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Cannon, Tommy (1938-) and Ball, Bobby (1944-)

Performers, Actors, Writers

Main image of Cannon, Tommy (1938-) and Ball, Bobby (1944-)

Robust physical comedy is a large part of the appeal of northern comedy duo Tommy Cannon and Bobby Ball. The exasperated straight man Tommy was forced to endure the childlike over-exuberance of his braces-twanging partner Bobby, whose provoking catchphrase 'Rock on Tommy' was part of their stage act. That act easily transferred to television in the 1980s, drawing comparisons with American acts like Abbott and Costello and the Smothers Brothers.

Both from Oldham, Lancashire, Tommy Cannon (born Thomas Derbyshire in 1938) and Bobby Ball (born Robert Harper in 1944), met in the 1960s at a factory where they worked as welders. At first, Tommy joined Bobby as a singer in Oldham pubs and clubs, and the pair developed their comedy act between songs.

As Cannon and Ball, they made their TV debut in 1974 on ITV's northern working man's revue show The Wheeltappers and Shunters Club (1974-77). They won their own series, The Cannon and Ball Show for LWT (1979-88) and enjoyed enormous success during the 1980s, with sell-out performances, pantomimes and even a feature film, The Boys in Blue (1983). This was the last film directed by Val Guest, who began his career 50 years earlier making similar vehicles for Will Hay and George Formby.

By the mid-1980s celebrity excess caused a meltdown in their personal and professional lives. Although the duo continued to perform, their relationship had deteriorated to the point that they would only speak to each other during their act. Their issues were resolved when first Bobby, and then Tommy, became Christians, which gave their partnership and their act a new lease of life. Subsequent TV work veered away from their stand-up act with shortlived sitcoms Cannon and Ball's Playhouse (ITV, 1987) and Plaza Patrol (ITV, 1991) and a game show, Cannon and Ball's Casino (ITV, 1990).

Their enduring popularity saw them on screens again in I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here (ITV, 2002-) and Cannon and Ball continue to play to sell-out audiences around the country. In 2009, Ball delivered a creditable straight performance in the poignant comic drama The Fattest Man in Britain (ITV, tx. 20/12/2009).

Eddie Dyja

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Thumbnail image of Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club (1974-77)Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club (1974-77)

Variety show modelled on the working men's club scene

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Thumbnail image of Jackson, Paul (1947-)Jackson, Paul (1947-)

Producer, Director, Executive