, and The Bugle's first offices were in Halesowen at the time, opposite the football ground on Stourbridge Road, so we saw a lot of him.
"My dad always described him as Halesowen's Master of Mirth.
"His routine at the British Legion that night had everyone in stitches, young and old alike.
"He was a natural born comic, who brought tears of laughter to your eyes, and he didn't need to resort to coarse language or smutty jokes to get attention.
"I believe he was still working on the bins back then, and doing his comedy stints in his spare time.
"But things really took off in the mid-1970's, in an explosion of Black Country entertainment, with the likes of Tommy, Harry Harrison, Dolly Allen, and others of that ilk, to the fore.
"He must have supplied The Bugle with a thousand-plus jokes for publication over the years, all expertly illustrated by our artist Dave Green."
"Tommy was a truly genuine and nice man who just enjoyed making people happy, whether he was in the street one to one, or up on the stage performing to hundreds.
"He was the Black Country's best comic among a generation of many talented entertainers, who could fill clubs, halls and theatres every night of the week. An era now sadly gone, and those of us who witnessed it are very fortunate.
"When I heard of Tommy's sad passing, I was reminded of when we lost another legendary Black Country entertainer, Harry Harrison, a few years back.
"They were close friends, on stage and off. Tommy paid a touching tribute at Harry's funeral, recalling some happy times and telling a few jokes.
"We can only hope that 'Arry and Tum are now getting their act together again, and mekin' 'em loff up theer, like in the old days."
See Letters - Page 8
See Ballad - Page 14
What were your memories of Tommy Mundon, especially if you saw him on stage? Did you ever bump into him in the Black Country? Write to us at 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL, or email email@example.com or log on to www.blackcountrybugle.co.uk