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Tom O'Connor

May 2009

OF all the times Tom O'Connor has been to Nottingham, one particular memory stands out, that of a Christmas spent here many years ago.
"I met a lovely lady," he says.
"She worked on the council and she invited us to a do on Christmas Day."
Christmas Day?
"Yes, because we weren't going home for Christmas she invited us to a party. And she said: 'I'll bring my keyboard'. Her son, who was behind her, kind of grimaced.
"So she turns up with this keyboard and she can only play one tune and only in a bossanova tempo. We had six minutes of it. And her son says to me 'she's awful isn't she?'
"I said 'well, she's not good'.
"He said: 'We know she's awful but she practices every day. Last Thursday we thought she'd got it right but when we opened the door she was Hoovering."
O'Connor has plenty more stories like this, so many in fact that his act these days isn't so much a series of gags but anecdotes.
Here's another: "My greatest moment in showbusiness was with Roger De Courcey when we both did the Royal Variety Show in 1977. We were complete unknowns and everyone in the dressing room was a star: Sean Connery, Kirk Douglas, all these people.
"Roger had Nookie Bear, that no-one had ever heard of, just sitting on a beer crate in the corner while he had a shave. Then we heard about this French actor who was refusing to bow to the Royal Box. So Connery said to us all: 'Ignore him, turn your backs on him'. Then this French bloke came into the dressing room and said 'Before we start, I refuse to bow to your Queen because you would not bow to my queen.
"Then from the corner comes this voice: 'Well, you cut your queen's head off!' It was Nookie Bear!" he laughs.
De Courcey and his quick-witted sidekick will be joining O'Connor for The Best Of British Variety Tour which comes to the Royal Concert Hall in September. Others on the bill include Cannon & Ball, Bucks Fizz, Norman Collier and Faith Brown.
"She and I started together in Liverpool in 1964," he says of Brown.
"I hope she wouldn't mind me saying that. She was in a group called The Caverns."
At that time O'Connor, who turns 70 this year, was only working the clubs part-time. It would be another ten years before he turned professional.
By day he was a teacher.
"To be honest I always wanted to be a docker," says the son of a Liverpool docker.
"I wanted to work on the docks as an accountant but my dad wanted me to be a priest and my mother wanted me to be a brain surgeon. When I said I was going to be a teacher they were OK with that. They said 'that's got a bit of respect, a bit of standing – we'll have that'."
Yet, they were supportive of his move into comedy because his act was clean, he says.
"I never picked on anyone, I didn't do anything blue, I didn't do any religious gear, I didn't pick on anyone's colour... I was the exception.
"It has stood me in good stead. That's obviously why I'm still working."
It didn't stop him being mates with his "blue" contemporaries, such as Bernard Manning.
"Bernard was blue but you knew what he was going to be. But he could do an hour of clean stuff if he'd have wanted."
Which brings him on to current comedy.
"You get comics now on TV who are clean as a whistle. Then you go and see them (in concert) and the four-letter words come flying out. You know, I brought kids in here, you should have warned us."
Ah, it were different in them days...
"We worked in venues that today's comics couldn't handle," he says. "They wouldn't last five minutes."
There are exceptions.
"Lee Evans and Peter Kay are outstanding. They'd have been good in the clubs in the 60s and 70s. And they're both nice fellas – that's half the battle."
After working his way through the working men's clubs, like Manning, Frank Carson and Jim Bowen, Tom O'Connor found fame on The Comedians.
Throughout the 70s he became one of TV's most familiar faces on shows such as Wednesday At Eight, The Tom O'Connor Show and The Tom O'Connor Roadshow. This continued into the 80s as he became host of Name That Tune, Gambit, Zodiac, Password and Cross Wits.
More recently he's been a regular guest on Countdown and made his acting debut in the soap Doctors.
"I was a Liverpool priest called Tom," he laughs. "There's typecasting for you."
O'Connor recently finished a book of showbiz memoirs called I Remember.
"It's all the memories I've had and the stories I've been told."
Such as?
"Well, recently one of The Bachelors told me a story about when they were coming back from a tour of Australia and they were going through customs at Manchester airport. And the customs officer said 'open your bags'. They said: "Open our bags? Do you know who we are? We're The Bachelors.' And the customs bloke said 'Yes and we're The Searchers, now open your bags.'"

The Best Of British Variety Tour 2009, Royal Concert Hall, Thursday September 24, 7.30pm, £25/£26.50, 0115 989 5555.

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