Hello, hello, hello… What’s going on ‘ere then?
Bobby Ball must be a trial to live with. He’s the little one, all injured pride and mock aggression, as bouncy, pushy and noisy as Tommy Cannon is cool, calm and courteous.
It isn’t entirely an act, for they are exactly the same offstage as on, one of nature’s own double acts honed by years of yomping around the clubland circuit. That background shows on television in the way they handle a studio audience. Cannon sweet-talks them, Ball bullies them and, unlike most TV acts, they sense the audience’s mood and are quite happy to wander away from their script in the middle of a sketch.
‘With this pair,’ says Alasdair Macmillan, director of ITV’s Saturday special, The Best of Cannon and Ball, ‘you fasten your seatbelts and cross your fingers. But there’s as much laughter in the control room as there is in the audience, and that’s always the best sign.’
The show is the pick of the sketches from the last series, featuring Adam Ant as a foot- stomping caballero, Steve Davis getting snookered, Iris Williams being knocked off her perch and Leo Sayer going through an identity crisis.
But while London Weekend Television were putting it together, Cannon and Ball themselves were taking a big new step – or rather plod – in their careers…
On a country road in Hertfordshire, all is quiet but for a distant backfire and a put-put-put growing into a roar as a motorcycle and side-car swings into view, weaving from side to side like a late night drunk. Riding it are two policemen, handcuffed together and fast asleep.
A few bone-crunching seconds later, the law is lying face down in a damp ditch under the close scrutiny of a film camera and some 30 members of the crew.
‘Eee’ sighs Sergeant Tommy Cannon, ‘that looks like another write-off.’
‘It weren’t my fault’ mutters PC 805 Bobby Ball, picking bits of mud off his uniform. ‘I was asleep.’
Cannon and Ball have gone into the film business, starring as a pair of bungling village policemen in Boys in Blue. Based loosely on an old Will Hay comedy, it is directed by veteran Val Guest and is due to be released next Easter.
‘I know some comics have come unstuck doing films says Cannon, ‘but I think it’s a very natural step for us to take after four or five television series. We had the film offered to us and we weren’t going to turn it down. We looked at it and said, yes, it’s a good story, there’s plenty in it, lots of chases, lots of comedy, and that’s the main thing. We don’t get to beat up anybody. We’re not that sort, see. We’re not heavy enough.
The main object of the chases is the long-limbed Suzanne Danielle, who plays the village crumpet. ‘I chase her’ says Ball. ‘She chases me off, but I still chase her.’
He is fascinated by the business of filming – popping up all over, asking questions, looking through the camera.
‘Next film I want to be cameraman, director, star, continuity, everything. Hah! Next film! We’ve been working five weeks on this one, from seven every morning to 10 at night. I should be dead.
‘It’s very different from television. It is still me and Tommy – and our own scriptwriter, Sid Green, is working on the film. But it is different because there’s only one camera. It’s slower than TV, you only do a couple of lines at a time and there’s no audience, so you can never really tell how funny you are. We’ll have to wait and see the finished product for that.’
They are still handcuffed together and belligerently asking whether anyone has got the key. The film crew have entered into the spirit of the production and no, nobody’s got the key. Locked together, they march off.
Later, squelching back through the mud to their luxurious caravan, parked in the farmyard which serves as the unit’s base, Tommy Cannon says: ‘It’s great, this. We are both film buffs, always have been. When we’ve got time we go three or four times a week.
‘If this one works we might do another. It’s a question of time. On 16 December we start our first London run, six weeks at the Dominion Theatre. Then there’s a tour up North, television and you’re into Summer season. At least, straight after the film, we’re going to have a holiday.’
‘I’m going to stop at home in Oldham,’ says Ball, ‘put me feet up and have a pint wit’ lads. That’s it. I’m half dead.’
But Val Guest hasn’t finished with them for today. At 9 o’clock at night, still handcuffed together, frozen cold, they are running round and round a police car, trying to unlock the doors, keep in shot and remember their lines at the same time. Half-an-hour later it’s in the can.
‘Right’ says the first assistant. ‘Make-up at 7.30 tomorrow morning…’
‘It was a challenge for me to do something different,’ says Adam Ant, who appears in ‘The Best of Cannon and Ball’ as a finger-clicking Spanish gent. ‘I’m 28 now and I want to mature in my career and be able to entertain people for a long time yet. Cannon and Ball are pros – and I had to show them I could pull my weight,’
‘I’ve still got the bruises,’says Iris Williams, who appears in another sketch singing a number with the boys under somewhat strenuous conditions. ‘I was a bit apprehensive at first about doing the show, but it turned out great. People thought of me as a serious, classical singer. This sketch opened up new avenues.’