Sunday magazine, December 1989

Sunday magazine cover, December 1989

Article/interview with Bobby Ball about Christmas as a child and an adult. Appeared in the News of the World Sunday magazine, 17th December 1989

Broke in the Back Streets of Oldham

‘All We Got For Xmas was an Orange and Love’ by Bobby Ball

Sunday magazine article December 1989, page 1 Sunday magazine article December 1989, page 2  

It’s over a laugh a minute when crazy comic Bobby Ball gets up on stage with Tommy Cannon, as panto stars in Babes In The Wood in Birmingham. And any time that Bobby’s around there is sure to be plenty of Christmas cheer. But the festive season hasn’t always been so jolly for the star whose parents were so hard up they couldn’t afford blankets. “When I was young, my sisters and I would get an apple, an orange, some nuts – and one present each at Xmas,” says Bobby. “One year I had my heart set on a cowboy outfit and one of my sisters wanted a doll that shut its eyes. I guess the doll was pretty expensive because I didn’t get my cowboy outfit. When I opened my present there was a set of guns with a note from Santa. The note said he’d run out of cowboy outfits but was making me one for next year. And he did!”

These days the mega-bucks Bobby will wake up snug and warm in the luxury of his king-size bed, but back when he was little he shivered under a big pile of overcoats as the wind whipped round his family’s condemned terrace in Oldham in the 40s.

It is not an experience Bobby’s likely to forget. “Times were so very hard then. Dad worked in a rubber factory, Mum in the cotton mill. We had no money and there was only one bedroom, so I used to sleep top to toe with my sisters on the landing with coats to keep us warm.

“There was no electricity and no hot running water. There were three toilets outside in the yard that were for all seven houses in the terrace. One of them was a double with two holes cut in a plank of wood so two people could go to the loo side by side. We used to go out there in the pitch black with lighted paper to see our way. And it was freezing.

“When it was bath night we had to boil up the water and sit in a tin bath in front of the fire. Me and my sisters went in one by one, but I was the youngest so I always got the dirtiest water.” The comic then laughs as he remembers one particular dark Christmas. “We came home one day and the kitchen had just dropped into the cellar.

“My dad opened the door and there was nothing there, so he went across the road and got two planks that he put down to carry us across to the living room. Then he and his mates propped the whole thing up. It was brilliant. We were poor, but we were a right loving family.”

Today the comic’s life couldn’t be more different. As well as a beautiful home in Oldham, which he shares with his wife Yvonne and their 17-year-old daughter Joanne, he owns a house in the Canary Islands and a luxury cruiser called Smile. He’s even splashed out £30,000 on his own nightclub in Rochdale so that he can dance the night away.

“Not bad for a lad who didn’t live in a house with electric until he was eight,” chortles Bobby. “I really was so fascinated that I used to switch the wall light on and off. It was years after the war but my mum was so scared she shouted at me to stop or they’d think I was signalling.”

And as ever, Bobby turns the hard times into a joke – but his climb to the top wasn’t always a barrel of laughs. When he first joined up with Tommy Cannon, they were just a couple of £20-a-week welders in an Oldham truck factory. They thought they were pretty funny together and started touring the clubs, but it was 15 years before Thames TV spotted them and gave them their own show.

Suddenly they were being hailed as the new Morecambe and Wise, and the money rolled in as fast as they could crack gags. “At first we did go a bit mental,” admits Bobby. “Tommy and I went out and bought matching gold Rolls-Royces. Mine lasted three months. I felt such a prat in it, I got rid of it.

“Then I began to slow down a bit because I got very frightened. I was always aware showbiz is such an up and down business. I don’t worry like that now, but at the time it was a lot to get used to. As Yvonne and I went from having no money – and I mean no money – to being very rich. Sometimes we were so broke we didn’t know where the next loaf of bread was coming from. We had £5 for the week’s groceries.”

But the family always had a good Christmas. “Yes, we did make sure of that,” grins the comic. “Yvonne got all our presents from the catalogue and we spent the next three months paying off the debts.” Christmas is still kept simple in the Ball household. “We go to my parents’ house every year and have turkey, relax and play games. We’re a close family and Christmas is always a happy time. I don’t tend to splash out on lots and lots of gifts. My family have got to the stage where I ask them what they want and they get it – I always look after my parents.”

He smiles with affection at his missus – this is another double act that will run and run. As the couple have been inseparable since they married in Oldham Register Office all of 17 years ago. In fact, they’ve only ever had one major problem in all their relationship…that Yvonne’s six inches taller than her hubbie.

“When we first met at a pal’s party Yvonne was sitting down and it was only when she stood up, I realised she was so tall. I wasn’t sure how to kiss her,” jokes Bobby.

“I must admit I did mind her being so tall at first. I used to walk along the pavement and make Yvonne jog along in the gutter so we looked the same height, and she did get quite round-shouldered – trying to come down to my low level. But it doesn’t bother me one bit now. I do love her. She’s a good’un. I knew right away.”

It’s clear that family life is so very important to Bobby now. Even though he’s moved on a million miles from those poverty-stricken days in a one-bedroomed, condemned house, he still lives six minutes from his mum and dad. And when he’s not entertaining the folks, he’s upstairs writing fun kids’ stories about Piff Paff The Puffin and Jock The Crock.

“I’m not materialistic. The way I see it is you can only eat one meal, go to one toilet and lie in one bed.” But after his own shivery childhood, at least Bobby’s made sure of one thing, that being tucked into bed is a bit more comfy for today’s kids than it was for him. He’s brought out a range of duvets with all his furry friends on the front, and a special pocket for their Bobby Ball books.

Report by Ruth Brotherhood