Comedian Jimmy Tarbuck reveals how Tom Jones saved his life

Us fellas are pretty good at blocking our ears to what we don’t wish to hear. Things like: ‘Can I have that £20 note back that I lent you?’ Or: ‘Have you put the bins out?’

Sometimes, people have to yell before we’ll get the message. I’m incredibly lucky that the guy doing the yelling in my case is famous for having the loudest lungs in music — my good mate Sir Tom Jones.

And I’m turning up the volume myself today, to make sure everyone hears.

Because, believe me, there are thousands of men reading this paper who cannot afford to ignore what I’ve got to say.

Four little words: ‘Lads, get yourselves checked!’

Celebrity advice: Jimmy with Sir Tom Jones, who told him to get a check-up 

The Mail has been saying it for more than 20 years with its brilliant prostate cancer awareness campaign that keeps hammering the message home. I admit I’m a little late to the party, but I’m delighted to lend my weight to it now.

I don’t mind admitting that I’ve been turning a deaf ear for a while. It wasn’t that I was afraid, or even embarrassed, about a trip to the doctor. I just didn’t want to face up to the idea that I might have prostate cancer.

The longer I didn’t know about it, the less I’d have to worry about it, or so I thought. Makes no sense, does it?

A couple of lads at my golf club kept urging me to have a check-up, and I kept on saying: ‘Yeah, yeah, I will.’ And I didn’t.

Maybe there’s a bit of irrational male pride, a voice in your head that says: ‘Don’t be daft, there’s nothing wrong down there, never has been, it’s all in working order.’

But I have to be honest and, as I approached my 80th birthday earlier this month, I was noticing the call of nature more often than of old. Quite a bit more often.

There’s a great American soul singer who’s been around since the Sixties, almost as long as I have, called P. P. Arnold. Well, I was turning into P. P. Tarbuck . . . if you know what I mean.

So I had a bit of an ulterior motive as I headed backstage to see my old friend Tom Jones after a fabulous concert recently. I was looking forward to telling him what a stunning night it had been, and how excited I was to be in the crowd for a large slice of musical magic.

But I was looking forward even more to using the ‘facilities’ in his dressing room.

Tom works hard for so many charities, and with friends like Eric Clapton and Van Morrison he’s done a lot to raise money for prostate cancer research.

So when I said, ‘Hi, mate!’ and dashed straight past him in search of relief, he knew the score better than I did.

He doesn’t waste words, Sir Tom, and the first thing he said to me was: ‘Jimmy — get your prostate looked at NOW! If you’re needing to p*** a lot, tell the doctor.’

‘Yeah, I know,’ I said, trying to brush it off. ‘But I mean, is it worth it, really? It’s just age, isn’t it?’

Tom stared at me. And then he bellowed in my face: ‘Are you f****** joking, Boyo?’

Message received. They must have heard that back in the Valleys.

My ears were still ringing as I drove home. Tom made it plain to me he has no respect for anyone who doesn’t respect cancer, and I don’t blame him.

Four years ago, he lost his beloved wife Melinda to cancer, after being married for 59 years. I knew I wouldn’t be able to look him in the face again if I didn’t take his advice and get myself checked right away.

‘There’s nothing to it,’ he had assured me. ‘I’ve had the tests and it’s painless — just a tiny needle and a drop of blood. They send that away, and if it’s all clear they give you the thumbs up.’

‘That’s what I’m worried about,’ I nervously replied, ‘the thumbs up or not!’

‘Don’t be such a baby,’ he said, although now I recall, he used another word. ‘This could be your life at stake.’

So the day after my 80th birthday, I got my results back. They weren’t good — but if I’d left it any longer, they could have been a lot worse.

I don’t want to tempt fate and say that Tom saved my life, because I’ve still got to beat this thing. But it can’t be denied that my pal from Pontypridd has given me the best chance possible.

The doctors say my cancer hasn’t spread. In a high percentage of cases like mine, treatment will be completely successful. I’m having a course of injections — I used to play golf with Bruce Forsyth so I’ve been needled by the best. That man knew how to get under your skin, I’ll tell you, especially when you were teeing up for a big shot.

When the jabs are done, I’ll have a course of tablets, and then there’s a yearly cycle of treatment. The specialist who saw me said there’s never a cast-iron guarantee, even if the cancer is completely eradicated, that it won’t come back.

But then, there were never any guarantees that you wouldn’t get it in the first place.

‘What I can promise,’ the consultant said, ‘is that we are aiming to delay the disease. I can’t say for how long, but it’s quite possible that it will be a very long delay indeed — a delay that lasts the rest of your life, until you die of something else entirely.’

Very funny, Doc. I nearly told him to leave the jokes to me, but then I decided to take him at his word.

And I’m encouraged by the experience of another friend, Sir Rod Stewart, who let it be known last year he’d been given the ‘all clear’ after treatment. Like Tom, he’s become a great advocate for raising awareness.

Anyway, I’m intending to be around for at least another 20 years and certainly until my 100th birthday, when I’ll get a telegram from Buckingham Palace addressed to Lord Tarby of Palladium.

All my life I’ve been a lucky fella, and I have never been more conscious of it than now, because I have all the love and support any man could need from my wonderful family.

My wife of almost 61 years, Pauline, has been my rock, as always. I don’t have to worry about a thing as long as she’s at my side (except putting the bins out, of course . . . I’ll do it in a minute, Love!).

It’s worse for my kids, really, Cheryl, Liza and James, because everyone knows who their dad is. Since I revealed my diagnosis this week they’ve been inundated with questions from concerned friends, all asking how I am.

That gets tiring pretty fast. What are they supposed to say — ‘Oh, he’s fine, apart from the cancer’?

I can say that, partly because it’s funny, partly because it’s true, but I’m well aware that the gag doesn’t work for everyone.

'My rock': Jimmy and his wife of nearly 61 years, Pauline

‘My rock’: Jimmy and his wife of nearly 61 years, Pauline 

I’d never thought about it before, but in many ways cancer is harder for the family than the patient.

There is lots for me to do — hospital visits, talking to the Mail, I’m rushed off my feet. There’s much less for the kids to do (though if you three are reading this, could one of you nip round and put the bins out? Ta).

In fact, I feel so good that I’m planning a tour.

The older I get, the less I enjoy hours spent on the road, but I will always relish a good gig. And some of my jokes are so old that they need to be taken out and aired, or they might turn to dust. So don’t be surprised if you see me at a theatre near you very soon.

‘Jimmy Tarbuck,’ the posters will say, ‘more popular than he realised.’ Because the best thing about having cancer has been the great rush of love and friendship from well-wishers. People have stopped me in the street near my home — and not just one or two but lots — to tell me what a lovely fella I am.

They’ve said it so much, I’m starting to believe it.

What do you say when a woman you’ve never met tells you she thinks you’re great and that her gran used to fancy you? You have to laugh, but to tell you the truth I’ve been so touched that once or twice I’ve felt the tears welling up.

It’s a wonderful feeling, like a standing ovation just going for a walk to the newsagent’s. Thinking about that lady’s gran makes me realise how long I’ve been in the business. I was doing gigs in Liverpool pubs when The Beatles were still a backing band for Tony Sheridan, and Cilla Black was Priscilla White, the cloakroom girl at the Cavern Club.

For more than 55 years, since I took over from Brucie as host of Sunday Night At The Palladium, I’ve been appearing on televisions in millions of homes.

In many cases, it was a brief engagement, a fleeting appearance as you dived for the off switch, yelling: ‘Ruddy Nora, I’m not having him!’ But still, there I was, in your living room.

So I’ve earned the right to yell at you now, like Tom Jones yelled at me.

Take your fingers out of your ears. Don’t you dare ignore me. Your lives may depend on it.

Lads. Get. Yourselves. Checked.