Bobby Thompson’s son reveals how South Shields soldiers inspired Little Waster’s joke

Bobby Thompson with fans at the Sunderland Empire in 1981.
Bobby Thompson with fans at the Sunderland Empire in 1981.

At one time, Bobby Thompson was one of the North-East’s top comedians.

Known affectionately as The Little Waster, Bobby was a major draw throughout the region and beyond, filling clubs and cheering thousands with his down-to-earth northern wit.

Bobby Thompson.

Bobby Thompson.

Such was his popularity, that videos of his stage shows were eagerly sought and bought by fans far and wide.

Today, of course, we’re used to superstar comics, selling out huge venues for nights on end. But all this is a far cry from Bobby’s days, as his son Keith tells Time Of Our Lives.

For The Little Waster, dressed in his familiar scruffy jumper and flat cap (with customary tab in hand) or his army uniform, would travel from gig to gig, night after night – going to the people rather than have them come to him – in order to stand on stage and entertain club-goers , young and old alike.

This is how Keith remembers those days.

Private Bobby Thompson

Private Bobby Thompson

“Some years ago, I was very kindly sent a print of a painting of my father, done by South Tyneside artist Pal Palmer.

“The picture, which I believe was of a performance at Steels Club in Sunderland, reflects what looks to have been a great night in a packed venue.

“Comedy these days is viewed via rows of cinema-style seats, no half-empty glasses, no overflowing ash trays, no discarded bingo tickets, and no queues at 6pm.

“Dad was, of course, a Mackem, born at the foot of Penshaw Monument and brought up in Fatfield.

“So although he was known as a Geordie, his comic roots were in South Tyneside or Wearside.”

Keith said despite his dad’s genius for telling funny tales on stage, he wasn’t the author of most of his material.

“Not many people know that it was my mother Phyllis (born in Houghton) who was the author of 99% of his material.

“And this brings me to a wonderful memory involving South Shields.

“In the early 60s, dad was on at the Westoe Club, in South Shields, where my mother, as usual, was at the table reserved for them at the front.

“Sitting there, no doubt with a bottle of amber, which she was partial to, somewhere in the club she saw two uniformed servicemen watching the show.

“She was particularly hoping that they would enjoy the second part of dad’s show, which featured his army act.

“But when the second part of his act began, she glanced over, only to find that they appeared to have gone.

“As a result, when they got home, my mother had written the following joke which my brother Michael, myself and my mother thought was hilarious, but dad just didn’t get – so rarely used it”

It goes like this:–

“The captain says: ‘Thompson, I didn’t see you in camouflage class this morning.

“Dad replies: ‘Oh thank you sir.’

“A joke invented in South Shields.”

And although Bobby performed in the town and throughout South Tyneside on numerous occasions over the years, he also had another reason to pop back here – to go shopping.

“Most people will know that, off-stage, dad was a very snappy dresser and would only buy made-to-measure suits, and only from Burtons, in South Shields – as the manager, a chap called Louis, would always make them to fit!”

Wonderful memories. What are your recollections of The Little Waster? Did you see him perform? Please get in touch with your memories.