Steph’s Packed Lunch

Tommy appeared on this daytime TV show, Friday 12th May, to talk about his upcoming tour.

Steph: My next guest has showbiz credentials that many of us can only dream of. He’s starred in films, presented prime time TV shows, been in a soap, appeared on I’m a Celeb and most importantly of all, he was a huge part of the successful comedy double act Cannon and Ball with his best mate Bobby Ball. Now, before we chat to TV comedy legend Tommy Cannon, it’s only right we take a little look back.

Voiceover: Cannon and Ball are two of the most iconic comics of our time, a fresh face, Tommy Cannon and Bobby Ball met working at a welding factory and began their double act in the late 50s. Starting out as singers in the Working Men’s club in Manchester, their act soon evolved into comedy. They first appeared on our screens on the variety. Your opportunity knocks and it wasn’t long before they became megastars. In 1979, they got their own prime time slot with the cannon and ball shown, watched by 20 million viewers every week. Here’s Bobby looking dapper in his infamous braces. The lads were a familiar face on telly for years, doing sketches like this. They even appeared together on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of here in 2005. The pair cemented themselves into comedy history and continued their career together until Bobby sadly passed away in 2020.

Steph: Oh, it’s so nice seeing that. I mean, that’s just a tiny snippet of your career. What does it feel like seeing that for you?

Tommy: It feels very emotional, to be honest with you. He passed away just over two years ago. I’ll always remember. I’ll always miss him. And I know now that he’s saying you wanna do a tour, Tommy, you go and do it, boy.


Steph: Yeah, which is what you’re now doing on your own, aren’t you? How are you feeling about that?

Tommy: Yeah, I am. Yeah. Quite nervous, to be honest. The panto last year up in Consett, the first time they asked me to do it. I said no. Second time the girls, the ladies that Bob and I met in Jersey in 1976, Leah, and she said you’ve made a big mistake not doing my. Panto and I said, oh, really? She said yes, she said you will regret it. I said OK, I won’t. I’ll do it. And that was it. And I struggle with it a little bit, to be honest, rehearsing and looking around, seeing where he is, Bob. Because when we did panto together, we did about 40 pantos together and although they were hard work, they were quite easy because we did sketches from the TV and put them into the panto. So we didn’t have a lot of lines to learn. But learning lines on my own, oh my goodness me. I was everywhere, you know.

Steph: Yeah, because you don’t have the person you know, your right hand man.

Tommy: No, that’s right. So nobody to bounce off. So I’m I’m struggling and she knew, you know, she kept saying to my wife , where’s Tommy, where is he? He’s not here. You know what I mean? But it came good. It came good. It must be because I’m going back now and I’m playing Tommy Tomato. Don’t laugh.

Steph: I love that. I mentioned right at the beginning that piece about you guys meeting when you were working together in a factory. Tell me how do you go from, you know welding to your act.

Tommy: Well, you’re right. But I mean, to be honest with you, I got a job as a welder and I couldn’t weld, right? That was the first mistake because I had a relative who worked there so he got me the job. The first person to speak to me out of 500 men, Bob, he came in ‘Alright, cock.’ I said. ‘Yeah I’m good mate. How are you?’ He said ‘I’m fine’. He walked off and as he were walking away  I thought he’s a funny little beggar. And that was it. And then he just kept going on at me, I was there about six  or seven months and every now and again he’d come to me ‘Do you wanna make a double act?’ ‘Bob, no, what’s a double act? What are you talking about?’ Come on, he said, we could make money, we can sing, I said. Bob, I can’t sing. I don’t even know whether I can sing, now leave it. He went on and on and on until eventually I said ‘tell you what it is right, you ask me once more I’m gonna knock you out.’

Tommy: He just wouldn’t leave it alone. And then he said to me, I’ll tell you what, get a set of drums. I’ll teach you a few riffs on the drums, he said. And we’re off. We’ll get a piano player, we’ll be off. We’ll do weddings. So the following day I got a set of drums. Forgetting, of course, that he couldn’t play drums and he’s teaching me. So I get the drums and off we go, and one night, in the pub where we were working, I’m singing. I’ve joined him with him halfway through one of my favourite songs, Autumn Leaves. He went, What the heck are you doing? I said Oh I’m sorry, Bobby, that’s my favourite song. He said you told me you couldn’t sing, you liar. And he banged all the symbols away and everything, he said. From now on, you’re upfront with me. Beginning of cannon and ball.

Steph: And then that’s what I love, hearing this story. I’m just sat here with such a big grin on my face. And how did it go then from you singing to then doing comedy? Did you just find it was natural. You were funny together?

Tommy: Well, no, not really. What happened was we were in the North East doing a working men’s club. And we managed to survive the day, which was lunchtime and evening, and we got paid £6 and the comedian that was on with us got paid £12. On the way out. I said to the comedian, excuse me mate, I said, how come you got more money than me and Bob. I said there’s two of us and only one of you. He said well if you do a bit of comedy you get more money. Following night we’re trying to do comedy and we died on our backside and got paid off. And that was the beginning of the comedy. But I always knew that Bob had in him funny bones. It was always there, it was just a case of a matter of time before it all sort of came out.

Steph: And then eventually the first TV thing was Opportunity Knock, which was obviously the big talent show of the day and everyone, there’s so many stars who were on that.

Tommy: Ohh it was crazy. We went down Bob and I, the place was packed and there was a guy on stage playing the piano and Bob turned to me and said ‘he’s never gonna get through the audition, he’s playing it terrible’. It was Les Dawson. It was Les Dawson, bless him. And, you know, I remember Mr. Green, as you called him, Mr. Green came on the floor. We passed the audition, went back, it took two years for us to get back, we went back on and we’d changed the act. We’re doing comedy, so we started to rehearse and he came down, Mr. Green, and said. ‘Excuse me, boys. But what are you doing?’ I said this is the act. When he said ‘no, I remember when you came on for the audition, you were singers’. I said yes, but it was two years ago. So now we’re doing comedy. He said ‘All right but be it on your own heads.’ He walked away, we came last. End of story.

Steph: But then, you know, years later, you then have the biggest show on the telly, pretty much 20 million viewers every week with the Cannon and Ball Show.

Tommy: Yeah, but that was a big shock as well because David Bell who we had met years back and didn’t realise, we went to Glasgow, to the Empire. We were supporting a beautiful singer up there and when we came off, this guy’s stood in the wings and as we passed him, he said. ‘Well done, boys.’ When we went to LWT to sign the contract, we’re signing the contract and coming down the corridor is this guy, I know. I said to Bob ‘ We know him, don’t we? Who is he? That’s the guy who were in the wings at Glasgow Empire.’ He walked in and he said ‘Hello boys, David Bell, head of LWT Light Entertainment.’ You couldn’t write it. It’s incredible. 

Steph: Goodness yeah. And then from then you’re doing things like I’m a Celeb and stuff like that as well. You know, how does that compare?

Tommy: Well, I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here was wonderful because I was really excited about it and so was Bob, because I said what we should do is paint black paint down here. We can be Rambo. So yeah, that that was a fabulous experience. And look, we loved every minute of it. Yeah.  Yeah.

Steph: How do you feel about the kind of change in telly and things now? Cause obviously I mean Opportunity Knocks was a massive talent show. Now we’ve got things like Britain’s Got Talent, or The X Factor, which is if you’d had your time again, do you think you would have done those shows?

Tommy: No I don’t. I think that the shows now are more as a show more than getting anywhere from what you do on the show, like you watch the Ant and Dec shore, if you like. I don’t know, it seems to have slightly gone round the globe now and it’s just to me, I sit there, I love it, but it seems more like a variety show like we used to see way back in the day.

Steph: Yeah. So it’s not about kind of new talent. You think it’s more about the telly itself?

Tommy: That’s right. It’s just about putting the show together, you know? Yeah.

Steph: Yeah, it’s interesting that. And do you think comedy’s changed as well?

Tommy: Oh yeah, course, but it has to Steph. Nothing stays the same. What happens is time goes on. When we did our very first, what they call Stag Show, which was men only. We only ever did about two of those because we couldn’t swear. We couldn’t bring it into ourselves to swear, we’re a family act. So consequently you didn’t swear, the guy came in, the compere, and said ‘You’ll have to really go tonight, boys, you know.’ I said. ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘You know, it’s men only you’ve got’. I said, ‘oh, oh, OK.’ Now we’re panic stricken. But there were ladies who served the table. There were ladies behind the bar. When the compere went on, he said. ‘Ladies, it’s now time for the comedian to come on. Please leave the room.’ The ladies all left the room, so the men could enjoy themselves with the stag comic.

Tommy: For me and Bob to let it go, we used to go on and we used to have the band carry on playing over while we’re trying to talk and we used to turn around and say to the man ‘Excuse me, boys, we are trying to talk.’ So it’s a different world altogether.

Steph: Yeah. So I imagine now going out on tour as you’re about to do, that is going to be very different. Tell us a bit about what the audience can expect from your tour?

Tommy: They can expect everything that Bob and I went through before we made it. The press said we were overnight stars. We were 15 years before we got on TV. And yeah, I just think I’ve got so many fabulous stories that happened to Bob and I, how we got paid off up in Sunderland, and stuff. They’re so funny, you know. In Sheffield was a prime example. The Dial House, they had new curtains fitted. Bob and I are singing ‘Every night I’m sitting by my window’ and we’re walking backwards and forwards, and as we walk backwards the curtain started to come in. So we walked forward in front of the curtains and they went out. And that’s going all the way through the song, in and out. Walking to the wings after we’re done, Bob said ‘Excuse me, mate, but something’s wrong with your curtains. He said ‘Something wrong with them? We’ve been trying to get you off for the past 20 minutes, you’re rubbish.’ It crazy things like that, you know.

Steph: I cannot wait. This sounds like it’s gonna be an amazing tour. Good luck with it, Tommy. And thank you so much for coming in. I could listen to you talk for hours.

Tommy: Thanks, love. You’re welcome.

Steph: And tickets for Tommy’s tour, Rock on, Tommy are on sale now.