Panto tribute to Sunderland legend Bobby Knoxall

Bobby Knoxall
Bobby Knoxall
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THE family of late Wearside funnyman Bobby Knoxall are to mark what would have been his 80th birthday with a visit to the pantomime.

Wife Diane, 64, said it is what the 75-year-old veteran comedian would have wanted – his loved ones “enjoying a chuckle while remembering him on his birthday”.

Bobby lost his battle with liver and kidney problems in 2009.

Diane said the family, including her sons and grandchildren, will take their seats for panto Cinderella at the Sunderland Empire tomorrow.

She said: “It’s what he would have wanted. He wouldn’t want us moping around, he’d want us to smile when we remembered him.

“He’d want his family together, enjoying a chuckle while remembering him on his birthday.”

Bobby, from Farringdon, enjoyed more than 50 years in the entertainment business.

He went from selling tomatoes as a barrow boy on a Sunderland bomb site, to appearing in cabaret with Johnny Mathis, Roy Orbison and Louis Armstrong.

He was also well-known and respected for his charity work – he received an MBE for services to charity and entertainment in 2004 in recognition of his work to raise more than £1million, including £20,000 for the Grace House Children’s Hospice Appeal – and remained devoted to his home city despite a career which took him around the world

Diane added: “The visit to the pantomime is something I started the first year Bobby died.

“Obviously, we’d go to the cemetery in the morning and pay our respects.

“But in the afternoon, we wanted something to lighten the atmosphere, because Bobby was such a light hearted man, so we decided to go to the pantomime.

“Bobby also held his last Chuckles For Charity show at the Empire, so it’s a fitting venue.”

Bobby, whose real name was Robert McKenna, was born in the East End.

Unable to read or write after being expelled from two schools by the age of 12, he got a job as a barrow boy on the bomb site where The Bridges now stands.

He got his break as an acrobatic dancer after winning competitions at the Rink Ballroom, in Park Lane, and appeared with rock ‘n’ roll dancers in London, before becoming a vocalist and developing his banter between songs into a comedy act.

He became big on the club circuit, and graduated to some of the top cabaret shows in the UK and abroad, becoming popular in Africa and the Middle East and appearing on bills with Ella Fitzgerald and Jose Feliciano.

The comedian became a mainstay of the Tyne Tees programme What Fettle, and sang SAFC’s 1973 FA Cup Final record Sunderland All The Way.

He survived heart attacks and bowed out of showbiz, but defied the odds to make a comeback in 2002.