Charity show in aid of The Mayor of Oldhams Appeal Committee, Saddleworth Rotary Club and Greenbank School, Royton.
Cannon and Ball
Cannon and Ball are a comedy double-act with a difference. Their act blends comedy with pathos, and hinges on the constant conflict between the suave Tommy Cannon and the scruffy-suited, leg shaking character of Bobby Hall. And their ‘Rock on, Tommy’ catchphrase is perhaps the most repeated in the country.
But Tommy and Bobby don’t go in for self-analysis. Their present day act has evolved from an initial friendship between two Oldham welders, who got together to form a singing act, and their genuine friendship and total respect for each other ultimately led to the formation of Cannon & Ball.
Professionally they have been in show business for 15 years. Prior to that they worked on a semi-professional basis. They were welders in the daytime and most of their evenings were spent entertaining in Lancashire clubs.
By the time they turned professional, they were already established in their native North of England, but their ambition was to achieve stardom – and no one can doubt that they have now realised this ambition.
The over-riding factor during all their years together has been their unique friendship. They don’t try to kid anyone that they never argue. But their friendship – both on and off stage – is there for all to see. They were mates during their factory-floor days, and today, as TV, cabaret and theatre stars, the only way to describe them is as mates.
Indeed, when they are introduced as ‘a couple of the lads’, Cannon & Ball are delighted.
“We have no pretentions”, says Tommy Cannon, “we’re a couple of ordinary fellas enjoying what we do best of all – entertaining people and making them laugh. Bobby and I can talk for hours about showbiz and our own act. We have never been the types to sit still. Even today we are constantly changing our act and looking for new and fresh TV ideas.”
“I suppose it’s taken us a long time to make a major breakthrough, but we’re now glad that we have so much experience behind us. Our television shows have made an enormous difference. Suddenly we are known to millions of viewers, yet we still find it hard to come to terms with being recognised by the general public”.
“We’re not knocking that – we love it. The important thing to us, as people, is that we haven’t changed in our attitudes. We’re still Tommy and Bobby to everyone, and get a kick when someone shouts: ‘Rock on, Tommy’ in the street.”
The Cannon and Ball story is based on hard work, determination and talent. Their TV series for LWT – entitled simply Cannon and Ball – have opened the doors to national stardom, but they are by no means the proverbial ‘overnight stars’.
Indeed, Cannon & Ball have been regarded as one of clubland’s funniest double acts for well over a decade, and remain the only entertainers to have won the prestigious Club Mirror ‘Comedy Act of the Year’ award on two separate occasions.
The first time they won the award it led to several TV guest spots, but real television success continued to elude them until London Weekend Television signed them for their first ever series.
Prior to this major breakthrough, Tommy and Bobby appeared to have been dogged by bad luck when it came to TV exposure. And their debut series proved no exception. After just two shows had been screened, ITV was hit by a long running dispute, and it wasn’t until the end of 1979 that Cannon & Ball were able to prove their popularity as TV entertainers.
“We’re a couple of worriers by nature”, says Tommy Cannon, “and it was a terrific disappointment to see our series interrupted in that way. We also came in for a lot of leg-pulling from within show business, where we were affectionately nicknamed ‘Cannon and Blackout’.”
But they managed to have Lhe last laugh, because when the series was finally screened, it proved to be a great success.
“We were delighted with the response from the public”, says Bobby, “because our type of humour is not easy to portray on television. We also had good reason for being more worried than usual. Up to that point things hadn’t exactly gone smoothly with our TV work, and even today we still shudder when we look hack to our TV debut in the now defunct ‘Opportunity Knocks’.”
That came several years ago, and Tommy and Bobby were still in the transitional stage with their act. Few people can recall the appearance today, but Cannon & Ball realise that it was a turning point for them. Their lack of success actually helped them!
“It was an absolute disaster at the time”, recalls Tommy. “We went on full of confidence, but our impact was such that we failed to budge the studio clapometer! We were the proverbial ‘Opportunity Flops’, and yet through our disappointment we were able to view our future with far more honesty”.
“At that time singing was our forte, so we set about restructuring the act. Bobby leaned more on his comedy attributes, and his ‘scruffy’ stage image was mirrored by my suave appearance. Since then we’ve built up the act through our experience as live entertainers, but there is no way in which we could be described as a conventional comedy double act”.
“We try to combine all elements, including cross-talk palter, knockabout comedy, pathos and, of course, singing. In truth we are comedy entertainers, and our No. 1 priority is to make the biggest possible impact through our TV shows.”
And though they remain great worriers and perfectionists, Cannon & Ball have already made the sort of TV impact for which they have always been striving. But how did it all begin?
Tommy Cannon was christened Thomas Derbyshire, and Robert Harper is the real name of Bobby Ball. Both are from Oldham, where they still live witli their respective families.
They first met in the early 1960s as workmates in an engineering factory. Both were welders doing repetitious and often boring work, but they formed a friendship that overspilled into their social lives.
The twosome shared a love for singing, and after a couple of impromptu performances at the factory social club, formed a singing duo called ‘The Harper Brothers’. And so their lives were transformed. By day they continued as welders, but in the evenings they donned their best suits and entertained in loeal clubs.
However, it soon became evident that Bobby had a natural flair for comedy, and this was complemented by Tommy’s ability to remain straight-faced and act as the perfect foil to him. Soon, the serious singing was spiked with the type of hilarious humour which has now become the Cannon and Ball trademark.
One minute Tommy would be singing a romantic ballad, and the next Bobby would be interrupting with a gag, or fooling about behind him. Audiences were quick to respond to this new twist in the ‘Harper Brothers’ act and gradually the comedy content became stronger – as did their popularity.
After just a couple of years of their dual lives, Tommy and Hobby were getting more club work than they could cope with. Often they turned up late for work, or were too tired to concentrate. They had reached the period that called for a crucial decision. Should they retain the comparative security of their factory employment, or take the plunge and turn fully professional?
“It got to the point where we were rehearsing our act on the factory floor”, says Bobby. “Our workmates loved it, hut we were being constantly reprimanded by our foreman. If we hadn’t decided to turn professional, I’m sure we would have been sacked!”
The turning point came when Bobby’s cousin Wally Harper – also a professional comic – booked them for a week at a club in Wales.
“You know, I still can’t remember where the club was”, adds Bobby, “but Wally did us a great favour. Prior to that we had never entertained outside Lancashire, and we didn’t know what to except”.
“The response was so terrific that we came home and handed in our notices at the factory. It was still a tough decision to make, because we had absolutely no work, and were still unknown outside our immediate area!”
But the decision did pay off in more ways than one. The Harper Brothers went on the road and built up a steady following, but both Tommy and Bobby realised that ‘something’ was missing.
“We were doing alright as the Harper Brothers”, says Tommy, “but the name had no ring to it, and really didn’t convey the fact that we were a comedy duo. We needed something catchy, something to attract attention.”
So, on a typically wet Lancashire morning, Tommy and Bobby and their then manager, visited a dreary cafe and began suggesting names to each other.
“We got through several pots of tea before someone came up with Cannon & Ball”, adds Tommy. “I don’t remember which one of us it was, but we decided that those names fitted us perfectly.”
The names are indeed appropriate to TV’s newest comedy twosome, because Tommy Cannon provides a great deal of fire power in the act, while Bobby supplies the comedy ammunition and is quick to point out, they have a secret weapon with their catchphrase: ‘Rock on, Tommy’!
They initially built up their popularity on the huge northern club circuit, but their fame began to spread to other parts of the country until they were voted Top Comedy Act by readers of a leading showbiz magazine.
That award became a lucky charm to them, because it led to a booking on Granada’s TV show ‘Wheeltappers & Shunters Social Club’, where Cannon & Ball’s hilarious brand of humour was seen for the very first time.
Since then, they have appeared in a host of top TV variety shows and continued their assault on the club and theatre circuits. But nothing is more important to them than their own TV shows.
“Every act in show business dreams of a TV series, and now that we’ve reached that ambition, we intend to make the most of it”, they say in unison. “Success is our main priority, we don’t even consider failure. And that’s not meant to sound big-headed. We just don’t fancy returning to the factory floor as welders – that’s one double act which is definitely behind us!”
Indeed, Cannon & Ball are now well on the road to stardom, but their success is unlikely to effect their personal lives. Both are happily married and still live close to each other in their native Oldham. Tommy is married to Margaret and they have two daughters, Janette and Julie. Bobby’s wife is Yvonne, and they have a daughter, Joanne. Bobby also retains close links with his sons Darren and Robert from a previous marriage.
In their rare off-stage moments both are keep-fit addicts, but while Bobby prefers to sit on a river bank fishing (he enjoys the isolation), Tommy is at his happiest on the nearest golf course.
The Patricia Dyson Dancers
This dance group has appeared all over the area in cabaret and musicals. Their most recent successes include concerts with the Band of the King’s Own Border Regiment at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The group is comprised of 2 school teachers, 4 secretaries, a shop assistant, a dance student and is lead by Joan Illingworth, a professional dancer and TV actress, who now teaches at the Patricia Dyson School of Dancing, Dale Street, Shaw, where all the girls have received their training. Miss Dyson is well known as a choreographer in the North West and, over the years, has worked with most societies in the area. Most recently she has been involved with the very successful Theatre Workshop production of ‘Tom ‘N’ Huck’.
Jeff has been singing for as long as anyone can remember. He sang with groups for several years, in the days of the Beatles, but for the past 15 years has appeared as a solo singer. He is highly respected as one of the best entertainers in the business. Jeff is a home-loving family man and his son-in-law is Mick Thomas of Manchester
Joanne is thirteen years of age and attends the Maryon Hey wood School of Dancing, Oldham, where she takes ballet, tap, modern, mime and acrobatic dance. Joanne has appeared in pantomime at Wilmslow with Bonnie Langford, John Noakes and Peter Purves and has just finished her second summer season at the Villa Marina in the Isle of Man. Recently Joanne has appeared on local television both with the school and performing her own act.
Adrian has been involved with Theatre for more years than he cares to remember, from Musical Comedy at the Palace Theatre, Manchester, to entertaining at various night spots throughout the area. In more recent years he has become involved in his local community in many charitable fund raising events and at present represents his beloved Royton on the Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council and the Greater Manchester Council.
Harding and Browne
Club & Disco Act Alan Harding & Thomas Browne are currently busy promoting their first record release “On The Weekend” written by Des Parton who was involved in the Sweet Sensation hit “Sad Sweet Dreams”. The duo from Liverpool are hoping to crack the lucrative Japanese market and have been put forward for the Yamaha Song Festival. Known professionally as Harding & Browne, they are also busy with song-writing and are under contract to ATV Music & Record for D.J.M. Records.