In The Spy in Black (1939)
|Born||Esma Ellen Charlotte Cannon
27 December 1905
Randwick, New South Wales, Australia
|Died||18 October 1972
Camden, London, England, UK
|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 J. C. Williamson and Tait companies – including the early prominent role of Ruth Le Page in Sealed Orders at the Theatre Royal in 1914, and played Baby in an adaptation of Seven Little Australians the same year. 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. She worked not only as an actor in Britain in the 1930s but also in stage management and production.
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 at the age of 66 and is buried at St Benoit-la-Forêt in France.
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.
- The Man Behind the Mask (1936) – Waitress (uncredited)
- The Five Pound Man (1937) – Lucy
- Cotton Queen (1937) – Telephonist (uncredited)
- The Last Adventurers (1937) – Polly Shepherd
- I See Ice (1938) – Bride (uncredited)
- It's in the Air (1938) – Sir Philip's Maid (uncredited)
- Trouble Brewing (1939) – Maid (uncredited)
- The Nursemaid Who Disappeared (1939) – Mary – Nursemaid (uncredited)
- I Met a Murderer (1939) – Blonde Camper
- The Spy in Black (1939) – Maggie (uncredited)
- Poison Pen (1939) – Mrs Warren
- Contraband (1940) – Erik Skold's Niece (uncredited)
- The Briggs Family (1940) – Myrtle
- Quiet Wedding (1941) – (uncredited)
- Asking for Trouble (1942) – Ada
- The Young Mr. Pitt (1942) – Servant at Lord Auckland's (uncredited)
- It's in the Bag (1944) – Commandant W.T.C. (uncredited)
- Fanny by Gaslight (1944) – Maid (uncredited)
- A Canterbury Tale (1944) – Agnes
- The Way Ahead (1944) – Mrs. Brewer
- English Without Tears (1944) – Queenie
- Don't Take It to Heart (1944) – Maid
- The Years Between (1946) – Effie
- Holiday Camp (1947) – Elsie Dawson
- Jassy (1947) – Lindy Wicks
- Here Come the Huggetts (1948) – Youth Leader
- Vote for Huggett (1949) – Bit Role (uncredited)
- The Huggetts Abroad (1949) – Miss Hawker, Brown Owl
- Fools Rush In (1949) – Mrs. Atkins
- Marry Me! (1949) – Pleasant Little Woman (uncredited)
- Helter Skelter (1949) – Autograph Huntress (uncredited)
- Guilt Is My Shadow (1950) – Peggy
- Double Confession (1950) – Madam Cleo
- Last Holiday (1950) – Miss Fox
- Crow Hollow (1952) – Aunt Judith
- Noose for a Lady (1953) – Miss Ginch
- The Steel Key (1953) – Patient in Doctor's Waiting Room
- Trouble in Store (1953) – Lady Customer In Park Cafe (uncredited)
- The Sleeping Tiger (1954) – Scrubwoman with ladder
- Out of the Clouds (1955) – Her Companion
- Simon and Laura (1955) – Laura from Newcastle
- Sailor Beware! (1956) – Edie Hornett
- Three Men in a Boat (1956) – Meek Woman (Maze)
- Further Up the Creek (1958) – Maudie Lovelace
- Jack the Ripper (1959) – Nelly the Woman at Police Station
- I'm All Right Jack (1959) – Spencer
- Expresso Bongo (1959) – Night Club Cleaner (uncredited)
- Inn for Trouble (1960) – Dolly
- The Flesh and the Fiends (1960) – Aggie
- Carry On Constable (1960) – Deaf Old Lady
- Doctor Love (1960) – Rafia Woman (uncredited)
- No Kidding (1960) – District Nurse
- Carry On Regardless (1961) – Miss Cooling
- Raising the Wind (1961) – Mrs. Deevens
- What a Carve Up! (1961) – Aunt Emily
- Over the Odds (1961) – Alice
- Carry On Cruising (1962) – Bridget Madderley
- In the Doghouse (1962) – Mrs. Raikes
- We Joined the Navy (1962) – Consul's Wife
- The Fast Lady (1962) – Lady on Zebra Crossing
- On the Beat (1962) – Mrs. Timms
- Nurse on Wheels (1963) – Mrs. Jones
- Carry On Cabby (1963) – Flo Sims
- Hide and Seek (1964) – Tea Lady (final film role)
- New South Wales Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages
- BFI database
- "Last Night at Sydney's Theatres". Sunday Times. Sydney. 26 April 1914.
- "Gossip of the Theatres". Referee. Sydney. 9 December 1914.
- "It's Everybody out! again" The Australian Women's Weekly, Wed 30 Jan 1963, Page 2, Access date 17 August 2017
- "Arrivals by Comorin". The Argus. Melbourne). 22 January 1935.