Look-In Magazine, 28th July 1979

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Look-in article

This Saturday, 28th July, at 5.45, you can see the first of a brand new comedy series from London Weekend Television…

Cannon and Ball

Tipped by Morecambe and Wise as their successors in the comedy duo field, Cannon & Ball are the first newcomers to be given a series by London Weekend under their policy for the 80’s – to develop new talent.

The shows will consist mainly of short comedy sketches starring the comical couple, with guest appearances by such establised performers as Ernest Clark (from the Doctors series), Maureen Lipman (from the hit programme Agony), Liza Goddard, Michael Robbins, Hugh Paddick, June Whitfield and Irene Handl.

Not that Cannon & Ball are new to showbusiness: they worked for many years on the northern club circuit gradually building up their popularity.

Tommy Cannon and Bobby Ball (alias Thomas Derbyshire and Robert Harper), both from Oldham in Lancashire, first met in (he early sixties when they worked as welders in an engineering factory. They found their work repetitious and often boring but they formed a friendship that overspilled into their social lives as they shared a love for singing. After a couple of impromptu performances at the factory social club, they formed a singing duo called The Harper Brothers and entertained in clubs all over Lancashire.

Although they were popular as a singing act, it soon became obvious that Bobby had a flair for comedy and Tommy was able to act as the perfect foil to him. The audiences were quick to respond to this new twist in the act. The comedy content became stronger – and consequently so did their popularity.

But leading dual lives wasn’t easy to cope with – they were getting more club work than they could fit in, they often turned up late for work and found it difficult to concentrate. So a decision had to be made – the security of a factory job or the uncertainty of turning professional.

“It got to the point where we were rehearsing our act on the factory floor, “says Tommy. “Our workmates loved it, but we were being constantly reprimanded by our foreman. If we hadn’t decided to turn fully professional, I’m sure we would have been sacked!”

They made up their minds when Bobby’s cousin – Wally Harper – also a professional comic – booked them for a week at a club in Wales.

“Wally did us a great favour,” says Bobby. “Prior to that we had never entertained outside Lancashire, and we didn’t know what to expect. The response was so terrific that we came home amd handed in our notices.

“It was still a tough decision to make, because we had absolutely no work, and were still unknown outside our immediate area.”

The decision paid off, however, and the next step was to change the name of the act. “He were doing all right as The Harper Brothers,” says Tommy, but the name had no ring to it, and really didn’t convey the fact that we were a comedy duo. We needed something catchy, something to attract attention.”

So, on a wet Lancashire morning in a dreary cafe, someone came up with the name Cannon & Ball – they don’t remember who! – and things really started to happen.

Voted Top Comedy Act by a leading showbusiness magazine, they were booked to appear on Granada TVs Wheeltappers & Shunters Social Club and went on to appear in many TV variety shows as well as continuing to tour the clubs and theatres. But television is the most important to them, as they explain.

“TV is still relatively new to us, and that’s why the series is such a marvellous challenge to us as professionals. Success is our main priority, we don’t even consider failure. And that’s not meant to sound big-headed. We just don’t fancy returning to the factory as welders – that’s one double act which is definitely behind us!”