At the Bristol Hippodrome
|Bad Robber||Tommy Cannon|
|Good Robber||Bobby Ball|
|Robin Hood||Eve Graham|
|The Sheriff of Nottingham||Graham Hamilton|
|Nurse Merryweather||Wyn Calvin|
|Maid Marion||Sara Weymouth|
|Friar Tuck||Christopher Mason|
|Will Scarlet||Paul Hillyier|
|The Merry Men and speciality act||Butterfingers|
To describe Tommy Cannon and Bobby Ball as stars is, at the very least, an understatement. To describe them as superstars and a true phenomenon is perhaps more accurate. Since their debut TV series for London Weekend Television in 1979 they have not only become top TV stars with their own series and specials every year, but are also the biggest box-office attractions in the UK – this year alone they have played to over 600,000 people live through their 10-week Summer Season in Blackpool, their UK tour of March and April and further record-breaking shows in Birmingham last Christmas.
To have outsold not only other comedy acts, but to have outdrawn even rock superstar Bruce Springsteen, is a totally unique achievement which puts them in a category all of their own. At the Opera House in Blackpool this summer their 10-week run broke all previous box-office records by playing to over 300,000 people and grossing in excess of 1 million. Their forthcoming Christmas panto, Babes In The Wood – their first for five years – which opens at the Bristol Hippodrome on December 19 – will put them into even more record books.
Their star status is further enhanced by the fact that they are the only act in showbusiness to have won three separate National Club Awards; they have enjoyed success as recording artistes with both singles and albums; starred in their own feature film The Boys In Blue; and as well as triumphing in numerous newspaper popularity polls, Tommy and Bobby have also been named Showbusiness Personalities by the Variety Club of Great Britain – the highest accolade presented by their fellow professionals.
So what is the secret of this unequalled success which has also included Royal Shows and a memorable This Is Your Life? Tommy and Bobby don’t go in for self-analysis. Their present day success has evolved from an initial friendship between two Oldham lads who got together to form a singing act. And it is their genuine friendship and respect for each other that is the very backbone of the Cannon and Ball story.
Robert Harper is the real name of Bobby Ball, and he and Tommy Derbyshire (now Tommy Cannon) were former workmates in a Lancashire engineering factory in the early 1960’s. By day they were welders – but in the evening they became a singing duo called The Harper Brothers and achieved a great deal of popularity in the Northern clubs.
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. Singing remained in the act but the comedy content grew stronger – as did their popularity.
“It got to the point where we were rehearsing our act on the factory floor,” says Tommy, “and many were the times that we were reprimanded by the foreman. Then, out of the blue, Bobby’s cousin Wally Harper, a professional comic, booked us for a week at a club in Wales. It was our first appearance outside Lancashire and the response was terrific. After that we decided to give up our daytime jobs and concentrate on showbusiness.”
Their professional career now spans 19 years, but it is only in the last 15 years that they have been known as Cannon and Ball. And the name has made all the difference to their lives.
“We were getting nowhere as the Harper Brothers” says Bobby. “So one day we sat down in a dreary cafe with our manager and began slinging names at each other. I can’t remember who came up with Cannon and Ball, but we decided that those names fitted us perfectly.”
This choice of name couldn’t have been more appropriate, because their success has come from the firepower of Tommy Cannon and the sheer comedy ammunition of Bobby Ball.
And so Cannon and Ball began the hard slog to gain recognition. They built up their popularity on the club circuit and in 1975 were voted Best Comedy Duo by readers of a leading magazine. In turn that award led to theur first TV booking – for the Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club. They also appeared on Opportunity Knocks and managed to come only second to last in the voting.
Since then the rest is pure showbusiness history – their series and specials are always in the top TV rating, they have played to capacity audiences not just in the UK but in Australia and the Middle East and their unique approach to comedy grows in stature with each new venture.
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.
“We have no pretensions,” says Tommy. “We’re a couple of ordinary fellas enjoying what we do best of all – entertaining folk and making them laugh. I suppose it took a long time initially for us to make a major breakthrough, but we’re glad now that we have so much experience behind us. Our TV shows have made an enormous difference. Suddenly we are known by millions, and at time still find it hard to come to terms with being recognised in the street. We’re not knocking it – 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 still get a kick every time someone shouts ‘Rock On, Tommy’ in the street.”
Both are happily married and still live close to each other in their native Lancashire. Tommy is married to Margaret and they have two daughters, Jeanette and Julie, and two grandsons, Ben Thomas and Alex. Bobby’s wife is Yvonne and they have a daughter, Joanna, who is 13. Bobby still retains close links with his sons Darren and Robert from his first marriage.
In theur increasingly rare off-stage moments both Tommy and Bobby like ot keep fit, and while Bobby prefers either to sit in solitude on a river-bank fishing or in his recently opened club called ‘Braces’ in Rochdale, Tommy divides his time between golf and his passion for football – he is now a working director of Rochdale FC.
And the future? In the words of both a United States President and a classic rock song – You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.
One of Graham Hamilton’s claims to fame is that he once acted in plays produced by Russell Harty! Graham was taught by the television chat show host when he was at school at Giggleswick in North Yorkshire. Since those days, Graham has appeared on television many times himself and has played in many a West End hit. Beginning his career with the Harrogate Repertory Company, he went on to appear in The Mousetrap, Oh! Calcutta!, Jeeves and Dad’s Army in the West End. He played Mr. Sowerberry, the undertaker, in the successful revival of Lionel Bart’s hit musical Oliver! at the Albery Theatre. In 1975 he performed with the Dad’s Army team when they were chosen to appear in The Royal Variety Show at the London Palladium. His TV credits include comedy series such asitosje, Last of the Summer Wine, I Didn’t Know You Cared, audit Ain’t Half Hot, Mum, the BBC TV film of All Creatures Great and Small, and recently The Puppet Man for Channel 4. Graham has also been heard on radio in the series I Like Spike, based on the writings of Spike Milligan. Often cast as the ‘Baddie’ in pantomime, his successes include appearances at Cardiff New Theatre, Nottingham Theatre Royal, Oxford Apollo and Birmingham Hippodrome.
Eve, who was born in Auchterarder, near Perth in Scotland, started her singing career with the Cyril Stapleton Orchestra. In 1969 she became a founder member of the New Seekers, singing lead on their biggest hits and achieving world wide success with the Group, making them one of the success stories of the seventies. Eve sang lead on hits such as: “Look What They’ve Done To My Song, Ma”, “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”, “Circles”, “Beautiful People” etc. In September 1978, Eve, together with Danny Finn, left the New Seekers, and teamed up as a Duo, touring the UK, Middle East, Far East, and Canada. In 1985, Eve decided to “go it alone” and is now pursuing a solo career. Eve is in great demand in the advertising world, and much of her time is spent singing the praises of top companies and major brand names, and with a new recording deal and many guest appearances on television, we will be seeing a great deal of Eve in the future.
It is a case of ‘Welcome Back – Wyn Bach’ to Bristol Hippodrome for this effervescent Welsh comedian. He first appeared here in the title role oiHumpty Dumpty with The Seekers in 1967 when the show broke all previous pantomime records for this theatre. He returned as Dame in another record-breaking pantomime: Dick Whittington when he played ‘Sarah the Cook1 to Roy Hudd’s ‘Idle Jack1. Since then he has been acknowledged by press critics in many parts of Britain as ‘One of our greatest pantomime performers’. In the theatre he has been hailed as a ‘record-breaker’ in summer shows and pantomimes. Coming from a long line of Welsh Presbyterian Preachers it was assumed that Wyn would follow family tradition -but the pulpit’s loss was the theatre’s gain. While still a teenager he got a job in weekly repertory at a semi-derelict cinema in
Gainsborough (“Salary: £4 – provide your own costumes”). Whatever the role the Calvin sense of comedy shone through and he graduated through West End Revue to starring in Summer Shows around the coasts of Britain including five seasons at Blackpool and seven at Llandudno where the press referred to him as ‘The Most Popular Comedian in the History of The Resort1. His radio and television output has been prodigious – especially for the BBC in Wales. Following the long-running success of his TV and Radio Chat-programmes he currently presents a Sunday programme of light-classical and choral music called Sounds Unforgettable which has been popular Sunday listening for three and a half years for BBC Radio Wales. Recently a national newspaper referred to him as ‘Chameleon Calvin’ because of his unique ability to adapt to almost any branch of entertainment. His light-hearted newspaper columns have been especially popular – particularly with Thomson Newspapers.
Sara Weymouth trained at the Guildford School of Acting, where she attained the Student prize in the second and final year. Since leaving she has appeared at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry in Mother Goose, also playing ‘Kitty’ in Charleys Aunt and’Regina1 in Ghosts. After that she appeared in a production of Tarantara, at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford. She played ‘Marty’ in Grease, ‘Clara Popkiss’ inRookery Nook, and ‘Regina in Ghosts at the Haymarket Theatre, Leicester, before returning to Coventry to play Dick Whittington’s Wise Cat and ‘Mrs Rogers’ in Ten Little Indians. Other roles include ‘ Mona1 in Chicago’ Kate in Merrilly We Roll Along at Manchester, Godspell at Aberystwyth, which she also choreographed, ‘Principal Girl1 inDick Whittington, JacquesBrelis Alive and Well and Living in Paris and ‘Lulu in ‘The Birthday Party at Salisbury. Sara played ‘Ellissa’ in Someone to Remember Me By, at La Bonne Crepe Cafe Theatre in Battersea, and she has just finished touring a Sam Shepherd play as ‘Miami’ in Seduced based at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford.
This is Christopher Mason’s second appearance at the Bristol Hippodrome. Last year he was here for ten weeks with Little and Large in Aladdin and in 1982 he appeared in Babes in the Wood at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth with Terry Scott and Bernard Bresslaw. Christopher trained originally as a singer and has appeared in opera, oratorio and song recitals in many parts of the country. He has performed abroad in France, Belgium, Norway, Germany, Spain and Israel. In London he has sung Figaro in The Marriage of Figaro and Don Andrez in Offenbach’sLa Perichole. In May he appeared in the Brighton Festival production of Berlioz Benvenuto Cellini, Straight roles have included Feste in Twelfth Night, John Proctor in The Crucible and Telegin in Uncle Vanya.
Paul was born in Manchester, went to Manchester School of Music, and Salford Art School, moved to London and trained as a dancer. He has worked extensively here and abroad as a singer/dancer/actor in TV and Theatre. His film credits are1 Heavens Gate, Dark Crystal, The Hunger, Victor, Victoria and most recently Vacation II with Chevye Chase. This is Paul’s debut appearance in pantomime.
Born in 1936 in London, Michael Hurll was educated at St. Paul’s School, where he first became interested in the Theatre through the school dramatic society which included as one of its members, Jonathan Miller, who was later to base his Beyond the Fringe on these school productions. In 1965 he joined the BBC and progressed to the position of Director. Since then he has been working in the BBC Light Entertainment Variety Department, rising from Director/Producer to Executive Producer. He has produced comedy and musical television shows with nearly every well known British and International artist and has worked on many BBC co-productions Abba in Switzerland, Disco in the Snow and the Montreux Rock Festivals. Michael produced both the 1974 and 1982 Eurovision Song Contests and for the past six years has produced and directed the weekly BBC1 pop music programme Top of the Pops. Currently, he is producing the Noel Edmonds Late, Late Breakfast Show, Jonathan King’s Entertainment USA, The Two Ronnies series and Roland Rat’s Christmas Show.
Libby Roberts trained at the Arts Educational Trust Theatre School in Ballet, Jazz, Singing and Drama. On leaving The Arts she worked in a jazz company touring Italy for 4 months. Libby1 s experience as a dancer includes The Dougie Squires Second Generation for two years, appearing at The London Palladium for two seasons, The Ken Dodd Xmas Show at the Manchester Opera House, The Royal Gala Show in Ottawa and Toronto, Canada. Also she appeared in cabaret and numerous tv shows such as Sunday Night at the London Palladium, The Mike Yarwood Xmas Show and The Julie Andrews Special. She then formed her own dance group called The Love Machine which enjoyed great success touring in cabaret both here and abroad, and appearing in tv shows such as The Benny Hill Show, The Little and Large Series, International Pop Proms and Wheeltappers and Shunters. These were choreographed by Arlene Phillips. She also appeared with Hot Gossip on The Kenny Everett Show. This was followed by a two year contract on Yorkshire TVs3-2-1 with Ted Rogers, as a Hostess. It was during this time that she formed and choreographed the dance group Lipstick who were featured on 3-2-1. This was followed by a year as choreographer for Channel 4′ s Unforgettable series, 3 series for Benny Hill, a Jim Davidson Special and pop videos for Meatloaf and Russ Abbot. She has just completed the choreography on a film called Whoops Apocalypse due to be released this summer, and is currently working for Thames TV on The Benny Hill Show.
Philippa Timmins: Ball Juggler, Club Juggler, Ribbon Work, Club Swinging. Specialist in Club Passing and Diabolo
Craig: Ball Juggler, Club Juggler, Unicyclist, Fire Eater. Specialist in Club Passing and Fire Juggling.
“Haggis”: Ball Juggler, Club Juggler, Unicyclist, Stiltwalker, Fire Eater. Also works with spinning balls and trays, currently the only 7 ball juggler working with Butterfingers.
Charlie: Ball Juggler, Club Juggler, Unicyclist, Fire Juggler. Specialises in Bouncing Ball work and club passing.
John: Rope Walker, Unicycling, Stilt Walker, Vertical Ladder. Rola Bola, Fire Eater, Juggler. Also works as a teacher of Clowning and Mask Work.
Costumes designed by Cynthia Tingey. Scenery designed by Tod Kingman.
Set built by Theatre Royal, Bath.
Lighting/Lasers/Costume co-ordination by Prompt Hire.
Shoes and tights by Gambas.
FOR HANDSHAKE LIMITED
Production Manager: Adrian Leggett
Company Manager: Chas Banks
Stage Manager: John Ainslie
ASM: Tracy Jaques
Costume/Wardrobe Mistress: Cynthia Cann