Rock On Tommy! Amazon Interview

The following interview appeared on on the release of Cannon and Balls book, Rock on Tommy.

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There was a time when Cannon and Ball had it all. Throughout the 80s and early 90s the comedy twosome were amongst the best-loved – and highest paid – performers on the box. But behind the camaraderie of their top-rated ITV show, and hidden from the cheers of their legions of fans, was a secret which nearly finished the act. In this exclusive interview, the duo tell Helen Lamont all about the bad old days and explain why 20 years later, everything is coming up roses. Rock on Tommy cover What were your reasons for writing the book at this time?

Bobby Ball: We’ve been asked loads of times to write our autobiography but until now we always said no. We decided now was the right time because we’re far enough away now from what happened to us in the past to give a bit of perspective to what we say.

Tommy Cannon: We’ve had a lot of things said about us in the past and this is our opportunity to set the record straight. What was the writing process like?

Bobby: We wrote the book ourselves. I wrote my part of the story. Tommy’s dyslexic so he recorded what he wanted to say on tape then I’d type it in. We knew it could have been difficult to put the two stories together so each chapter is opened by a narrator. We wanted it to be an easy read. Of course, the book tells of your rise to fame in the early days.

Bobby: I was an entertainer when I was very young but then I left the stage and got a proper job as a welder in Oldham in 1964. Tommy worked in the same factory and we were mates. We were singers when we started out first.

Tommy: Tommy Derbyshire and Bobby Harper wasn’t showbiz enough so we needed stage names. I got the name Cannon from an American rock’n’roll singer named Freddie Cannon. Bobby didn’t want to be called Ball but he said he’d give it a go when we went on Opportunity Knocks in 1966.

Bobby: Even then everyone said “You’re called Cannon And Ball? How Corny!” Unlike many showbiz biographies the book pulls no punches and in some places you don’t even appear to be very nice people…

Tommy: We played in clubs for years and it was hard work but we were just glad not to be clocking on. By the time we made it onto TV we weren’t nice people though we were totally egotistical.

Bobby: Completely over the top. I felt I were better even than me own family. It’s only when the fame begins to slip away you realise what a couple of prats we were.

Tommy: Once you’re in that world – that showbiz capsule – it’s very difficult to get a grip on what it’s like outside.

Bobby: We could have written a book where we only said the good things but it wouldn’t have been true. We wanted to be represented equally; properly. Writing it was self-purging for Tom and I. We talked over things which had happened, 10, 15, 20 years ago, and we kept thinking “I didn’t know you felt that at the time!” And no wonder, because at the height of your fame you didn’t speak to each other for seven years!

Bobby: That’s right, we weren’t getting on and one day we just stopped talking. We travelled separately and stayed in different hotels. We only were together for one hour on stage, or on TV, each night, and had no idea about the other’s life.

Tommy: In that period of time we had all the material things we could possibly have wanted but we didn’t have friendship. Somewhere along the line – whoever’s fault it was or whatever because it must have been Somebody’s fault – our egos took over everything. We should have stopped and asked “what’s going on?” but we didn’t. Pride got in the way.

Bobby: When the writing process began we had conversations about subjects we’d never spoken about. Tommy would say to me “I were really hurt when you did this” and I’d say “well, why did you feel you had to do such and such”. He’d say “do you remember you did this to me?” and I’d say “I’m really sorry mate, I didn’t really see at the time how that would have affected you”. Why did you never break up?

Tommy: I often said at the time “what am I doing partnered up with him?” By that time we had made enough money – we didn’t need to put ourselves through it.

Bobby: But you know, that hour on stage it was magic. It was still worth going through all the bad stuff for that feeling. I wouldn’t have got the same satisfaction on me own.

Tommy: At that time everyone said hello to us, wherever we went. It was bigtime, there was a lot of adulation, and it would have been very difficult to leave that behind.

Bobby: But if I hadn’t become a Christian, there is no way we could still be together now, because I didn’t see anything wrong in my behaviour. Everything seemed to change when you found your faith in God, Bobby. Is that right?

Bobby: Yeah. We were playing a theatre called the Bradford Alhambra when a vicar called Max Wrigley wandered into my dressing room, and began to talk about God. I realised how awful I was and that the things I was doing were really bad. I went to see Tommy and I told him about it and in doing that I saw the good in him. And don’t ask me how but our friendship began to build again and we’re closer now than we were even at the very beginning, when we were still welders.

Tommy: I became a Christian seven years after Bobby. Now I believe it was God who kept us together through the hard times. People think we’re dull and boring now but we’re much happier than we were then. Tommy, in 1991 your life turned upside down when you became addicted to gambling

Tommy: I was in Blackpool and I saw an advertisement in the paper. It said “private clients wanted for a betting syndicate”. The first horse I backed won – I thought I’d found the goose which laid the golden egg, but I didn’t know I was on a ringer – being wound up so I’d bet a lot for money I didn’t have. The adrenaline rush at the time was amazing, but I wasn’t seeing the cash, then I was asked to bet �45,000 on three horses in one day by my gambling “partner” who was just a voice on the other end of the phone line. The horses lost, I didn’t have the money to make good my debt, and it all turned nasty. What happened?

Tommy: I was being threatened with having my legs broken and harm done to the people around me. I literally lived with a shotgun waiting for them to come back and finish me off. My wife had a miscarriage with the stress and fear. It was a nightmare. In the end I didn’t care anymore. I threatened to tell the world about the deal by exposing it in the papers and the threats stopped. I learned a lesson there. Your TV contract ended suddenly in 1992 after 13 years at the top. How did you feel?

Bobby: We panicked, of course. We were on big, big wages then suddenly a generation of younger, less expensive comedians came along and we were out. We weren’t too pleased at the time. It were a right smack in the face. We’re working more now than we ever have, but we didn’t know then what would come next.

Tommy: It was an ego thing but it doesn’t bother us now.

Bobby: Mind you Tommy’s a dab hand at gardening and I’m thinking about getting a job in an airport so we can be in fly-on-the-wall documentary shows! Just two years later you were arrested for tax evasion.

Bobby: That’s right. That were a nightmare.

Tommy: We were innocent but whoever was meant to be looking out for us didn’t do their job properly and we took the blame.

Bobby: So we’re very guilty of naüvety. Two nights later we were on the News At Ten headlines – Cannon And Ball defraud the taxman. And, even worse, they’re Christians. A lot of people turned their backs on us then. That’s why it’s in the book. We’re still paying the debt off. So what’s next for Cannon and Ball?

Bobby: We’re in the middle of a little tour at the moment

Tommy: …Bobby’s in Torquay, I’m in Blackpool …

Bobby: … then were doing a summer season together in Torquay, then off on a cruise round the Bahamas, (we only have to do one show a week and we’re taking all the family with us). After that it’s straight into pantomime until January, then we’ve another gospel tour lined up after that. So there is life after television. What is left for you to achieve?

Bobby: There’s nothing left for us to achieve and we’re not bothered about achieving it anyhow. We’re dead happy us. Once the tax is paid off we’ve nothing to worry about at all. We’ve had such a rollercoaster life it makes me tired just thinking about it, and I fancy a nice Bacardi and coke … that will shock you! Now, I bet you didn’t think a Christian would drink Bacardi and coke, now did you?