Titbits 10th December 1983

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Last laugh for Cannon and Ball

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Comedy stars Cannon and Ball will never forget the disasters they faced on their way to stardom.

Their first TV break was on Opportunity Knocks – and they came last.

Then they had a spot on Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night, but it was cut.

And when they finally had a TV series lined up it was hit by an ITV strike. Tommy Cannon says: “It looked as though we were finished before we had started!”

Today, firmly established as one of TVs top comedy duos, the pair can afford to look back and laugh.

They have a new series (ITV, Saturday) and they have just signed to make a follow- up to their first film, to be called The Boys In Blue II

They are now thoroughly enjoying their hard-earned success. But aren’t two gold Rolls-Royces a bit over the top?

“Certainly not.” says 45-year-old Tommy. “We’ve worked bloody hard, and anyone who does that deserves all they can afford.”

The pair met in 1962 when they were called plain Tommy Derbyshire and Bobby Harper, and both worked as welders at a factory in Oldham, Lanes.

“I could play the drums and Bobby had sung on stage with his sister,” says Tommy. ” So we thought we’d try our luck in the pubs.”

Six months later, on the strength of one week’s booking in Newcastle, they gave up their jobs to turn professional. But hard times lay ahead.

“The work just dried up,” remembers 39-year-old Bobby. “The only way we could get jobs was for one of us to phone a club and pretend to be an agent booking ourselves.”

Once they were sacked in mid-performance.

Bobby recalls: “The man who’d hired us stopped our act and said: ‘You’re no bloody good. Here’s your money. Now get out.’

“At the time we felt we’d never face an audience again. Luckily we’re big-headed, and we soon got over it. But we were pretty awful.”

It meant they often had to change their names. They started out using their real names, then as a singing duo they changed to the Shirell Brothers, and when the jokes started they became the Harper Brothers.

Their present names are because Tommy’s idol was singer Freddie Cannon.

Fame hasn’t made them want to move away from Lancashire.

“Our roots are there,” Bobby says. “We’re happy among family and friends,”

Bobby and his second wife Yvonne, who live in Rochdale, have a daughter Joanne, 10. He has two teenage sons from his first marriage.

Tommy has been married to his wife Margaret for 23 years. They have two daughters, Julie, 19, and Janette, who has just given birth to their second grandchild.

They live in a luxury bungalow in Oldham, overlooking the terrace where Tommy grew up.

Robin Corry