Pantomime - 1985 Bristol
At the Bristol Hippodrome
|Bad Robber||Tommy Cannon|
|Good Robber||Bobby Ball|
|Robin Hood||Eve Graham|
|The Sheriff of Nottingham||Graham Hamilton|
|Nurse Merryweather||Wyn Calvin|
|Maid Marion||Sara Weymouth|
|Friar Tuck||Christopher Mason|
|Will Scarlet||Paul Hillyier|
To describe Tommy Cannon and Bobby Ball as stars is, at the very least, an understatement. To describe them as superstars and a true phenomenon is perhaps more accurate. Since their debut TV series for London Weekend Television in 1979 they have not only become top TV stars with their own series and specials every year, but are also the biggest box-office attractions in the UK - this year alone they have played to over 600,000 people live through their 10-week Summer Season in Blackpool, their UK tour of March and April and further record-breaking shows in Birmingham last Christmas.
To have outsold not only other comedy acts, but to have outdrawn even rock superstar Bruce Springsteen, is a totally unique achievement which puts them in a category all of their own. At the Opera House in Blackpool this summer their 10-week run broke all previous box-office records by playing to over 300,000 people and grossing in excess of �1 million. Their forthcoming Christmas panto, Babes In The Wood - their first for five years - which opens at the Bristol Hippodrome on December 19 - will put them into even more record books.
Their star status is further enhanced by the fact that they are the only act in showbusiness to have won three separate National Club Awards; they have enjoyed success as recording artistes with both singles and albums; starred in their own feature film The Boys In Blue; and as well as triumphing in numerous newspaper popularity polls, Tommy and Bobby have also been named Showbusiness Personalities by the Variety Club of Great Britain - the highest accolade presented by their fellow professionals.
So what is the secret of this unequalled success which has also included Royal Shows and a memorable This Is Your Life? Tommy and Bobby don't go in for self-analysis. Their present day success has evolved from an initial friendship between two Oldham lads who got together to form a singing act. And it is their genuine friendship and respect for each other that is the very backbone of the Cannon and Ball story.
Robert Harper is the real name of Bobby Ball, and he and Tommy Derbyshire (now Tommy Cannon) were former workmates in a Lancashire engineering factory in the early 1960's. By day they were welders - but in the evening they became a singing duo called The Harper Brothers and achieved a great deal of popularity in the Northern clubs.
It soon became evident that Bobby had a natural flair for comedy, and this was complemented by Tommy's ability to remain straight-faced and act as the perfect foil. Singing remained in the act but the comedy content grew stronger - as did their popularity.
"It got to the point where we were rehearsing our act on the factory floor," says Tommy, "and many were the times that we were reprimanded by the foreman. Then, out of the blue, Bobby's cousin Wally Harper, a professional comic, booked us for a week at a club in Wales. It was our first appearance outside Lancashire and the response was terrific. After that we decided to give up our daytime jobs and concentrate on showbusiness."
Their professional career now spans 19 years, but it is only in the last 15 years that they have been known as Cannon and Ball. And the name has made all the difference to their lives.
"We were getting nowhere as the Harper Brothers" says Bobby. "So one day we sat down in a dreary cafe with our manager and began slinging names at each other. I can't remember who came up with Cannon and Ball, but we decided that those names fitted us perfectly."
This choice of name couldn't have been more appropriate, because their success has come from the firepower of Tommy Cannon and the sheer comedy ammunition of Bobby Ball.
And so Cannon and Ball began the hard slog to gain recognition. They built up their popularity on the club circuit and in 1975 were voted Best Comedy Duo by readers of a leading magazine. In turn that award led to theur first TV booking - for the Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club. They also appeared on Opportunity Knocks and managed to come only second to last in the voting.
Since then the rest is pure showbusiness history - their series and specials are always in the top TV rating, they have played to capacity audiences not just in the UK but in Australia and the Middle East and their unique approach to comedy grows in stature with each new venture.
The over-riding factor during all their years together has been their unique friendship. They don't try to kid anyone that they never argue. But their friendship - both on and off stage - is there for all to see.
"We have no pretensions," says Tommy. "We're a couple of ordinary fellas enjoying what we do best of all - entertaining folk and making them laugh. I suppose it took a long time initially for us to make a major breakthrough, but we're glad now that we have so much experience behind us. Our TV shows have made an enormous difference. Suddenly we are known by millions, and at time still find it hard to come to terms with being recognised in the street. We're not knocking it - we love it. The important thing to us as people is that we haven't changed in our attitudes. We're still Tommy and Bobby to everyone, and still get a kick every time someone shouts 'Rock On, Tommy' in the street."
Both are happily married and still live close to each other in their native Lancashire. Tommy is married to Margaret and they have two daughters, Jeanette and Julie, and two grandsons, Ben Thomas and Alex. Bobby's wife is Yvonne and they have a daughter, Joanna, who is 13. Bobby still retains close links with his sons Darren and Robert from his first marriage.
In theur increasingly rare off-stage moments both Tommy and Bobby like ot keep fit, and while Bobby prefers either to sit in solitude n a river-bank fishing or in his recently opened club called 'Braces' in Rochdale, Tommy divides his time between golf and his passion for football - he is now a working director of Rochdale FC.
And the future? In the words of both a United States President and a classic roock song - You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet.