Stars and their Cars – Tom O’Connor
Tom O’Connor has been a household name for decades through his stand-up comedy and television presenting. As well as hosting his own entertainment shows, including ‘The Tom O’Connor Show ’, ‘Wednesday at Eight’, ‘Night Out at the London Casino’ and ‘London Night Out’, Tom is well known for his quizzes and game shows, such as ‘Name That Tune’, ‘Gambit’ and ‘Cross Wits’. Good Motoring asked him about his 50 years of driving and long show-business career.
How long have you been driving?
I’ve been driving since ’62, so 51 years. I had lessons from the guy next door, Jimmy. He was a driver for an undertaker, so he had me park the car as if I were driving a hearse! He had a very old Ford Prefect with just three gears and no poke at all, but it suited me. I used to employ Jimmy to drive me around the local clubs, and every night I’d have a quick go on a clear road.
Did you pass your driving test on the first attempt?
Yes, I did. I was a good cyclist, which gave me a sense of road safety. Once I realised just how much control you have in a car I was quite happy.
Do you have any particular memories of the day of your driving test?
Afterwards I celebrated by cleaning the car with shampoo. I’d never used shampoo on a car before in my life!
A little yellow Ford Popular 100E with three gears. I bought it in ’64 for £200 from a priest who was going away to the missions and didn’t think he’d live long enough to come back! I had it for three years. That was a super car, but when I had a guitar, an amplifier and the partner from my double act in it there wasn’t a lot of pull. With three gears I was permanently stuck in second with the engine screaming at me but if I knocked it into third I felt like I was going backwards!
Back then I was still a school teacher during the day and singing in a double act at in the pubs. We were getting £2.50 a night. Then we worked with a comedian. We played music for him and accompanied his act, he did 20 minutes of jokes I’d heard myself, and he got six quid! I thought ‘wait a minute’ and decided to become a comic.
What car do you currently drive?
We’ve got four now. There’s a Honda CR-V which I use mostly for my nightclub work. Our Chevrolet Orlando is fairly new. I’d say it’s probably the best motorway car I’ve ever driven. It feels totally safe. Then there’s my favourite, the Fiat 500. I go everywhere in that – just me and the golf bag. We have a workhorse for around town, the Citroën Picasso.
What would be your dream car?
I tell you what I like the look of but haven’t driven – the baby Bentley. A pal’s got one in silver, and it looks so much nicer in silver than in black. If it were just for me and it didn’t matter how many grandkids I could get in it, I’d have a Bentley.
You have personalised plates on your cars. Is there a particular plate you would like to have but don’t?
The one I wanted but could never get was TOM 5ON – ‘Tom’s On’. I saw it on a lorry in Birmingham. I went to see the firm but no joy. I think they scrapped the vehicle and the plate went as well.
What would we find on your stereo?
Mostly country and western, especially Willie Nelson and Glen Campbell. I have never met Willie Nelson but I’ve worked with Glen Campbell and he was brilliant. He drove from near Inverness right through the night to the television studios in Teddington. When he got out of the car he looked like a bombed house. I said ‘How are you Glen?’ and he said ‘Ask somebody else’. What a great line!
What was your most memorable car journey?
I had a Ford Mustang – it was all bonnet and engine. I was driving in South Wales on the Heads of the Valleys Road. It was a winter’s night with slush on the ground. I came to a roundabout in this Mustang and missed it completely. I just couldn’t hold the car. The back end went and I span over this roundabout and down the other side. The police were waiting. They said ‘There’s no weight in the boot of your car’ and I said ‘No, there isn’t’. They drove me to a building site and put three paving stones in the back of the car, and with their compliments, I drove off!
Who would you most like to have as a passenger on a long journey?
I would have Parkinson in the car for sure. He’s done that many things and he can tell you about them nicely. To cheer me up I’d have Jack Charlton, the footballer. He’s a very funny man and a good guy. And my best pal, Russ Abbott, a nice guy and very humble.
Who would you least like to have as a passenger?
Any politician of any party. Not everybody in Westminster is there to look after me and my country. There may just be one or two, or several hundred, who are in it for themselves.
What annoys you about other drivers?
My pet hate is the guy who approaches a roundabout and either waits to the very last minute of doesn’t indicate at all. You could have pulled out three times over while you were waiting for him. He’s my number one hate. Number two is the guy you are waiting behind at the traffic lights and as they change he indicates and you’re stuck behind him.
What is your top driving tip?
Read the Highway Code and absorb what it says, like keeping to the left when not overtaking. You won’t find many people who do that on the motorway.
If you were Roads Minister for a day what would you change?
On Bank Holidays I’d take away all the traffic cones!
Tom on… the state of the roads
“They’re bad. The potholes are a real problem, especially in a little car.”
Tom on… speed cameras
“I’m all for them, especially in places where there have been deaths.”
Tom on… motorway speed limits
“I think it’s about right as it is. I worry about the reaction times of people like me who are a bit older if the limit was increased.”
Tom on… fuel prices
“If all the tax money was spent on the roads we’d have bloomin’ good roads.”