Obituary: Bobby Ball, comedian

With the death at 76 of the comedian Bobby Ball, the curtain came down yesterday on one of the great double acts of the Northern stage.
Tommy Cannon (left) and Bobby Ball.Tommy Cannon (left) and Bobby Ball.
Tommy Cannon (left) and Bobby Ball.

Not since the glory days of Morecambe and Wise in the 1970s had a turn captured so completely the mood and minds of the paying public. Eric Morecambe himself acknowledged that with the right management, Cannon and Ball “could go all the way”.

In Sid Green, they had the services of one of Eric and Ernie’s first writers, and for a while they did indeed reach the comedy stratosphere. But unlike that of their mentors, their partnership dissolved in acrimony, after a final TV series in Yorkshire.

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They were eventually reconciled and Tommy Cannon was the first to pay his respects to his long-time friend, who had been in Blackpool Victoria Hospital with breathing problems when he tested positive for Covid-19.

Tommy Cannon (right) and Bobby BallTommy Cannon (right) and Bobby Ball
Tommy Cannon (right) and Bobby Ball

“Rock on, my good friend,” said Cannon, quoting their oft-used catchphrase. “I can’t believe this, I’m devastated.”

Other tributes came from across the showbusiness spectrum. “There are plenty of comedians whose writing and craft is the making of them. But then there are the others. The ones who are sent here from another dimension to be funny in a way that defies logic or analysis. They just have ‘it’,” said the actor and comedian Rufus Hound.

The comic Shane Richie added: “You always knew when Bobby was in the room. He could make you laugh and cry with just a look.”

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Another comedian, Les Dennis called Ball “a true entertainer with real funny bones”. And the actress Sherrie Hewson said: “He made me laugh more than anyone I know.”

Ball’s wife, Yvonne, who praised the Blackpool hospital staff, said: “I will always miss him. He was so joyful, full of fun and mischievous.”

Ball’s manager, Phil Dale, said: “The family and Tommy would like to express their sincere thanks to the many, many people who have been fans of Bobby and they know that they will all share in part the great loss and total sadness that Yvonne, the family and Tommy all feel.”

Born Robert Harper in Oldham in January 1944, Ball met Cannon, real name Thomas Derbyshire, while he was working as a welder. After years on the club circuit, they had TV exposure on Granada’s Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club, but it was London Weekend TV that took the chance on a series of their own. The debut of The Cannon And Ball Show was so delayed by industrial action they feared it might never be seen, but when it finally appeared in 1979 it was an instant hit, and soon the whole country was mimicking Ball’s signature dialogue. But the joke eventually wore thin, and the pair were released to try their hand at a short-lived game show and a sitcom at Yorkshire TV – after which they temporarily went their separate ways. Ball appeared solo in a string of TV series – as Lenny in Last Of The Summer Wine, Topsy Turner in Heartbeat and as Lee Mack’s troublesome father Frank in Not Going Out. He also competed in the Strictly Come Dancing Christmas special.

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During a pantomime at the Bradford Alhambra in 1986, he took the first steps to becoming a born-again Christian, with Cannon following soon after.

He is survived by three children, 10 grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

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