The Little Waster

Since Britain seems set for a return to the 1970s, I thought I’d wallow in nostalgia for the bygone days of Margaret Thatcher and my adolescence in the North East with this clip of the legendary comedian Bobby Thompson in his role as The Little Waster. He never achieved popularity outside the region, probably owing to his accent and the kind of material he liked to perform. He was, however, a permanent fixture in many working men’s clubs across the North East, most of which looked just like the one in North Shields this was filmed in.  

Bobby Thompson’s accent and upbringing were Wearside, rather than Tyneside, so he wasn’t strictly speaking a Geordie.  I find it quite easy to locate the accent myself, as closer to Sunderland than Newcastle, but I think people born outside the North East probably  find it difficult to grasp the difference. Unfortunately there are no subtitles on this clip so the jokes will probably go right over the head of most of you! He did have a very special status in the North East, however, right up until his death in 1988, because of the affinity he shared with his audience, many of whom had been brought up in real hardship and knew exactly what he was talking about. He always laughed with them, not at them.

I saw him only once, and I’ll never forget the effect he had on the crowd. Some people were laughing so much I thought they were going to die. His act was in two parts, the first being The Little Waster (as in the clip) and the second, which I thought much funnier, in which, dressed as a scruffy soldier he recounted obviously made-up stories about his wartime experiences. Another thing I remember is his trademark Woodbine, from a packet he bought in 1944…

My favourite joke of his dates to the night of the 1951 election when the victorious Conservative Party was rumoured to be planning to abolish the National Health Service:

It came t’ last orders and the barman shouted ‘Come on, let’s see yer glasses off’, and I said ‘Well, them Tories haven’t wasted any time, have the!’

11 Responses to “The Little Waster”

  1. “Since Britain seems set for a return to the 1970s”. You mean flared trousers and sideburns are coming back in style?

    “Bobby Thompson’s accent and upbringing were Wearside, rather than Tyneside, so he wasn’t strictly speaking a Geordie.” Would that make him a sand dancer? (Like “Cockney”, such terms are probably used with a range of meaning, depending on who is using the term.)

    • telescoper Says:

      “Sand Dancer” is a phrase I haven’t heard for ages. As far as I know it’s specific to people born in South Shields, which is opposite North Shields at the mouth of the Tyne. Being born in Penshaw, near Sunderland, Bobby Thompson was definitely what we call a Mackem.

  2. Mr Physicist Says:

    Brilliant – even though I could only understand half of it!

  3. “Geordie” is a well known term. I first ran across “Sand Dancer” as the title of an instrumental on Maartin Allcock‘s album OX15:

    10 SAND DANCER (based on a Macedonian folktune)
    This is based on a Macedonian tune in 22/8 time, again from Richard Robinson’s Tunebook. This breaks down into 3/4, 3/8, 3/4, 3/8, 2/4 so it isn’t as daunting as that would first seem. When I first played the tune it struck me that it siuted being taken at quite a slow pace so that the beauty of the tune shines out. Anna (neé Swarbrick, no relation) and I were in the Lancashire Schools Symphony Orchestra together but then lost touch until we met in Banbury Sainsburys after twenty-odd years. She lives in OX17.
    Maart – piano; Simon Mayor – mandolin; Anna Frazer – cello.

    As with most instrumentals, the title doesn’t have any deeper significance; it’s just a name.

    My wife is from Macedonia and after having been married in Germany we had a wedding reception in Macedonia. Three days of peace and music (where have I heard that before?) with a couple of hundred guests (only half the normal amount since no-one from my family came). I don’t recall whether the band played the original version of this tune or not.

    Check out Maart’s web page above for some photos of Declan McCarthy, who is obviously an astronomy look-alike for Richard Ellis!

  4. This American only got one word in ten. I think I got one of the minor jokes. Every thing else was just noise.

  5. telescoper Says:

    I’m not surprised. Most English people wouldn’t understand him either!

  6. telescoper Says:

    Incidentally, it might be interesting to mention that the etymology of “Geordie” is quite uncertain. I was told at School that it stems from the Jacobite rebellion of 1715 because the population of Newcastle, unlike most of the North of England, remained loyal to the (Hanoverian) King, George I. The prime reason for this seems to have been the presence of a large army in the town, intended to intercept the invading Scots (who were smart enough to use the West Coast route, via Carlisle instead).

    However, most dictionaries give it as deriving from George Stephenson. As well as the steam locomotive, Stephenson invented a safety lamp for use by miners usually called a Geordie. Miners from the rest of the country used the Davy lamp instead, hence the use of “Geordie” to identify those from Tyneside.

    Of course it’s also possible that neither of these is true.

  7. Geordie, of course, is the diminutive of George, though to which George it refers is, as you say, unclear.

    This discussion of Geordies and strange pronunciation reminded me of one of my favourite folk songs, which I heard from Steeley Span:

    (There are various versions on YouTube, by Steeleye Span and other artists.)

    Even if one understands the literal meaning of the lyrics (and that’s assuming a lot), the actual story is unclear. Here’s some explanation:

    Of course, many songs and poems hint at a complex story in just a few lines (recalling that the German words for “compression” and “poetry” are the same—Dichtung). Do a web search for “American Pie interpretation” to reveal a host of information about the Don McLean song. (Asked what it means, McLean once replied “It means I never have to work again”.)

  8. Anton Garrett Says:

    Is there a subtitled version?

    I regard Geordie and Glaswegian as the two hardest accents to understand in Britain. I reckon I’d mastered the latter after about three weeks in the town, although my confidence was temporarily dented by a conversation with a man who turned out to be a Polish emigrant to Glasgow. 1970s TV documentaries on inner-city social problems occasionally subtitled Glaswegian, to general amusement. And I remember a Belfast docker, interviewed at dockside for TV news, speaking passionately about the strike action at issue but also totally incomprehensibly – not least, I suspect, to the interviewer.


  9. Anton Garrett Says:

    PS Best of all was the Radio Clyde football phone-in starting at 5pm every Saturday. I used to send occasional audiocassettes of that to friends in Australia; one responded that he could only make out two words, and they were ‘Rangers’ and ‘Celtic’.

  10. Keagan Jones Says:

    penshaw was part of County Durham back when Bobby was born his accent isn’t Geordie or Mackem its Pitmatic, an accent that comes from pit villages across the North East but is more commonly found in County Durham. Bobby was a yakka!

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