Archived News - Johnnie Condon
Whistler and bird calls expert Johnnie Condon couldn't have felt chirpier after he was given an invite to perform for a celebrity panel for TV show Britain's Got Talent.
But one look at the liquid eyes of his sick dog Honey and he picked up the phone to pass up the chance of a lifetime.
The retired businessman, who lives in Bower Close, Eaton Bray, told the Gazette: "I'm absolutely gutted that it's all gone down the pan.
"But I love my dogs to bits and they come before everything else - fame, fortune, whatever."
The whistler, or siffleur, had been asked to attend a session in front of Simon Cowell, actress Amanda Holden and former national newspaper editor Piers Morgan, which would be recorded.
Johnnie, a widower with two daughters and two granddaughters, was amazed to receive the letter inviting him to go along to the audition, at the Hackney Empire, London.
After auditioning twice before for Britain's Got Talent, it was third time lucky this year when he got through the preliminary stage.
He said: "I nearly fell through the floor. They phoned me the week before I got the letter and I thought: 'No, this is a wind-up, this can't be right.'
"Then a few days later the letter did arrive, with the address, the phone numbers and even a map of how to get to the Hackney Empire. I just couldn't believe my luck, I was tingling all over."
But poor little Honey was soon to undergo a hysterectomy, and she had also been recovering from a virus.
Johnnie, who has four dogs, was very worried about Honey, who was unwell throughout the time leading up to the audition.
He said: "I weighed things up and I thought: 'What's more important, my little doggie or Britain's Got Talent? My dog comes before anything else.'
"I phoned up the PA lady and I told her: 'I'm very sorry, but I can't go, I'm afraid my doggies come first, before any personal fame and fortune."
His audition had been lined up for last Monday but the team told him he could go along on the Tuesday or Wednesday, instead.
But Johnnie said: "I just didn't want to leave her."
His four dogs are Honey, who is eight, her sister Fluffy, also eight, Bubbles, seven, and four-year-old Candy. They are all female lhasa apsos, a breed which originates from Tibet.
He would like to thank The Veterinary Clinic, in Hockliffe Road, Leighton Buzzard for nursing Honey back to health.
"She is very, very perky, barking and jumping around," he said.
Johnnie has a soft spot for any kind of wildlife, and can imitate about a dozen birds, including blackbirds, robins, thrushes and nightingales.
He modelled his whistling and bird calls after Ronnie Ronalde, the great whistler, singer and yodeller, who shot to stardom.
"I was so impressed with his whistling and his bird impressions that I bought all of his LPs, and I used to play them over and over again, " he said.
"When I went to watch him on stage, I used to watch how he was whistling, and I copied him."
He still has the certificates to prove that he won 15 grand finals in talent contests at the Band Pavilion in Clacton.
"Nobody else has ever done that," he said.
He was so good that he was even given a spot in a show at Clacton on the same bill as comedian Les Dawson, Sandy Powell, and ventriloquist Peter Brough with his famous dummy, Archie Andrews.
Johnnie said: "I got to meet Les Dawson - the loveliest bloke under the sun, he was."
In the past, he also appeared regularly in annual variety shows in Clacton.
"We had up to 1,000 people in the audience every year," he said.
And he also went to give performances to entertain people in hospitals and in residential homes for elderly people.
"I look back on it and I hope people appreciated being entertained by somebody different to a singer," he said. "There are not many whistlers about."
Johnnie is an interesting character, who is also well known for another passion - metal detecting.
In the 1960s, he started importing metal detectors from America, and in 1969, he set up the country's first specialist shop for metal detecting fans.
He believes he played a key part in introducing metal detecting to this country.
Famous faces who called in at his London shop or called on his services included former Prime Minister Harold Wilson, and TV presenter Nicholas Parsons.
Johnnie has made a number of interesting finds while out metal detecting.
Now he insists that he won't be giving up on his hopes of putting his other hobby, his whistling and bird impressions, on show in Britain's Got Talent.
And he is looking forward to-applying for the show next time around.
"I'll have to wait now until next year," he said. "I'll enter it next time and keep my fingers crossed!"
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Source: Dunstable Gazette, 13 February 2008
He's been passionate about digging up treasure using metal detectors for more than 40 years, and said there are masses of interesting things waiting to be found.
Johnnie, of Bower Close, Eaton Bray, now also offers a free recovery service for people who have lost metal objects out in the open, and has an impressive recovery record.
"It's in my blood after 40 years," he said.
Hundreds of thousands of people around the country enjoy going out in search of valuables, and Johnnie believes he played a major part in making it such a popular pastime.
"I was the original acorn that's grown into an oak tree," he said.
In 1967 he started importing metal detectors from America, and in 1969 set up the country's first specialist shop for treasure hunters.
But Johnnie is unhappy at being labelled a treasure hunter. "We like to be known as history seekers, not treasure hunters," he said.
Among the people to call in his services was former Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Johnnie met the Wilsons on holiday in the Isles of Scilly.
"Apparently his next door neighbour had lost a ring in his garden, so I said I'd help," he said.
Johnnie moved to Eaton Bray 16 years ago with his wife Joan, who sadly passed away in 2002.
After living within a stone's throw of Wembley Stadium, life in the Bedfordshire countryside is a breath of fresh air.
"It's like going from hell to heaven," he said.
Johnnie has build up an impressive collection of historical artefacts around Eaton Bray, including musket balls dating back to the English Civil War, and tunic buttons that are up to 500 years old.
It's not just historical items that he uncovers though.
Recently he was using his metal detector in Eaton Bray when he discovered a wallet and a mobile hpone that someone had lost. He took them to Dunstable police station, where officers contacted their owner.
"Apparently he was over the moon, it was like a Christmas present," Johnnie said.
He now plans to display his contact details on the police notice board to encourage people to get in touch if they lose something imporant.
Johnnie has built up a collection of around 25 metal detectors.
"Some of them are from the early days when metal detectors were in their infancy," he said.
And he feels that using metal detectors can be a very rewarding hobby.
Johnnie said: "The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is the adventure you're going to get involved in. It's the excitement of not knowing what you're going to find that gets the adrenaline going."
He's now passing his passion on to granddaughters Chloe, 13, and Clare, 14, after he bough them metal detectors two years ago.
Source: Dave Burke, Dunstable Gazette, 2 August 2006