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One half of famous comedy duo speaks of new stage role
Famous comedy duo Tommy Cannon and Bobby Ball have known each other- and also worked together - for more years than they probably care to remember! But Tommy is currently going it alone minus his long-time partner after landing a role in a new comedy musical that is touring the UK. Mr Cannon, real name Thomas Derbyshire, is starring in the cast of Right Place, Wrong Time, alongside the likes of Billy Pearce, Crissy Rock and Leah Bell, which can be seen at the Lichfield Garrick theatre on Sunday 13 October. Tommy, who has also starred in ITV series Last Laugh In Vegas and made guest appearances in long-running soap Emmerdale, is revelling in the new challenge of playing Albert Blunderstone in Right Place, Wrong Time. But what is it like appearing without his familiar sidekick Bobby Ball, real name Robert Harper.
He says: "You know something? We've been a double act for 55 years now, which surely must be some sort of record." But was he apprehensive about taking on the new venture without Bobby? "I'll have a crack at anything, as long as the offers keep on coming," he added. "You know the two saddest words in the English language? They are 'if only'. When someone gets to a certain age, and they look back and they sigh and say 'If only I'd done this….or that'. Of course, everyone makes mistakes, but you have to learn from them. That's the way forward." Tommy is playing small-time crook and ladies' man Albert Blunderstone in Right Place, Wrong Time - "a bit of a northern Del Boy. It's all very different from the act that Bobby and I do, which is structured but also fairly free-wheeling. A stage play means learning lines, for a start, - lots of them - and, of course, sticking to them. You can't wing it and go off-course. The rest of the cast would never forgive you!" Tommy, who is married to Hazel with two daughters and a son, plus two other girls from his first marriage, has now, incredibly, just turned 81. "I know", he laughs, "I can't believe it either. But it's true, and I am very blessed, I know that all too well!"
Tommy (2nd right) with the rest of the cast of Right Place, Wrong Time
So how did Cannon and Ball become one of the most famous and successful comedy double acts, starring in their own television series for nearly a decade between 1979 and 1988? "We were both working for a manufacturing firm over in Oldham, and I was the new boy. I turned up and about 500 blokes walked past me without a word, until this little guy went across, and he said 'Hello, cock, 'ow are you?' The only one who actually spoke to me! And that was it. We became mates." Cannon and Ball's act was forged in the working men's clubs of the day, "and we very much learned 'on the hoof'. It was tough, but it was a brilliant way to learn your craft, what worked and what didn't." Their big break came just as the cabaret clubs were closing in the 70s and 80s. "Almost overnight, the audiences were deserting them, and they were closing. Just as that happened, we were offered a three-year contract by London Weekend……and we stayed for many years more! Fate was with us, and we couldn't have timed it better." These days, Tommy and Bobby go their own ways for part of the year but always meet up for a Christmas panto. However, it hasn't always been calm sailing and there were three years when they were barely speaking to each other. Tommy recalls: "You could have cut the atmosphere with a knife. It was awful. I won't say that we hated each other, it was just that there was…..an unpleasantness. And neither of us, looking back, knows what brought it on. My own feeling is that we were each surrounded by our own little entourage, and instead of me talking to Bobby, or Bobby talking to me, communications broke down, and it was all through third parties. And that wasn't helpful at all. But…..we resolved things. That's what matters."
Tommy Cannon plays small-time crook Albert Blunderstone
Tommy admits with a chuckle that he still gets one of the Cannon and Ball catchphrases shouted after him. "If I had a fiver for every time someone has yelled out 'Rock on, Tommy' at me, Hazel and the kids and I would be able to afford to live in style in Barbados, believe me!" Right Place! Wrong Time is at the Lichfield Garrick theatre on Sunday 13 October at 7.30pm. Tickets priced £24 are available by visiting www.lichfieldgarrick.com or by calling the box office on 01543 412121.