In the latest of our series of Friday Interviews, Graham Bandage talks to Tommy Cannon (no relation) about his work as a celebrity abbreviation consultant.
Graham Bandage: Tell me how this whole thing started.
Tommy Cannon: It was back in the late 70s, during the national typeface strike. It cost us a fortune at the Daily Mirror to reproduce the Prime Minister’s name in headlines because letters were so scarce.
GB: I can see how that would be a problem.
TC: The letter L was in particularly short supply.
GB: Bloody ‘ell.
TC: I know…
GB: Heh, bloody L. L!
TC: Anyway, I was quite a junior sub-editor at the time, and I came up with the idea of abbreviating his name. That’s where J-Cal came from. And that was it – I was set for life.
GB: It must have been Ford Capris and Warninks Snowballs all the way for you.
TC: Not at first. I mean my head was turned. “Look who’s here,” people would say, “the man who’s revitalised the newspaper industry through cunning use of abbreviation.” Who could fail to be flattered?
GB: Not I.
TC: But I had an early failure. M-Tha didn’t take off. People kept pronouncing it as ‘mutha.’ We were a laughing stock in the Compton projects. Richard Pryor did a famous routine about it. “The Lady’s not for turning? I’ll turn her jive ass.” Then the Daily Express nipped in with Mrs T. If only she’d come to prominence a few years later, the whole Mr T thing would have rendered that abbreviation unusable.
GB: So what happened?
TC: Chinese got into type manufacture. We got a load of cheap letters. All of a sudden the type shortage was a thing of the past. M-Tha had broken the font unions.
GB: It does sound a bit like ‘mutha,’ to be fair.
TC: Shut up. And I was suddenly flavour of last month. I was sacked for being rubbish and spent the next 15 years or so faffing about the likes of Chat, Forum and Woman’s Own, subbing knitting patterns, stuff like that.
GB: Soul-destroying work.
TC: It gets worse. I ended up on one of those celebrity magazines, Photoshopping cellulite onto Gwyneth Paltrow’s thighs.
GB: Rock bottom.
TC: She has, that’s why it felt so wrong.
GB: No, I mean…
TC: And that’s where it all turned around. The editor couldn’t spell Jennifer. Kept writing “Jeniffer.” It was fine as long as there wasn’t a famous Jennifer – I mean, at this time Jennifers Connolly and Grey couldn’t get arrested in Hollywood, not even for doing a Winona. But when Ms Lopez came on the scene, he was proper buggered.
GB: Yeah, I heard that sort of thing went on in those places.
TC: So I walked into his office one day with this:
He was stunned. He called me a crazy fool, said it would never work. “Tom,” he said, “Our readers are serious people who would no more abbreviate a celebrity’s name than they would ring a premium rate telephone number several times to stop somebody being on the telly every night.” But I knew, I knew…
Anyway, one night we were doing the cover and it was painful, “Gennifer. Jenifar. Jennyfur.” He tried everything. In the end he was exhausted. He collapsed over his mouse. And I took destiny in my hands. I wrote on the screen that fateful headline: “Do you reckon J-Lo’s bottom is on the large side?” and sent it to the printers.
GB: That took gumption.
TC: It certainly did. But it paid off. That was the biggest-selling edition of “A Bit Snide About Celebrities” magazine ever. After that I was the go-to guy for abbreviations. Set up on my own as A-CONT.
GB: Beg pardon.
TC: Abbreviation Consultant. I followed up J-Lo with Brangelina.
GB: That was you?
TC: Yep. Li-Lo, K-Fed, TomKat. All me. But not R-Pattz. Even I have limits.
GB: You must be very proud.
TC: No. I hate myself.
GB: Tommy Cannon, thank you.