Home from Home … That’s Florida
It was September 1992 when we first were asked to go to Florida to top the bill at the first ever British Appreciation Weekend held at Old Town in Kissimmee. As guests of honour we got a great reception from locals and Brits visiting Florida, and could not have wished for a better introduc¬tion to this great country!
Our love affair with the US of A and Florida in partic¬ular, has blossomed into something special for both of us. This is a beautiful state – from its sun-kissed beaches down to the lazy summer nights and glorious shimmering sunsets.
Florida is a home away from home for us and recently were presented with the keys to the City of Kissimmee. A great honour but we can’t find the front door! Anyway, Central Florida is definitely on top of our list when it comes to a warm welcome, and that’s what we’d like to extend to you here at the delightful Convention Theatre at the world famous Tupperware Center. Many of these performances are being taped for a TV special. We hope you are in a party mood!
This is a summer season with a difference. We have people in the audience from all over the US and the UK. A great combination if ever there was one and a sure-fire recipe for success! Sit back and enjoy what we hope will be a truly enjoyable evening of the old (Tommy’s jokes) and the new (Bobby’s braces) and the red white and blue! (Either flag is okay with us!)
Have a great time!
Tommy and Bobby
The 25 Hilarious Years of Cannon and Ball
What better way could there be to celebrate their career in show business than being hailed as Britain’s top comedy duo? This is an honour achieved by Tommy Cannon and Bobby Ball with a string of successes that have assured them of a place in the annuls of show business.
As the undisputed kings of live entertainment Cannon & Ball have set and smashed theatre records all over the country:
• Eight years ago, in the space of 10 weeks, they grossed over £1 million at Britain’s premier theatre, the Opera House, Blackpool. In their record-breaking season they entertained over 300,000 people.
• Since then they have continued to set and break box-office records in practically every summer and pantomime season in which they have starred.
• Their debut London Palladium pantomime season notched up total ticket sales of over £2 million and in the space of 1 week, Cannon & Ball created the biggest box-office gross in the history of British theatre.
• They have not only out-sold every other comedy double act in the country, but also outgunned superstars like the legendary Bruce Springsteen – an achievement which puts them in a class of their very own.
• They are the only act in British show business to have won three separate National Club Awards.
• They have appeared in several Royal Variety Shows.
• They have enjoyed success as recording artistes with both singles and albums.
• They starred in their own feature film The Boys In Blue’, which not only became a success in the cinema, but has subsequently been shown on television and topped the video charts.
• They have been named Variety Club Show Business Personalities of the Year -the highest accolade that can be bestowed by fellow professionals.
• They have been featured as the subjects of TV’s This Is Your Life’.
• Since 1979 when they starred in their first ever TV series they have enjoyed continual success with top-rating series and specials. Such is their versatility that in addition to their TV variety shows, they have also hosted their own quiz game ‘Cannon & Ball’s Casino’ and made their TV situation comedy debut in their latest series ‘Plaza Patrol’, in which they played Security Guards in a Shopping Centre complex.
So what is the secret behind the phenomenal success of Cannon & Ball? Putting their unique talents as entertainers to one side, it is undoubtedly the combination of two former workmates and their unfailing friendship and belief in their own abilities that has contributed so strongly to the public appeal and popularity of Cannon & Ball.
Tom and Bob were mates from the moment they first met in an Oldham engineering factory – and it’s been that way ever since. However, when they first began working in northern clubs and pubs as The Shirrell Brothers, and later The Harper Brothers, they could never have dreamt that nearly 30 years later they would be hailed Britain’s top comedy duo.
Times were tough in the early 1960’s when Robert Harper (Bobby Ball) and Thomas Derbyshire (Tommy Cannon) first met. It was in an engineering factory in their native Oldham. Bobby was already employed as a welder and Tommy was clocking on for his first day in the factory.
“I remember it as though it was yesterday.” says Tom. “I was nervous because it was my first day in a new job, but as I went to clock in this chirpy little bloke approached me and said: “How are ya, cock?’ He gave me one of those great big grins of his, put his arm around my shoulder and took me to work! From that very moment we were pals for life!!!”
Tommy and Bobby managed to cope with the rigours of factory life by singing and joking with one another all day long. “We had a natural rapport,” says Bobby, “but while I was small and funny, Tommy was suave and sophisticated even in those days. I looked up to him almost like a brother and we became inseparable”.
This bond of friendship led to Tommy showing an interest in Bobby’s love of show business. He had already enjoyed success singing with his sister Mavis and was now working on his own as a singer. One night Tommy decided to take a look at his pal in the entertainment environment. It turned out to be a turning point for both of them.
The venue was Royton Conservative Club and Tommy, having only previously seen Bobby with a welding torch in his hand, was amazed at his talent for singing.
“I saw him in a completely new light that night”, recalls Tommy. The work clothes were gone, he’d combed his hair and he looked good up on that stage. What’s more, he sang brilliantly and everyone in the audience loved him. I joined in the enthusiastic applause and suddenly I was hooked on show business!”
Tommy hated going back to the factory floor next morning and could only dream of joining his pal on stage. He discussed it with Bobby and decided to learn to play an instrument.
“Don’t ask me why but I bought myself a set of drums (second hand) and took some lessons.” adds Tommy. “Within a few months I was actually on stage with Bobby and he encouraged me to sing with him. Soon we became a vocal duo and spent the next couple of years working semi-pro all over Lancashire. Some nights we didn’t get home until 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning, and we had to be in the factory by 6!”
It was a punishing schedule and soon they had to make a major decision: Should they continue as they were, or go fully professional? The decision was partly made for them when they were reprimanded for rehearsing their act on the factory floor, but still it was a hard step to take.
“An agent approached us one night and advised us to turn professional,” says Bobby, “and we did so in the naive belief that we would become stars overnight! It didn’t quite turn out that way!!”
The year was 1966 and in their first six months as professional entertainers, Tommy and Bobby worked an average of one night a week. They were struggling and it soon became obvious that stardom would not be achieved by relying solely on their singing abilities.
Bobby’s mad-cap personality and bubbly chat had already been featured in the act -now it was to become an important and vital component in the rise to stardom of Cannon & Ball. However, before that success was to come, Tommy and Bobby were in for a flop on TV’s top talent show of the day, “Opportunity Knocks.”
They auditioned and failed three times and then, in 1968 they were actually invited to appear on the show. They wish they had never bothered!
“Our performance was disastrous,” says Bobby. “We were in the transitional period between singing and comedy and still hadn’t quite perfected it! Mind you, we chalked-up a unique first by becoming the only act to have failed to move the clapometer!’
And yet, the experience was the key to their future success. They turned their attentions to the comedy element of Cannon & Ball and soon they were the biggest box-office stars in clubland.
They packed venues like Batley Variety Club year after year and won every clubland award, and yet they still, remained fairly ‘unknown’ to the bulk of the British public – until TV sat up and took notice!
The year was 1978 and it was the late television entrepeneur David Bell who spotted the undoubted potential of the two former welders from Oldham. He was producing an innovative Saturday night entertainment called ‘Brucie’s Big Night’ for LWT, It starred Bruce Forsyth and the idea was to fill the whole of Saturday evening with live comedy entertainment.
Cannon & Ball were invited to record six comedy sketches, and the press were quick to dub them ‘overnight stars’ even though they had been grafting for the previous twelve years as club entertainers!
Their TV debut was highly publicised, but such were the complexities of the “Big Night” shows that their sketch was dropped. However, the viewing public were told to look out for Cannon & Ball in the second show. Again they didn’t appear!
“We were devastated at the time,” recalls Tommy, “but in retrospect it probably did us a lot of good. The sketches weren’t that brilliant and the publicity surrounding our non-appearances led to tremendous interest from the press and public. They started to ask: ‘Who are Cannon & Ball’ – ‘Where are Cannon & Ball?”
Soon they were to find out, because at the end of the series Tom and Bob were invited to appear in the Xmas edition of ‘Big Night.’
“David Bell asked us to forget the sketches and simply do something from our stage act,” says Bobby,” and we were literally terrified. Don’t forget, this was live television and making a mistake in front of millions of viewers could have ended our TV career before it had begun!”
But Bobby had no reason to be worried. They became an instant hit with viewers and were immediately offered their own TV series. They boys had arrived with a bang!
The first ever Cannon & Ball Show series was scheduled for the Spring for 1979 and the press and public were clamouring to see them.
‘Rock on, Tommy’ had became a national catchphrase as the battlecry of diminutive Bobby Ball – whose twanging red braces had also becpme an important fashion accessory among the young, This time Cannon & Ball were definitely heading for the big time. Or were they?
Fate struck another cruel blow after just one show of their debut series had been shown. ITV technicians began the longest-running dispute in British television. For something like three months they pulled the plug on all ITV programmes and Tommy and Bobby were quickly renamed ‘Cannon & Blackout’ by the popular press.
“We couldn’t have been more depressed.” says Tommy. “Once again our family and friends had been looking forward to seeing us in our own TV shows, and once again they had been disappointed. The public were beginning to think that we really didn’t exist!”
However, once again ill-fortune was turned to the advantage of Tom and Bob. The dispute ended and their series was screened in the autumn of 1979 and became an immediate ratings winner. What’s more, it was followed by their second series and provided them with twelve weeks of almost non-stop TV exposure.
By the summer of 1980, when Cannon & Ball arrived at the North Pier, Blackpool for their first major season in the resort, they were already the biggest stars in the country. People queued for hours to get tickets for their shows and by the end of the summer they had chalked-up their first major box-office record: 98 per cent business and the type of popular acclaim that led to quality Sunday supplements describing them as working-class comedy geniuses!
The rest is now show business history. Cannon & Ball have gone on to become Britain’s most popular and successful comedy double act. They have reigned supreme for nearly 30 fun-filled years and there is plenty more come!
“We’re still only youngsters.” laughs Tommy Cannon, “and both of us have loads of ambitions. We want to make another film, because we enjoy acting. We’re also frustrated pop stars! Bobby would love to top the charts with a rock ‘n’ roll smash hit, while 1 would prefer to do it with a romantic ballad.”
Even away from show business Tommy and Bobby have outstanding talents in other fields. Tommy has already run a football club, is one of the best golfers in showbiz and owns and rides his own racehorses, while Bobby has his own recording studios and has written a series of children’s books called ‘Juniper Jungle’.
It cannot be doubted that the collective talents of Tommy Cannon and Bobby Ball over the last decades have served to make them show business legends – here’s to the future.
Cannon and Ball – Live in America
Produced by: John Allen & Michael Franklin
Theatre Director: Robert H. ( Bob ) Cherny
Technical Director: Jeffrey Hunter
Musical Director: Tim Franklin
Conductor for Cannon & Ball: Rick Coates
Audio Mixer: Jay Goodman
Audio Engineer: Mel Prevento
Special Co-ordinator: Diane Dykes
Light Board Operator: Traci Wagner
Choreographer: Cindy Thomas
Ass’t. Audio Engineer: Tony Campbell
Box Office: Kathy Stewart, Melissa Bancroft
Catering- Executive Chef: Johnathan Kircher
Catering- Ass’t. Chef: Donna Galaida
Fly Rail: Craig Allen
House Rigger: Barry Brazell
Interns: Amy Flavey, Michael Lodovico
Master Carpenter: Ron Woodall
Master Electrician: Karen Quill
Security: Florida Highway Patrol
Senior Carpenter: Eric Goddard
Special Effects: Nils Warren
Spotlight Operators: Shelly Laberge, Stan Harhalos, Cheryl Hoover
Traffic Control: Contemporary Service
25 Cannon and Ball Fascinating Facts
1. The real name of Tommy Cannon is Thomas Derbyshire. Bobby Ball was christened Robert Harper
2. Bobby was born in Shaw, Lancashire on January 28th 1944 (Aquarius). Tommy was born in Oldham on June 27th 1938 (Cancer)
3. Tommy and Bobby lived in identical terraced houses and their mothers both worked in cotton mills
4. They met as welders in an Oldham engineering factory and were earning £20 per week
5. Before becoming entertainers they also worked as odd-job men and even cleaned out kennels
6. Their first showbiz name was the Shirrell Brothers. They later became the Harper brothers and finally Cannon and Ball
7. They chose the name because Tommy liked American singer Freddie Cannon. Bobby chose Ball because it matched his bouncy personality and was the only name that linked with Cannon.
8. In their early days they worked for as little as £10 per night to split between them – and often just for beer and meat pies.
9. They failed three auditions for Opportunity Knocks. When they finally did appear in 1968 they became Opportunity Flops – even failing to move the clapometer.
10. They are the only British act to have won three separate National Club Awards.
11. Bobby bought his first suit in a Oxfam shop. At first he held up the trousers with a belt until Tommy suggested braces
12. Bobby’s red braces have become his comedy trademark, as have catchphrases like “You’ll do for me” and “Rock on, Tommy”
13. So far Bobby has worn his way through 200 stage suits and now has them tailor made. His famous desert boots are also specially made for him.
14. He twangs his way through 50 pairs of red braces every year and to date has used over 1,200 pairs to hold up his baggy trousers!!
15. Cannon and Ball starred in their first TV series for LWT in 1979
16. Their first summer season at the North Pier, Blackpool, attracted 98 percent business, set new box-office records and caused one fan to die laughing! He had a heart attack during the show and his widow later wrote to Tom and Bob asking them not to feel guilty.
17. Cannon and Ball made their film debut in The Boys in Blue in 1983. It was premiered in Manchester and has since gone on to top the video rental charts.
18. In 1985 they grossed over £1 million in their 10 week season at the Opera House, Blackpool. Over 300,000 people flocked to see them during the season.
19. Their debut London Palladium pantomime season produced ticket sales in excess of £2 million and during one week of their epic run they created the biggest box office gross ever recorded in the history of British theatre.
20. They have appeared in many Royal shows, including the Royal Variety Performance from the London Palladium, and in their 25th anniversary year they were seen in the Childrens Royal Variety Performance.
21. Two years ago they toured in the Brian Rix farce “You’ll Do For Me” and later became quiz show hosts in Cannon and Balls Casino for Yorkshire TV.
22. Their latest TV series is a situation comedy for Yorkshire TV entitled Plaza Patrol. They star as a couple of security men in a shopping centre.
23. Tommy Cannon is one of the best golfers in showbiz and owns and rides his own racehorses
24. Bobby Ball plays piano, guitar and organ, has his own recording studios, and has written a series of childrens books called Juniper Jungle. His characters have also been featured in a cartoon series and on a range of children’s bed linen. He is also a keen fisherman.
25. Three years ago, to celebrate their 25th anniversary year, Cannon and Ball starred in a 25 week summer season at the North Pier Blackpool – where each week represented a year of their career together.
This letter was enclosed with the brochure, explaining the change of venue:
In order to expand our show seven nights a week, it was necessary to switch from the Convention Theatre at Tupperware Center in Kissimmee to our new home at the Mardi Gras Dinner Theatre on International Drive. With such short notice it has been impossible to reprint this entire souvenir program to include some of the changes.
More importantly, we hope that you find the content of this program both interesting and enjoyable. We never forget that without you, we would never be where we are today.
A great big THANK YOU from both of us! .