The Comedy Years

The Comedy Years title

Cannon and Ball appeared on this ITV talking heads TV show, which looked at comedy in four years: 1979, 1984, 1998 and 2003. 

They appeared in the first two episodes, which were first shown on 19th and 20th April 2019. 

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The first episode included a segment about Cannon and Ball, with archive footage.

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Tommy: You started in pubs. Then you went to a working men’s club

Bobby: Well, you learned your craft

Tommy: and it was a yeah, it was like an apprenticeship. In them days as well, people from TV used to come out and see what was around. They’d go to a club where you might be working and wouldn’t tell you they’d been in, but they were keeping an eye on you and all that business, you know.

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While Northern working men’s clubs were providing fresh new comedy talent, one more established star was having a rare dip in form.

Ladies and gentlemen, Bruce Forsythe

ITV had poached the BBC’s biggest star in a bid to win the Saturday night ratings war. But the much heralded Bruce’s Big Night was Bruce’s one big flop and was axed after just a series.

Desperate for a replacement, ITV offered the opportunity of a lifetime to a double act who’d been making a name for themselves on the club circuit, but were still waiting for their first big TV break.

Robert Harper and Thomas Derbyshire first met in the early 70s whilst working as welders in Oldham.

Tommy: He came up to me in the welding shop and he said, do you fancy making a double act? Now you gotta remember show business was the farthest thing from my mind. I wanted to be a footballer or a cricket player or anything to do with sport.

Bobby: It still is the furthest thing from his mind. You watch him perform.

Tommy: When we first started doing the comedy, nobody knew us, so he would join the queue outside. And then I would go on stage and start to sing a song and he’d say “Hey, Tommy, it’s me, Bobby”, like he was a big fan of mine.

Bobby: That’s right. I think Tommy was the straight man because he was the tallest.

Tommy: Well, I was the good looking one as well, you know.

The step up from the club circuit to shiny floor Saturday night TV isn’t always an easy one, but Cannon and Ball proved an instant hit.

Bobby: Amazing. We’ve gone on television. Then I used to have buses stopping outside my house, it got crazy didn’t it Tom?

Tommy: Stop lying, Bobby. You went outside and stopped the bus. You were waving at the driver.

Bobby: No, listen, no

Tommy: You did. Tell the truth. Come on. This is your time to do it.

Bobby: Alright, I did.

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Bernie Clifton: You realise when you see Bobby, that charisma he had got that it just could relate to audiences, couldn’t he, got that cheeky grin.

It wasn’t long before their one liners and mannerisms were entering the national consciousness.

Bobby: We noticed everybody went on in mohair suits. Do you remember? So we said we’ll be different. And I went to an Oxfam shop and bought a baggy suit. But the pants kept falling down, so I’d wear braces. Braces are like a bra strap, and if you’re moving, they come off your shoulders. So that came about like that.

But they had a 70s pop star to thank for their most famous catch phrase.

Bobby: Yeah, David Essex singing Rock On. Rock on. And one night I went to him Rock on Tommy. That’s how it took off.

Tommy: Boom, every taxi driver and you name it, the world started saying Rock on Tommy.

Sherrie Hewson: Their story is fantastic, to go from welders on the shop floor to the biggest show on television with the highest ratings as well. And they’re still doing it.

The Comedy Years screenshot   The Comedy Years screenshot 

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The second episode included two short segments where they spoke; one about Eric Morecambe and the other about Tommy Cooper’s death. 

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