When Double Acts Fall Out

When Double Acts Fall Out TV logo

Talking Heads TV show, looking at a number of double acts who had fallen out. Also billed as “When TV Double Acts Fall Out”. 1 hour 20 minutes. First shown at 11:35pm on 20th March 2020 on Channel 5. Repeated numerous times since. 

The show charted their rise to fame, falling out, subsequent conversion to Christianity and making up again. It featured celebrities and people who knew them talking, although neither Tommy nor Bobby were shown in anything other than archive footage. Paul Elliott of the Chuckle Brothers read some excerpts from their Rock on Tommy joint biography

Talking about Cannon and Ball were: Gary Bushell, Arthur Smith, Little and Large, Paul Jackson, Anita Harris, Colin Edmonds, Paul Elliott and Alex Belfield. Narrated by Tracy-Ann Oberman

Double acts, we love them today just as much as we always have. They’ve been a big part of entertainment right from the earliest days of show business, and we’ve all got our favourites. The best double acts are a winning formula of complementary talent, friendship and warmth. Well, that’s what we get to see. But behind the scenes it can be a very different story.

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Cannon and Ball. Britain’s longest serving comedy duo. As big as it was possible to be on television in their 80s heyday. But despite being the best of mates before they hit the big time, the corrosive cocktail of fame, money, women and adulation proved nearly fatal.

Steve Punt: The weird thing with Cannon and Ball is that they were genuine friends before they started performing.

Gary Bushell: They were welders in Oldham. They were going out and they’re doing their bit on the working men’s clubs on the northern variety circuit.

Before long, Tommy and Bobby were making enough as a double act to give up their jobs and turn pro. Their first TV spot was on the 70s cabaret show the Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club, where they were an instant hit.

Arthur Smith: They were a bit cuddly, but they were lovable. There was a kind of spontaneous joy about them. They were equally loved by children and their grandparents.

Syd Little: Tommy and Bobby. Just looking at them you laugh.

Arthur Smith: Bobby Ball. He was like a naughty child.

Paul Jackson: Bobby is the guy who constantly makes you laugh. Tommy is slightly more grown up. He’s not quite so much fun to be with.

Anita Harris: The television days of Cannon Ball erupted like a volcano.

Colin Edmonds: They were so good, so big and so strong as a double act, even apparently Eric Morecombe called them the next Morecambe and Wise. It doesn’t get better than that does it.

Gary Bushell: Bruce Springsteen came over in 1985 on the Born in the USA Tour. Sold out Wembley Stadium for three nights in July. Cannon and Ball outsold him. Cannon and Balls Summer season in Blackpool put more bums on seats than Springsteen did.

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But as their careers exploded an ego fuelled chasm opened up between them.

Paul Jackson: When you come from that working class, industrial background and suddenly you’ve got fame and riches and all the glamour that’s involved, I think it probably turned their heads. And who can blame them.

Gary: They didn’t have a pot to piddle him when they were growing up, and all of a sudden they’re worth millions. They were spending money like lottery winners.

Paul: Their rivalry involved one getting a car, one getting a better car, one getting a boat, one getting a bigger boat.

Gary: They’re buying Rolls Royces, one buys a nightclub, and Tommy had Rotherham football club. You know, it was just like constant competition trying to outdo each other. And of course, there was women throwing themselves at them. Drink. All the things that go with that sort of fame.

Paul: They did become monsters.

Gary: Bobby Ball, by his own admission became very arrogant. Awful to be with because he felt he had to act like a diva and throw his orders about and shout and scream and tell people off.

Paul Elliott: They were scared that I would tear them to shreds or hit them. I was the nastiest person to be near and soon gained a strong reputation for this in the business. Which he did. Particularly after I hit a fellow performer on the stage one night.

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And as Bobby’s behaviour worsened, the duo’s relationship hit rock bottom.

Gary: They were massive on TV, they were massive live. And they hated each other.

Paul: I think Tommy started to resent the fact that Bobby was getting all the adulation. The crowd loves the funny man.

Arthur: Tommy Cannon began to think why is it that he’s getting all the laughs and all the girls and I’m not. And yet we’re a double act, we do it together.

Paul: Maybe poor old Tommy felt he was an anonymous performer on stage, just there to provide the feed lines for Bobby to knock him down again.

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Gary: The love was all for Bobby. They’d come out the back of a theatre and the crowd would want Bobby. It was almost like Tommy was a spare part. He really did resent it. They stopped talking to each other for three whole years. It must have been horrific.

Arthur: They didn’t want to be in the same room together. They only wanted to be on the same stage to get there, and that was only to make money.

Gary: If they wanted to communicate, they would get an assistant to pass a message to the other one. You know, how can you work like that?

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Paul Elliott: We started ignoring each other pretty soon after hitting the big time. Although they were playing to capacity audiences, Bobby and I weren’t getting on. We had finally made it in the business and now we weren’t even speaking to each other. How sad and silly it all was.

Syd Little: To actually go on stage and hate each other, not look at each other in the eyes. Fabulous acting how they did that.

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Cannon and Ball’s partnership looked even more precarious when the 80s comedy landscape suddenly shifted. In 1988 after nine series and a big money rolling contract, the axe came down on their ITV show. A bitter blow for both of them

Colin Edmonds: The Cannon and Ball show became slightly old fashioned looking, the sort of dinner jackets and the big band and the glitzy audience. It all became a little bit not what the zeitgeist was.

Their relationship got back on track after Bobby converted to Christianity and made amends to Tommy for his previous bad behaviour. Over time, the friendship healed and Tommy too became a Christian and today they’re still performing together an incredible 56 years after starting out.

Paul: They have reconciled their differences. They’re now back on stage together and they are a tremendous act. They really are.

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The other double acts featured on the show were David Walliams and Matt Lucas, Kim Woodburn and Aggie McKenzie, Eamonn Holmes and Anthea Turner, Rob Newman and David Baddiel, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Sonny and Cher, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, Mike and Bernie Winters, and Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.