A man full of contradictions.
Bobby Thompson - The Little Waster
Inside Out looks back on the life of a man who made a comedy career out of debt 20 years before the current credit crunch.
Bobby Thompson, 'The Little Waster', held audiences in the palm of his hand speaking in a dialect virtually incomprehensible outside the North East.
He was full of contradictions… for example, he wasn’t a Geordie, he was born and raised in Sunderland. But that probably widened his appeal.
An act based on debt revived his career
An act based on debt
He was a star in the 1950s but a disastrous TV series killed his career in the early 60s.
For five years after that he struggled.
He took part in talent competitions and appeared in court for non-payment of debts.
Eventually he and his wife Phyllis honed a new funnier act – based on debt.
And with a new manager, the bookings flooded in.
That should have been the end of debt for Bobby but it wasn’t to be.
Although he gave up drinking when it threatened his health, he never gave up smoking – he couldn’t, it was part of his act – and he blew thousands on gambling.
Appearing on Wogan was like another world
His son, Keith Thompson, remembers, "He had 30 or 40,000 quid in unopened pay packets in a safe. Then two or three nights in the casino – money gone.
"By the end of his life dad would bet on two flies on a wall."
Outside the North they didn’t understand him and he didn’t understand them.
An appearance on Wogan in 1985 felt like another world.
He was happy on familiar territory.
His comic style was to tell stories of an older generation locked in marital war, ending their days together.
That was also his life… but he had another side. He was a big ladies man.
Keith Thompson remembers women fawning over his dad:
"I couldn't see him as attractive – he was my dad. They were crowding round him.
"Various liaisons have come to light since he died. I’ve met a sister, a brother and another brother who I hadn’t met."
Bobby Thompson died in 1988 – bankrupt and owing the tax man £137,000.
A Times obituary said the regard for him in the North East was so high it was verging on reverence.
Twenty years after his death people still revere him.
last updated: 31/10/2008 at 17:57