TV Guide 2nd June 1990

  TV Guide 2nd June 1990 cover 

Brace Relations

More than just a new game show. Cannon And Ball’s Casino features the dynamic duo’s special brand of family humour; naughty but nice, says Fiona Gibson

“Have you ever seen a good-looking feminist?” roars warm-up man Disley, a lad from Rochdale with the task of geeing up the audience, including a rowdy gang of daytrip-pers from Scotland (“A day trip to Leeds? Why not just walk up and down with a nail in your shoe, eh?”) prior to the filming of Cannon And Ball’s Casino.

Casino is a game show. “But,” says Bobby Ball (far right), the round-faced, crinkly-eyed one with the ability to double up his audience merely by jutting out his lower lip, “if it was just a game show, the prizes would be important. Yes, they’re important, but on this show me and Tommy are on and the acts [in this case Swedish pop duo Roxette and a “comedian” who works his way through every “ism” in the book] are on too. The contestants, they say to me: ‘Bobby, I haven’t even thought of winning. I just came for the fun of it.’ It’s just a fun night out.”

The fun night out, taking place in a Yorkshire Television studio, consists of this: three couples each pick the prize they’d like from a four-centre holiday in America (“Whoo!” cry the prompted audience); £4,000 (a gang of solicitors burst into applause); or – at this point the cheers reach fever pitch – a brand new car.

Contestant Catherine is understandably anxious “because she’s never stood next to a sex object before”, quips Ball with a boing of his bright red braces. “Sex object? Sure! I want sex, they object.”

After a series of questions along the lines of “Name the large round wafers often served in Indian restaurants” (“Chapattis?” “Poppadums!”), Ball then proceeds to act out certain foodstuffs which the contestants have to guess. This is where things really hot up: fairy cake is greeted with howls of mirth; chicken breast prompts a gale of laughter and spotted dick – well, the mere suggestion has the audience almost tumbling from their seats with glee.

TV Guide 2nd June 1990 article

“We won’t be blue. We won’t be blue for anybody,” declares Tommy Cannon (right) later, crunching nibbles in Yorkshire Television’s hospitality suite. “Alternative comedy, or whatever you want to call it, fine, it has an audience and I’m not knocking it. But it’s really jokes with swear words and it’s just not us. We’re family entertainment and we always will be.”

“The reason I don’t do blue,” says Ball, having just posed with the Casino contestants, “is that if I can’t fetch my children to see me perform, I’m not doing the right stuff. My son’s 24 and if I start effing and blinding, he won’t have any respect for me. How can he? And if he starts effing and blinding, what can I say? We do naughty stuff. It’s more,” he searches for the right word, ” ‘cheeky’. “

Cannon and Ball can, however, get them rolling in the aisles. The stuff of summer seasons in Stockport and Skegness, their brand of comedy is peppered with catchphrases (“Rock on Tommy!”), innuendo, nudges and winks. Ball juts a thumb skywards, the audience returns the gesture. It’s worked a treat for more than 25 years and they see no reason to change.

“We are very lucky,” says Cannon, “because people see our show and they hardly remember anything, yet they laugh. That’s why they come back. We don’t do jokes, you see. They’d say, ‘Oh, not that old joke again!’ So we don’t do jokes. Instead, our material is more like telling a story,” he explains. “We act out little sketches together.”

It all started when Tom Derbyshire (Cannon) and Robert Harper (Ball), ex-welders from Oldham, formed a singing duo. “The original Blues Brothers,” announces Ball proudly, “Bobby and Stevie Rhythm!” They began to slip the occasional gag into their routine “which went down really well”, Ball says. “We thought: that’s handy, let’s put in another one tomorrow night.”

As the comedy took over from crooning, Cannon became the smooth and sensible one, with madcap Ball emerging as the little fella everybody loves. “Off stage Tommy’s as funny as I am. It’s just that I’ve got a funny face, or an expressive face if you like.” “The general public says, ‘I bet Bobby’s a real laugh’,” says Cannon, “but he’s quite serious about certain things, like I am, and I’m just as daft as he is. I’m daft about my horses. But you can’t take your horse on stage and say, ‘Look at this! I’m bloody daft about this.’ You see, we’re both quite equal really.”

But they don’t mind being viewed as an item and Cannon explains: “Ten or 12 years ago, I would have tried to tell them that we’re not a married couple and we do have separate lives. But you’re wasting your time, really. I was in Disneyland with my wife and all these people from Manchester said to me, ‘Hello Tommy! Where’s Bobby?’ ‘Oh, I’ve thrown him overboard,’ I say. You know, any remark to make them laugh.”

“After 25 years,” adds Ball good naturedly, “to still be doing that. Not bad is it, really?”