Esma Cannon

Esma Cannon

Born Esma Ellen Charlotte Cannon
(1905-12-27)27 December 1905[1][2]
Randwick, New South Wales, Australia
Died 18 October 1972(1972-10-18) (aged 66)
Camden, London, England, UK
Occupation Actress
Years active 1937–1964
Spouse(s) Ernst Littman (1945-1972, 27 years) 1 child

Esma Ellen Charlotte Littman (née Cannon) (27 December 1905 – 18 October 1972), credited as Esme or Esma Cannon, was a diminutive (4 feet 7 inches (1.40 m)) Australian-born character actress and comedian, who moved to Britain in the early 1930s. Although better known in her latter years for her television roles, she was best known as a film actress, with a lengthy career in early British productions, from the 1930s to the 1950s.


After early experience at Minnie Everett's School of Dancing in Sydney, Cannon began acting on the stage at the age of four. She appeared in productions for both the JC Williamson and Tait companies - including the early prominent role of Ruth Le Page in Sealed Orders at the Theatre Royal in 1914,[3] and played Baby in an adaptation of Seven Little Australians the same year.[4] She was given children's parts well into adulthood. In an interview with the Australian Women's Weekly published in 1963, she claimed it was the theatrical impresario Percy Hutchinson who told her if she visited London he would give her work; her first London role was in the play Misadventure.[5] She worked not only as an actor in Britain in the 1930s but also in stage management and production.[6]

Her film début was an uncredited part in The Man Behind the Mask (1936); she was first credited, as Polly Shepherd, in The Last Adventurers (1937), and she appeared in 64 films over the next 26 years. She had small parts in three early Powell and Pressburger films: The Spy in Black (1939), Contraband (1940) and A Canterbury Tale (1944), Holiday Camp (1947) and, towards the end of her career, appeared in Inn for Trouble (1960), Doctor in Love (1960), Raising the Wind (1961), What a Carve Up! (1961), Over the Odds (1961), We Joined the Navy (1962), On the Beat (1962), Nurse on Wheels (1963) and Hide and Seek (1964).

In Holiday Camp she gave a fine dramatic performance of a pathetic and sad spinster who is lured to her death and is the murder victim, quite different from her usual comedy roles.

She is perhaps best remembered for her role as Edie Hornett opposite Peggy Mount in the comedy Sailor Beware! (1956). She played "Brother" Lil in the British television comedy series The Rag Trade (1961–1963), and also appeared in four Carry On films: Carry On Constable (1960), Carry On Regardless (1961), Carry On Cruising (1962) and Carry On Cabby (1963).

Retirement and death

Cannon, whose first name sometimes appears incorrectly as "Esme", retired in 1964 after Hide and Seek.

She died in 1972. She was 66. She was buried at St Benoit-la-Forêt in France [7]

Her elusiveness was such that her former colleagues and friends discovered she'd died only after a "Where are they Now?" feature in films and filming a number of years after her death.[8]

She was played by the actress Marcia Warren in the 2011 TV play Hattie, a drama based on the career of Hattie Jacques. The play featured a number of scenes with the two actresses on the set of Carry On Cabby.

Selected filmography


  1. New South Wales Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages
  2. BFI database
  3. "Last Night at Sydney's Theatres". Sunday Times (Sydney). 26 April 1914.
  4. "Gossip of the Theatres". Referee (Sydney). 9 December 1914.
  5. Anon (30 Jan 1963). "It's Everybody Out Again". Australian Women's Weekly: 38S.
  6. "Arrivals by Comorin". Argus (Melbourne). 22 January 1935.
  7. "La Nouvelle République 01/03/15"

External links

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