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TV Pop Diaries
Pop Music on British Television 1955 - 1999

Tommy Cannon (Thomas Derbyshire) and Bobby Ball (Robert Harper) began their showbiz career as singers after meeting at the Oldham works where they were both welders. After playing the clubs and pubs of Manchester throughout the sixties they moved over to comedy, which as they noticed, paid more.

Making their TV debut on Opportunity Knocks in 1969, their big break would have been assured. They came last. But they picked themselves up, worked even harder and made an unforgettable appearance on The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club in 1974. They were offered more TV work, but in 1978, nearly ten years on from Opportunity Knocks, there could have been another big TV breakthrough for the duo as they had been hired to provide a weekly comedy spot on London Weekend's Bruce's Big Night which meant travelling down to London each week. But due to scheduling issues the live show would over-run and their spot would be dropped, week after week. Surprisingly, LWT did the decent thing and gave them their own series in summer 1979. One of the regular writers was Andrew Marshall who would help create the brilliant End Of Part One for LWT the following year. The show was purely jokes and sketches with no musical guests, but their second series starting in April 1980 had singing group Ritz as resident guests.

By the early eighties their persistence and hard work had paid off. They were the biggest act in Blackpool, selling numbers of seats most rock bands could only dream of and were rightly voted the best male entertainers in clubland for three years running. So if they were so big in the north, why would a London based TV channel offer them their only chance of regular TV work? Granada had brought us The Comedians and The Wheeltappers and Shunters, but were not really known as a light entertainment company. Despite Granada's oversight the duo kept true to their roots and never moved south.

Their third series in May 1981 saw guests Anne Murray, Lulu, Alan Price and the return of Ritz, and after a special recorded at Drury Lane they were back at the London Weekend studios in May 1982 with David Essex, Adam & The Ants, Leo Sayer, Iris Williams and Frankie Laine. After an Easter special with Mari Wilson they were back in December 1983 and into 1984 with Status Quo, Cliff Richard, Shakin' Stevens, The Three Degrees, Robin Gibb, Four Tops, while late 1984 they played host to Sister Sledge, Big Country, Paul Young, Shakatak and Chas & Dave. They were definitely attracting top names, which suggested a level of respect for the duo. It was about this time that LWT enlisted Paul Jackson to produce their shows. Having previously worked on shows like The Young Ones and The Two Ronnies he was perfect casting and even persuaded Rik Mayall to make an appearance on the show.

Having taken 1985 off from the telly, apart from a Best Of, they were back in 1986 with a Christmas special. They had invited Little Richard who was going through a renaissance in both music and on screen, and the duo joined him on his new hit Great Gosh A Mighty, probably the finest musical moment of Cannon and Ball's career. They would be back for a final series for LWT in 1988 with guests Aswad, Maxi Priest and Kim Wilde.

Christmas Eve 1988 saw a move to Yorkshire TV for a one-off special, returning with Cannon and Ball's Casino in May 1990 with guests including Dusty Springfield, Big Country, Tanita Tikaram, Elkie Brooks, Leo Sayer and a surprising number of newer acts, probably foisted upon the producers by pluggers.

Then it was over, either TV turned its back, or they were wise enough to know they were still the biggest stage attraction in the country and that's where they belonged. They continued to sell outrageous amounts of tickets for their live shows, even their gospel shows outsell most rock shows, while Bobby also had an impressive side-line acting in sitcoms like The Cockfields and Benidorm, with his final series of Not Going Out broadcast in early 2021, a few months after his death.


London Weekend 28th July 1979 - 25th June 1988


Yorkshire 19th May 1990 - 25th August 1990