Tommy Cannon (born Thomas Derbyshire, 27 June 1938) and Bobby Ball (born Robert Harper, 28 January 1944), known collectively as Cannon and Ball, are an English comedy double act best known for their comedy variety show The Cannon and Ball Show, which lasted for nine years on ITV. The duo met in the early 1960s while working as welders in Oldham, Lancashire. They started out as singers working the pubs and clubs of Greater Manchester and switched to comedy after being told comics earned an extra £3 a night. They have continued to work as a comic duo on television and in theatre and pantomime.
Their first TV appearance was in 1974 in the variety show The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club before landing a performance on Bruce Forsyth’s Big Night, although their segment didn’t make it to broadcast. In 1979, LWT offered them their own series, The Cannon and Ball Show, which premiered in ITV on 28 July 1979. Further series followed each year through to 1988, along with Christmas and Easter specials.
In 1982, they appeared in a feature film, The Boys in Blue, based loosely on the Will Hay film, Ask a Policeman. The Boys in Blue was regarded critically as weak in comparison and was their only cinema outing.
They also featured in a comic strip Rock on Tommy, which was published in the magazine Look-in.
Their popularity coincided with the rise of alternative comedy, with its emphasis on more socially relevant and political concerns. As time passed, Cannon and Ball’s popularity began to decline, though they were not the only comedy act to suffer as comic tastes shifted. During the 1980s, Greg Dyke, the then Head of Programming at ITV station TVS and later to hold a similar position at LWT expressed a concern that northern comedy shows may not suit southern tastes.
By the 1990s, the duo were seeking a change in direction and appeared in their own sitcom Cannon and Ball’s Playhouse, the spin-off series Plaza Patrol and their game show Cannon and Ball’s Casino. Plaza Patrol saw them play security guards in a shopping mall.
In more recent times, they have continued to find success as a comic duo in theatre and pantomime, along with numerous cameo appearances on TV. In late 2005, they appeared in the British reality TV series I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!.
In recent years, they have admitted that, during their hey-day of huge popularity in the 1980s, they were barely on speaking terms and would avoid each other completely when not on stage or rehearsing. These tensions – which lasted for years – were later resolved and the two are now very close once again.
In 2010, they were panellists on BBC Radio 4 comedy panel show Act Your Age radio series. They appeared in a celebrity edition of Coach Trip on Channel 4 in 2012. In 2018 they appeared in ITV’s Last Laugh in Vegas.
The pair revived a touring version of the theatrical farce Big Bad Mouse, originally a highly successful vehicle for Jimmy Edwards and Eric Sykes in the 1960s and 1970s. The latest incarnation of the show featured Cannon and Ball in the starring roles, supported by Allo Allo‘s Sue Hodge as Lady Chesapeake and newcomer Emily Trebicki as secretary Miss Spencer. The show opened in Hull during May 2008 and toured six other cities, before ending in August at the Theatre Royal, Windsor, to mixed reviews.
The pair are devout Christians and published a book called Christianity for Beginners. Ball became a born-again Christian in 1986 and Cannon in 1992, their conversion having a lot to do with the re-kindling of their broken friendship. They now regularly feature in their own gospel and “an audience with…” show in churches around the country.
Also in 2008, the pair’s career continued as they appeared on television as the faces of Safestyle UK, a Bradford based double glazing firm. The pair have starred in pantomimes at the Theatre Royal, Lincoln including Robin Hood, Dick Whittington, Cinderella and in 2014 appeared in Jack and the Beanstalk. They also made several appearances in the comedy Last of the Summer Wine.