Esma Cannon

 

I mentioned  Esma Cannon in a recent post - she is an actress I remember most for her role in Holiday Camp 1947.

She was born Esma Ellen Charlotte Cannon on 27th December 1905 at Ruthsew Street, Randwick, Australia,.

Esma’s Father (who was 33 at the time of her birth), Michael John Cannon (1871-1937) a book keeper, was born in Sydney New South Wales (he had a brother Manes Cannon born in 1873)Michael married Esma’s Mother Lavinia Grace Margaret Ward on 14th November 1895 in the same location as both of their births.

Esma’s sister Veta Grace Doris Cannon married Jack Nimenski, but sadly  Veta died young on 31st August 1924 at St Vincent’s Private hospital, Darlinghurst in Australia.

One can only imagine what effect this had on the then 19 year old Esma and her Mother Grace – maybe that explains why they were  inseperable for the rest of their lives after this event.

 

The most likely date that she arrived in England was 1929 – a Mrs Grace Cannon was a passenger on a ship from Australia to England in 1929 and this could well have been her mother

No details can be found of an Esme Cannon arriving on the same route

Esma married her husband, private corp Ernst Littmann (14/04/04-) a lawyer, on 5th September1945 at Paddington register office, and in 1946 Esma gave birth to their son, Michael Anthony Littman.

In 1958 Esma, Ernst, Grace and Michael moved to 20 Priory Road NW6 (Camden) where they were listed until 1983.

Esma made her last will and testament on 8th December 1967, she died at 7am on 18th October 1972 in France where she is also buried.

She left an estate amounting to £23596.77 – quite a lot in 1972

Esma Cannon is best remembered today for her appearances in the Carry-On films, and on the BBC comedy show “The Rag Trade” however her career started when she was only 4 years old. She continued playing children and in fact  she told the Australian Woman’s weekly in 1963 “I was so tiny, I was playing children’s roles even when I was an adult

Not much is known about her life in the 1920s, other than that of her sister’s death in 1924. 

It is unclear when Esma Cannon first came and worked in England, however it was probably around 1930 as she was appearing in the plays ‘The Luck Of The Navy’ and ‘Brewster’s Millions’ as well as “Children In Uniform” in 1933, an interesting report in the 22nd January 1935 edition of the Australlian newspaper the Argus on Miss Merle Roberts reads, Miss Roberts, who has been away for four and a half years, appeared on the stage in London in the provinces and in Cairo.

 

 

Esma had a glowing review from the The Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer from 1st May 1935 for her part in “All Rights Reserved” which stated , forget not the country maid, Miss Esme Cannon, whose wide eyes and simpering innocence brought the house down every time , and equally praising was a review for “Love From A Stranger” on 1st April 1936, which said-From the remainder of a competent cast I choose Miss Esma Cannon for her quant study of a diminuitive servant-maid, it is also interesting to note that When the film version of “Love From A stranger” was released in 1937 the following note appeared in the 9th January 1937 edition of the same paper, I should have liked to see Esme Cannon repeat in the film her delicious stage characterisation of a half-daft and very inquisitive country maid. (the film part went to Joan Hickson, although Esma did appear in a BBC TV play version in 1938) 

 Esma Cannon’s first film appearance it has been claimed was “The £5 Pound Man”(a supporting feature for the likes of God’s Country And The Woman, and Lovely To look At) , although it was released the year after cinema goers would have caught a glimpse of her in the 1936 released film “Man Behind The Mask” 

 

All this aside it’s clear Esma was an extremely busy lady in Britain in the 30′s! Some notable, if all too brief stand out perfomances on film came in three George Formby films “I See Ice” as the giggling bride first seen in the films opening as George hilariously trys to take the married couples photograph, another brief but busy Maid part who opens the door to George in “It’s In The Air” and one of my all time favourite Esma appearances as the google eyed giggling maid in “Trouble Brewing” who listens to George sing Fanlight Fanny 

The Stage newspaper noted her performance in the 1938 production of “Ma’s Bit Of Brass”, as follows, The remainder of the capable company must be mentioned,Esma Cannon who gives a capital impersonation of a grocer’s half-witted errand girl. Esma also appeared opposite the Great Margaret Rutherford in the Stage play “Tavern In The Town” (an excerpt of which appeard on BBC radio in 1937 as did the play “Runaway Love” in 1939) she also played opposite that great old lady of the stage and Ealing films Edie Martin in “Worth A Million” in 1939, how much of an influence working with these great actress’s was, can I think be seen in her future performances, Esma Cannon was on her way to becoming a much loved and sort after character actress herself.

 Esma Cannon 5

 

 

 

It was always refreshing to see Esma Cannon in bigger and better parts, and none was more gripping than her portrayal as the abused mute, Lindy Wicks in the 1947 film Jassy. a review from the 2nd December edition of the Glouster Echo summed up her part perfectly ‘Among a number of flawless supporting parts, attention is riveted on Esma Cannon as the poor dumb handmaid whose actions determine the ultimate fate of Jassy’

Holiday Camp 1947 2

The film was shot in colour and Esma’s performance is still rivetting to this day. For good measure she also appeared in the Huggetts films, the best being in the first film “Holiday Camp” as the doomed Elsie Dawson, a young girl desperate to find love, her character and the way she portrays her is heartbreaking and funny at the same time giving the film its strongest scenes. She ended the 1940s with some sterling work behind her.

 

Esma was still busy on the stage as well, most notably in “Waggonload O’Monkeys” (Savoy, 1955 – see pictures below) where it was noted in the Stage newspaper “A special word should go to Esma Cannon for her amusing picture of a tiny spinster with a passion for turf” and in , ‘Husbands Dont Count’ (Olympia 1952) they wrote “Esma Cannon gives a delicious cameo as the judge’s somewhat eccentric mother-in-law”, her appearance in the play “Summertime”(1955, Apollo) also got the critics attenion “There is a brilliant little study of elderly fatuousness by Esma Cannon as Alberto’s Aunt” and her appearance in the “Mortimer Touch” (Duke Of York’s 1952) was strictly noted as ” Esma Cannon is the earnest little Nationalist who loses her kilt.” and make what you will out of the next comment for “The Importance of Being Earnest”(Tour 1957) ‘There are pleasant performances from Esma Cannon as Miss Prism’ one is left to wonder how her portrayl of Miss Prism matched the Margaret Rutherford version? (who in this case was critisized for her part as Lady Bracknell!)

 

 

By the time the Fifties had arrived Esma Cannon had relegated herself from young dizzy Maid to sweet little old lady, notable bit film parts include “Jack The Ripper” as the drunken prostitute Nelly, a very nervous doctors patient in “The Steel Key” (Billed as Esme Cannon) and the Dreamy biddy listening to Norman Wisdom sing in “Trouble in Store” But for my money Esma played one of her finest and best remembered roles in “Sailor Beware” as Edie Hornett, hen pecked sister-in-law to the dominating Emma Hornett (played to perfection by Peggy Mount), tiny Esma (she was 4ft 9in, and weighing six stone ) gave Miss Mount a run for her money in this classic British comedy. one last brief film appearance came her way as maid Spencer (playing yet again opposite Margaret Rutherford) in the British comedy “I’m Alright Jack” before bidding farewell to the dazzling fifties.

 Esma Cannon 2

 

Although Esma died in 1972, her career in the The 1960s ended in 1963, withn a very short space of time however she managed to pack in a staggering amount of work, ironically it’s her final film and tv work that she will be mostly remembered for today. due in part to the major success of the Carry On films over the years (she appeared in four, Regardless, Constable, Crusing & Cabby) and her appearances as Lilly in the BBC comedy “The Rag Trade” outside these sensations she also appeared on film as Irene Handl’s dumb soap eating sidekick in “Inn For Trouble”a chinese countess in “We Joined The Navy” (in glourious colour)on television she appeared in an episode of “Maigret”, and “Stryker Of The Yard” as well as an outstanding performance in “Dr Finlay’s Casebook” which was to be her swan song as an actress. 

It is not clear why she stopped working at this point in her career, but after 1963 Esma Cannon never again appeared as an actress in film, TV, Radio or Theatre.

Why she ceased working at such a succesful period in her life is still a mystery, she certainly seemed over whelmed by her success in the Rag Trade as the short article in the Radio Times in 1961 points out ‘Miss Cannon one of the West end’s favourite comedy actresses, has been touched by the many charming letters viewers have sent her since The Rag Trade began. Nothing like it has happened to me in all my stage career’, she said. 

 

When Esma Cannon died in 1972, it appears none of her fellow actors knew, until a year or so later.

There has been interest in Esma over the years, due mostly for her appearances in the  Carry On, films.

When the BBC made a programme about Hattie Jacques in 2011 simply titled Hattie, Marcia Warren was cast as Esma Cannon.

Another snippet - on Ebay in 2013 a signed photograh of Esma went for £300 – so that again shows the level of interest in this famous actress

 

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