When it’s finally time to leave the stage all entertainers would love to go out at the top and Sunderland born comedian Bobby Thompson was no exception.
At his peak performing in North East clubs, punters were packed in like sardines and in 1985 Bobby was interviewed on BBC TV’s Wogan Show.
But is there a reminder of his achievements anywhere in the North East, and what happened to Bobby? There is a story that he had a statue given to him by The Little Waster pub in Wallsend after it closed down.
One night Bobby was broken into, cash, jewellery, and gold records were bagged, but after opening a cupboard and seeing his statue the burglars fled empty handed after realising who the house belonged to.
The life of Bobby, aka The Little Waster, features in A Private Audience by Dave Nicolson. The book is packed with interviews from fellow performers, managers and family members, with a foreword by comedian Ken Dodd…
‘To have an audience in uproar, to help them forget their everyday problems and worries, if only for an evening, is an experience to treasure’.
Former manager Brian Shelley remembers…
‘At the height of popularity his fee in the clubs was between £300-£500 a night. He did theatres for £1,000 for an eighteen minute slot. He was riding the crest of a wave. Bobby had it all going for him in 1978 with his record out’.
Some people interviewed on this site have mentioned seeing Bobby’s act or working with him. Back in October 2019, David Wood, boss of Wallsend’s Impulse studio, told me a story with a surprising ending.
I knew his manager Brian Shelley, he said Bobby is doing really well around the clubs do you fancy recording him ? I thought yeah we’ll give it a go.
We recorded him in Rhyope Club and Newcastle Mayfair around 1978. It was around an hours recording we put out and got Vaux breweries to sponsor it. Ironically Bobby didn’t drink then and there he was on a promo poster with a pint of beer.
Soon as we put the record out it took off, straight to number one in the local charts. Every shop was selling bucket loads, they couldn’t get enough off it. It was phenomenal.
With the profit from Bobby’s album the studio came on in leaps and bounds. We started the Neat heavy metal record label as an alternative to what we were doing.
We released a couple of singles then the Tygers of Pan Tang, Raven and Fist came along and suddenly we’ve got what became a New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Venom added to that and before we knew it we’ve built up a library of heavy metal singles. So yeah we’ve got to thank Bobby for Neat records.
In September 2019 I talked to actor and musician Pete Peverly who performs as Bobby in a tribute show. If he had a posh accent would he have appeared a lot more on TV and topped the bill on UK tours ?
His accent wasn‘t just Geordie it was Pitmatic, that’s very strong, and yes it was a barrier but one of the reasons why he didn’t make it outside the region was because I think he didn’t want to, he had everything up here.
He might have had more ambition in the early part of his career when he was doing Wot Cheor Geordie for the BBC. Maybe he thought about pushing it further but certainly not during the ‘70s.
All the other regional comics and entertainers who made it nationally were all-rounders, actors, comedians, song and dance men, Bobby wasn’t. He was a pit comedian from the Durham coalfields talking specifically to that community.
One performer who worked with Bobby was actor, writer and theatre producer Leah Bell. I talked to Leah back in July 2021 and asked her what was he like to work with?
I worked with Bobby Thompson a lot, he was a nice man. His act was of its time, the poverty, the war – very funny.
We done a panto in Newcastle Theatre Royal with David Jason (Only Fools and Horses). David didn’t know Bobby Thompson at all, Bobby never rehearsed with us, there was no interaction.
So Bobby done his cabaret piece at the start of act two, and afterwards backstage would shuffle around saying hello to people.
David used to say to me ‘What a shame for that old fella, fancy having to work at his age, I’ve just given him some money for a cup of tea’. I said ‘What ! He gets dropped off in a limousine (laughs)’.
One night David said ‘He’s never in the finale, it’s nice of the theatre to let him go early, he must be tired’. Really, Bobby was doubling up and playing the late spot at Newcastle Mayfair.
Bobby had great delivery, clear, distinctive and not draggy. It can sound like he’s just talking along but it’s not, it’s very precise. He was a one off.
Another North East comedian, Bobby Pattinson, is interviewed in the book.
‘Over the years I gave him bookings at my club. I never saw him as a rival, but regarded him as a friend even though people told me he didn’t have a good word for me’.
‘Most North East comics were content to go on stage in any order, Bobby always wanted to be last, he interpreted that as top of the bill. But he wasn’t as successful as I hoped when I booked him in December 1981 and had to cancel sixteen shows’.
In his detailed introduction, author Dave Nicolson tells us…
‘Bobby had success and money through the golden years, but he also had loneliness. The last few years were embarrassing for him, empty tables and chairs told him the harsh truth. Even the examiner at his bankruptcy hearing in 1986 was kind and considerate’.
‘Having lost the company of an audience his feeling of loneliness and isolation intensified. Spending late nights at Newcastle’s Casino Royale and the roulette wheel provided his nightly stage’.
Sadly, Bobby died on Saturday 16th April 1988 in Preston Hospital, North Shields. Family and friends attended his funeral with a fellow comedian adding a one liner that summed up Bobby Thompson…
’He’s late because he’s found out there’s another funeral after this and he wants to go on last!’
Alikivi May 2023
Research: Bobby Thompson, A Private Audience by Dave Nicholson.
Printed & published by TUPS books 1994.
Links to full interviews:
‘Take a Bow’ with Leah Bell 21st July 2021.
TAKE A BOW – writer, actress & theatre producer, Leah Bell | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)
‘Centre Stage’ with Pete Peverly 16th September 2019.
CENTRE STAGE in conversation with North East entertainer Pete Peverly | ALIKIVI : NORTH EAST UK (garyalikivi.com)
‘The Fixer’ with David Wood 13th October 2019.