How we met: Tommy Cannon & Bobby Ball

'If he's a bit down, I'll give him a clip and say: Come on, cock'

Born in Oldham in 1938, Tommy Cannon (real name Thomas Derbyshire) met his comic partner Bobby Ball while working in a welding factory in the 1960s. After years on the club circuit, the duo became household names when they were given their own TV show, which ran from 1979 to 1991. Married twice, he has five children and lives near York with his wife Hazel.

We first met in a welding factory in Oldham. He was the first person who spoke to me out of 500 men - he came in late for work and said, "Hiya, mate." Maybe he felt sorry for me. Bob used to sing at the weekends, and one night he said, "I'm singing at a working men's club, would you like to come along?" Perhaps in my younger days I wasn't bad looking. I don't know if I had that good a singing voice. We ended up as a trio, with a guy called Stan on the keyboard. Stan didn't want to take it on full time though. Perhaps if we'd all three stayed together we'd have kept going as a singing act.

In 1969 we went on Opportunity Knocks. We did the comedy and came last. But things like that shouldn't put anybody off. Michael Grade eventually saw a clip of something we'd done and he turned to the execs and said, "Give these two lads their own show." That was after 15 years slogging up and down to working men's clubs.

Of course Bob and I have fallen out. We fell out in the 1980s for a time. But most double acts don't like each other at all. We've got a very close relationship, like brothers. My wife often listens to me and Bob, and doesn't know what we're talking about. We've known each other for 45 years. I know when he's low or when he wants to be left alone. The way you do fall out is if you don't give and take.

We do both have a Christian faith, but my faith is very personal to me. I have a one-to-one relationship with Jesus and it's not something I talk about. Bobby had a faith about seven years before I did, and it happened to me about 15 years ago. People thought we were crackers.

We're on equal terms, nobody is stronger than the other. I sometimes feel I need to step in and take care of him, but I don't really; he can take care of himself. After so long together, you can't sum it up in words. We've been through trials and tribulations - I've helped him and he's helped me. I hope we remain together for the rest of our lives.

When I was voted out of I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here last year, Bob looked pretty lonely for a day or so. You do feel like you've lost one of your arms when you're separated. I wouldn't want to be a solo act. I'm possibly one of the shyest people in show business. After so long in the business, you become classical comedy - like vintage wine, it gets better. We'll always be a double act.

As part of the longest-running double act in Britain, Bobby Ball (real name Robert Harper), 63, continues to perform in summer shows, pantomimes and Christian concerts. Married twice, with three children, he lives with his wife Yvonne in Lytham St Anne's, Lancashire.

I met Tommy at work. It's like with anything else, when you start a new job, it's daunting. I was always late, so when I came in I said, "How are you, cock?" I suppose he felt relieved. We became friends and I asked him to come along to a club where I was singing. I've always done show business since I was a kid.

I said to him, "If you can get a set of drums, I'll teach you." And that's how it started. We had a jazz trio, we played weddings. He did have a great singing voice, but he used to be very nervous. He used to be sick before he went on.

One of us had a red silk shirt and one of us had a green one, I can't remember which was which. I said, "We look like traffic lights." It wasn't really funny, but it got a little titter and it felt quite good. And we realised that at the clubs, comedians got more money than singers.

I've never really wanted to be by myself as a performer. I did want to have a rock band when I was younger, but I enjoyed comedy so much, I didn't really think about being solo. Tommy's the best straight man in the business. I'm happy with my lot. The best performers have worked their way up to the top: Morecambe and Wise, Bruce Forsyth... Sadly today we're in the world of the celebrity. I read about a guy called Preston who said that he didn't want to be a second-rate celebrity and do panto. I thought, "You need to learn your craft, son."

Every double act goes through a stage of not getting on. It's like a marriage. If anyone who's married ever tells you that they never fall out, they're lying. But old married couples get through it, and it's better. That's what we're like. We're lucky. We can talk if something is bothering us We don't harbour grudges or anything. We're very blokeish; we wouldn't tell each other how much we care about each other or anything like that. But now and again we'll just clip each other, give each other a little hug, and we'll know what it means. If he's a bit down, I'll give him a clip and say, "Come on, cock."

We need our time apart. When we're together, we're together 24/7. I'm on the road now and I won't see my wife for a week.

It's funny having to talk about our relationship. It makes me realise. It's a marvellous thing we've got. He's always looked after me in his own way. There was no need to, but he's protective. We've become really like brothers now. It's sad to say, but I'll bury him or he'll bury me.

Cannon and Ball appear in 'Dick Whittington' at Cliffs Pavilion, Southend-on-Sea until 7 January (tel: 01702 351 135,

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all