Tommy Cannon
Tommy Cannon

Tommy Cannon

  • 85 years old
  • English
  • Comedian

Tommy Cannon rocks on

Tommy Cannon

As he prepares to embark on his first solo tour, we chat to legendary comic Tommy Cannon about comedy, playing Vegas and doing panto with Charlie Drake...

In September, you start your first ever solo tour, what kind of things are you planning to include in the show?

I'm going to do maybe two or three songs, jokes, etc. Basically, it's the life story of me and Bobby [his late double-act partner Bobby Ball]. How we met, how things progressed. How things got a bit snarled up by not making any money, stuff like that. The second half I'll take questions from the audience. I might have a surprise guest.

So it's a huge celebration of your life as a double act?

Absolutely. Initially, I didn't want to be any part of a double act, in fact I didn't even know what a double act was. But then, to end up like we did in people's homes - twenty million viewers!

It was quite a shock to the system when the Head of Light Entertainment, David Bell, came one day and said "Do you know how many people are watching your show"? We said "No" and he said "twenty million people are watching your show!" Well, I couldn't believe it!

Cannon And Ball. Image shows from L to R: Tommy Cannon, Bobby Ball. Copyright: Rex

Are you trepidatious about carrying a show on your own for the first time?

Yeah, I did a panto last year up in Consett, and that was an absolute nightmare for me. Certainly in rehearsals, when Bob and I did panto, obviously it was all hard work, but it was easy in a way because we did routines we used to do on television, things everybody knew. But if I dropped a line, or Bob did, we had that safety net. But to do that on my own was something else.

I just couldn't get to it, I was fed up. My wife said "what's up with you?", I said "I don't know, I keep looking for Bob". He was probably looking down going "get on with it you soft devil!". So I couldn't get hold of it at all. But then, opening night, I went on and at the end I said a few words, thanking the audience for making me feel welcome. I said "Bobby's thanking you as well". They all stood up and gave me an ovation. So that was me starting to get there at last, but it was a big task.

You're also embarking on a Legends of Variety tour, what can people expect?

I'm compering that; few jokes, sing a couple of songs. All the people on it [including Anita Harris, The Grumbleweeds, Freddie 'Parrot Face' Davies, Paul Zenon, Billy Pearce, Bobby Crush, Bernie Clifton and Jon Courtney] will make the tour a barrel of laughs.

A good excuse to go on the road with your mates...

Absolutely, it'll be really good for me, I'm really looking forward to it.

Cannon & Ball. Image shows from L to R: Bobby Ball, Tommy Cannon

When people talk about Cannon & Ball, you're often described as the straight man, which I always think is quite disingenuous, because the comedy comes from the interplay, the back and forth. Do you see yourself as a straight man, a comic, or a mix of the two?

Yeah, it's strange, the 'Straight Man' thing. I don't know why they're called straight men, to be honest with you, but it all depends what type of comedian you have with you, or comic I should say, 'cos Bobby was a comic, not a comedian, and if you've got someone with funny bones, they're always on the move.

Consequently, I was the one in charge, because I had to pull him back into the routine. I was even threatened when we worked in America; came out the stage door, big guy stood there. I thought he was there for an autograph or something, but he said to me "Hey buddy, if you ever do that to that little guy again, I'll smash you into pieces". I had to say "No, no, it's all part of the act!". He said "OK, but remember what I told you" and walked away.

Comedy's a dangerous game! You worked with the next generation of comics like Rik Mayall, did you push to get a wide variety of comics on the show?

Yeah, well we'd heard of Rik, he was at the beginning of the alternative comedians, and he was excellent in the sketch, but we were a bit nervous before we recorded it, but a younger producer had come on the show and booked him.

One of my favourite moments was when you had Status Quo on -

Bob was quite angry about that, because the two lads (Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt) had the words stuck to the back of their guitars, they hadn't learnt it, so every now and again you can see them turning the guitars.

How was the experience of transferring the double act to the big screen in The Boys In Blue? Roy Kinnear, Jon Pertwee, Eric Sykes -

Eric was a lovely, lovely man, he came from Royton in Oldham. But they were all lovely to me and Bob. They were all bigger stars than us, as far as we were concerned, we were the 'added on' bit. We really enjoyed that film, forty one year-old it is now!

You worked with Eric a few times, including Mr H Is Late. What was Eric like as a director?

Oh he was a great, great man. He came on one of our TV shows as well. Always had a twinkle in his eye. You knew he'd always do something that would try and make you laugh, he'd improvise.

I really enjoyed the Last Laugh In Vegas programme. Did you think you might have to adapt your act for the American audience?

No, because the idea was that we would be as English as possible, there were one or two English people in the audience, don't get me wrong, but it was mainly Americans. Bob and I had worked in America before, so we'd picked up some of the lingo that they use, so we weren't unduly worried about it. We had a great time in America.

Last Laugh In Vegas. Image shows from L to R: Bernie Clifton, Bobby Crush, Anita Harris, Bobby Ball, Tommy Cannon, Kenny Lynch, Su Pollard, Mick Miller, Jess Conrad. Copyright: Shiver Productions

What did it feel like to finally walk out on that Vegas stage?

It was absolutely incredible. You couldn't have asked for a better feeling. I'll tell you a story - Glen Campbell was in one theatre, and we were supposed to be supporting him. Obviously he hadn't heard of us - Branson, Missouri it was - and he said he needed to see what we did. So somebody gave him a video, and after he watched it he said to the promoter "I'm sorry, they can't work with me, they're too funny!". We ended up working at another theatre, the Will Rogers theatre, for a full season, it was great.

I love panto season, and you've worked with so many legends. I know you once worked with Charlie Drake, what are your abiding memories from that season?

Charles, or Mr Drake, you had to call him. He knew everybody else's lines as well as his own. So if you missed a line, or you didn't do it right, he'd summon you to his dressing room and he'd tell you "You did that line wrong. Tomorrow night, you make sure you do it correctly". But he was an absolute master. Huge laughs, great splosh routines, as we used to call them, He was great, but he was always 'Mr Drake'.

Tommy Cannon

Are you doing panto this year?

Yep, back up to Consett in Jack and the Beanstalk where I'll get turned into a tomato, I'll leave the rest to you!

To round things up, you've recorded a new version of your theme song, Together We'll Be OK, for a mental health charity. How did that come about?

By accident, to be honest. I was down at a club in Chorley and this choir was onstage; I've always fancied singing with a full choir, all those wonderful voices behind me. So I said them "if you learn Together We'll Be OK, I'll sing it with you. Anyway a few months go by - this is a few weeks back - I get a phone call saying I had to be there on Tuesday to record it, and it was wonderful, absolutely beautiful, and all for a good cause as well.

Tommy Cannon is touring the UK from September 2023 through to May 2024. Dates

Jack and The Beanstalk is playing at the Consett Empire Theatre from the 1st to the 31st December. Tickets

Together We'll be OK, featuring Tommy Cannon and the Local Vocals in aid of mental health charity Lancashire Mind, is available to purchase on a variety of platforms: Listen

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