I used to love Cannon and Ball but I always thought they didn’t get the recognition they deserved because they were always compared to Morecombe and Wise. I often thought it was a little unfair because, although any double act is going to be compared to the masters of the genre, no one in my life-time is ever going to out-do the best. This doesn’t mean to say they were not good in their own right.
Tommy Cannon and Bobby Ball known collectively as Cannon and Ball, were best known for their comedy variety show The Cannon and Ball Show, which lasted for nine years on ITV. The duo had met in the early 1960s while working as welders in Oldham. They started out as singers working the pubs and clubs of Greater Manchester and switched to comedy after being told comics earned an extra £3 a night.
Their first TV appearance was in 1974 in the variety show The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club before landing a performance on Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night, although their segment didn’t make it to broadcast. In 1979, LWT offered them their own series, The Cannon and Ball Show, which premiered in ITV on 28th July 1979. Further series followed each year through to 1988, along with Christmas and Easter specials.
In 1982, they appeared in a feature film, The Boys in Blue, based loosely on the classic Will Hay film, Ask a Policeman. The Boys in Blue was regarded critically as weak in comparison and was their only cinema outing. It was released on DVD in 2004.
Their popularity coincided with the rise of alternative comedy, with its emphasis on more socially relevant and political concerns. As time passed, Cannon and Ball’s popularity began to decline, though they were not the only comedy act to suffer as comic tastes shifted. During the 1980s, Greg Dyke, the then Head of Programming at ITV station TVS and later to hold a similar position at LWT expressed a concern that northern comedy shows may not suit southern tastes.
By the 1990s, the duo were seeking a change in direction and appeared in their own sitcom Cannon and Ball’s Playhouse, the spin-off series Plaza Patrol and their game show Cannon and Ball’s Casino. Plaza Patrol saw them play security guards in a shopping mall.
Their catchphrases were: “Rock on, Tommy!”, “That’ll do for me, cocker!”, “You little liar!”, “Deep down, you really hate me, don’t yer?”, “Aww, look at it!”, “I’m dead excited!”, “You’ve got me skin!”, “Pick up the piggin’ phone”.
In more recent times, they have continued to find success as a comic duo in theatre and pantomime, along with numerous cameo appearances on TV. In late 2005, they appeared in I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here! They also appeared in a celebrity edition of Coach Trip on Channel 4 in 2012.
The duo have admitted that, during their hey-day of huge popularity in the 1980s, they were barely on speaking terms and would avoid each other completely when not on stage or rehearsing. These tensions – which lasted for years – were later resolved and the two are now extremely close once again.
That’ll do for me, cocker!