Article in Weekend Magazine, February 1988
Matches that fire Cannon and Ball
The top-shot comedians owe success to their marriage partners
TOUSLE-HAIRED Bobby Ball holds on to his braces and admits: “We’re not the easiest men to live with.” The slimmer-lined Tommy Cannon nods. “Our wives have a lot to put up with,” he says.
Being married to the country’s best-known comedy double-act is not all jokes. But Cannon and Ball both acknowledge that they wouldn’t be where they are today without the backing of their wives.
“We’re married to two exceptional women,” says Tommy, of the crocodile shoes and Christian Dior shirts. “Mine has always been totally behind me.
“Even when we were struggling in our early married days and I was earning just £10 a week, she was always a very level-headed girl. She never said: ‘Don’t do it-it’s not worth it.’ “
“We’re both great worriers,” says Bobby. “I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve returned home with a terrible black cloud around me because something didn’t go too well that night.
“But my wife would put her arms around me and say: ‘Don’t let them think you’re not good -you’re the best in the world.’ “
The comic duo certainly work hard for their money-summer-season work usually means a seven-day week. But the rich trappings of the good life surround them-the matching Rolls-Royces, the holiday homes on neighbouring islands in the Canaries and the smart houses on the outskirts of their native Oldham.
Bobby is 44 and has been married for 16 years to Yvonne. They have a 15-year-old daughter, Joanne. He also sees a lot of his sons-Robert, 23, and Darren, 19-by his first marriage.
He was born just up the road from his present home, which is close to Tommy’s birthplace.
Tommy, 49, lives with his wife, Margaret – just four miles from where he was born in a one-up, one-down terraced house-and has two daughters, Julie, 23, and Janette, 26.
Both men are inseparable from their Lancashire roots. They still drink in the pubs they used when they were welders. But they never take their holidays together (“we’d never unwind”).
Tommy admits he likes his privacy more than Bobby, and he’s certainly shyer. To all outward appearances, they are total opposites.
“I worry even if I have nothing to worry about,” he confesses. “Margaret is the exact opposite. She’s my anchor.”
Bobby recalls the early days and says that, though times were tough, there was also an underlying happiness.
“When Yvonne and I first got married, we lived with my sister in a two-up, two-down house. There were four adults and three kids.
“We had no money, and we were struggling. It couldn’t have been tougher. But we’re so close as a family that, do you know, it was the best time I’ve ever known.
“Even if I’m not actually worrying about the job all the time, I’m usually thinking about it, how to improve the act and so on,” says Bobby.
I put it to them that there must be certain hardships for the families of entertainers who are rarely at home. The both nod philosophically.
“Yes,” agrees Tommy, “but it’s accepted. While we’re doing well, it’s worth the sacrifice. We benefit, and so does the whole family. I’ve got two terrific daughters.
“I didn’t have a very happy family life when I was young. I think that may well explain why I’ve tried that much harder with my own children.”
Bobby takes over: “I was also brought up in a very poor household, so I appreciated every little luxury, every little present. It was something I instilled into our daughter, Joanne-we insisted that she worked hard for her pocket money.”
Tommy reflects that it sometimes surprises him that he ever got married. Margaret was only his second steady girlfriend. They met at a dance in a disco at the top of Oldham Co-op.
“I must be honest, marriage wasn’t my idea-it was Margaret’s. She said: ‘I’m not sure whether I want marriage just yet.’ So what can you do when your girlfriend says that?”
“Tommy wasn’t joking when he said we’re married to a couple of exceptional women,” says Bobby. “Moodwise, I’m mostly very happy, like I am on screen, so I’m not a difficult husband in that respect.”
Outside the support he receives from Yvonne, there is no doubt that Bobby finds that his religion gives him inner strength.
His conversion happened a year ago. “I started talking to a priest who’s a friend of mine and I got very interested in what he was saying. So I became a born-again Christian. Simple as that.
“I still drink. I still smoke. I suppose praying has just made me more kind, and it’s helped me deal with success-with our success.”
But that success, thanks to the encouragement of Yvonne and Margaret, is unlikely to adversely affect the comedians’ personal lives.
Bobby says: “We’re going to start to make more time available, so that, in our private lives, we can benefit from everything we’ve gained professionally.
“We’ve known both sides of the coin,” he adds. “Now we want to enjoy ourselves and make other people laugh.”
He muses: “That we’re still able to do it, that we’re still pretty much together as people, Tommy and I, is all thanks to the women we married. I don’t think either of us will ever forget that.”